IF recent media reports are to be taken seriously, the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is headed towards an explosive leadership challenge in November, when the party is expected to convene for its annual general conference.
It is all but confirmed that the Opposition spokesman on finance, the self-styled Man-A-Yard, Audley Shaw will challenge the relatively new party leader, Andrew Holness, for his job. Considering the divisive and turbulent internal political history of the JLP, many people are expecting a bitter and damaging process to unfold.
While I am of the view that a challenge is necessary, if only to 'legitimise' Holness who was anointed -- rather than elected -- leader, I am uncomfortable with the utterances which imply that Holness is a poor leader, and therefore must be deposed by a challenge.
Andrew Holness was catapulted into the party's top job following the unexpected departure of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding. In a grand coronation show, Holness was crowned party leader and presented as the undisputed heir to the JLP throne. All was well until the crown prince led his party to two crushing defeats at the polls. The cracks began to show and Andrew's position as leader was brought under scrutiny. Labourites started to question whether he was the "right man to lead the party". And therein is the first problem with the arguments in support of the challenge.
I have not heard one single person ask whether he is the right man to lead the country. Our political parties have this unholy preoccupation with the idea that they must elect the right person to lead the party and allow the chips to fall where they may in an election. That is a fallacy.
The principal function of political parties is to acquire state power. In order to do that, they must elect the right person to lead the country, not simply the party. As far as I am concerned, the effective leadership of the political party must come from within. The leader must be focused on the national picture. There must be foresight by party delegates in ensuring the person they elect leader has national appeal that can translate into winning a general election. It is all well and good to elect a party favourite, or even a Man-A-Yard, but what of that person's capacity? Can that person inspire the confidence of the majority of Jamaicans? We must see beyond just electing a party leader, and look towards electing a prime minister.
In order to do that, we must elect an individual with personal qualities which commend him/her to the general electorate. Make no mistake, our politics is far more about personalities than it is about policies. The Peoples National Party (PNP) is the most vivid example of that fact. It matters who is at the helm. I suspect this is one of the chief reasons the JLP is seen as 'out of touch'. The party's past leaders have not been very likeable -- or so the story goes.
To elect Audley Shaw leader of the JLP is to continue that unfortunate perception. It will almost certainly doom the party to another extended stint in Opposition. There are many who will interpret this statement as my being totally in opposition to Shaw, this is not so. I believe Shaw is appropriately placed as the watchdog for our economy and the nation's finances. He has done an excellent job in that capacity. We must not make the mistake of thinking that a good, or even great, minister will automatically translate into a good prime minister. We are suffering the result of that with our current prime minister. Many will perhaps say that that very consideration gave rise to Andrew, but that is not the whole truth. Holness was also very likeable; not all good ministers are. For my part, I am unconvinced that Shaw has the broad appeal which would see him being able to lead the party against a Simpson Miller, or her heir apparent, Phillip Paulwell.
Frankly, Shaw is unpolished, and at times a loose cannon. We have enough of that in our politics. We need leaders with the restraint to articulate positions without the references of "leggo beast" and all the rest of it. We need leaders who are sober enough to reason with our people, to clearly lay out the problems we face, and advise of the solutions. We do not need a leader who jumps on every bandwagon. Effective leadership is not about who makes the most noise, just ask Mrs Simpson Miller. That is not what leadership is about, certainly not in the 21st century.
Those who have suggested that Holness is a poor leader are surely misguided. In my estimation, his leadership approach is simply unfamiliar to us, and that is the reason we have so quickly dismissed it. As a country, we cannot see beyond roadblocks and 'bangarang' in our politics, we have become so accustomed to half-truths and whole lies that we cannot conceive of a leader who tells it as it is. Unfortunately, our people have mistaken this admirable trait for weakness. Holness has not got enough credit for talking straight in the 2011 election campaign. For me, it represented a decisive and bold leader, sure of the challenges, and confident about what needed to be done. We must challenge ourselves to elevate our expectations and definition of good leadership. That is what Holness has asked us to do.
As it relates to leading the JLP, who has ever had an easy time doing that? This is the party of egos and difficult personalities -- to put it mildly. If members accepted and coalesced around Andrew's vision, he would have a far more effective tenure as leader. Leadership is also about those being led, they must rally around the leader so that he does not need to always be on the defensive.
The delegates of the JLP must look beyond their internal politics and see the bigger picture. Come November, they must ask themselves whether they want a perpetual Opposition leader or a prime minister.
Ricardo Brooks is a student at the University of the West Indies and vice-president (development) for the Jamaica Debating Union. firstname.lastname@example.org