BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive Editor — Publications firstname.lastname@example.org
IT took a faction inside the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) nine months to convince Audley Shaw to challenge Andrew Holness for leadership of the Opposition party. But even as the Manchester North Eastern Member of Parliament embarks on a month of islandwide consultations starting today, his camp says he won't be backing down.
Initial reports from inside the JLP had suggested that Shaw would use a party meeting in Clarendon today to announce his candidacy. However, one of his supporters, who opted not to be named, said Shaw will continue the consultation process for a month in order to get his organisation in place.
"By his actions and his words you will clearly pick up that the consultation is just a time-buying process, because he's not turning back, absolutely not. This is do or die," said the party insider.
The meeting, which was originally scheduled for Chapelton, will now be held at Edwin Allen Comprehensive High School in Frankfield and is scheduled to begin at 10:00 am.
According to the party insider, Shaw kept resisting approaches from Labour Party members who have been dissatisfied with Holness's leadership since the JLP lost the December 2011 General Election.
"I have been having discussions with him for nine months, and he kept saying let's watch and see," said the party source. "I think what really struck him was that whole fiasco at that Portmore meeting. It brought to his attention the state of the party."
The insider's reference was to a forum on the economy staged by the JLP in Portmore in April this year from which Shaw, the finance spokesman, as well as Dr Christopher Tufton, spokesman on foreign affairs, foreign trade, and investment; and Gregory Mair, who shadows industry, commerce and energy were excluded.
The forum, titled 'Connecting -- Focus on the Economy', had Holness as the main speaker, while Deputy Leader James Robertson, JLP Chairman Senator Robert Montague, MP for St Catherine South Central Dr Andrew Wheatley, and MP for St Ann North East Shahine Robinson were down to give presentations.
At the time, JLP insiders said that Shaw had felt disrespected at not being included among the speakers, and other members of the party had questioned the absence of Tufton and Mair.
They had also said that the exclusion of the three men made no sense at all.
But General Secretary Dr Horace Chang explained that the forum was organised by the JLP's Area Council Two in Portmore, in consultation with the JLP Secretariat, which comprises the parishes of St Catherine, St Thomas, Portland, and St Mary, and which is led by Robertson.
Chang also suggested that there was no intention to disrespect the three spokesmen and questioned whether there were ulterior motives among some persons who were seeking to spread rumours of division in the party.
But that failed to end talk of discord in the party, and chatter about a challenge to Holness grew louder in recent months.
Holness, however, has consistently said he would welcome any challenge, arguing that it would make him a stronger leader.
"Challenge is good. Challenge strengthens me and whoever would like to challenge; come, come," Holness reiterated just last week in an address to party supporters at a St James South constituency conference at Springfield Primary and Junior High School in the parish.
Last week as well, in a Facebook post, he urged Jamaicans to reject what he said were attempts to create disunity in the JLP and charged that the individuals behind that effort were driven by self-interest.
But according to the JLP insider, there has been growing concern in the JLP over Holness's "inability to energise the party and to give the country a direction from the Opposition", given the performance of the Government in recent times.
"At all strata of the society, even at the political base, there is a feeling that Andrew is just not going anywhere," said the JLP source. "Nobody believes that the party is, and can be election-ready based on what is transpiring right now."
He said that Shaw's campaign will bring to the fore his experience and long service to Jamaica and the party.
"Andrew is a completely new figure in the leadership, so Audley -- who has been an MP for two decades -- has that level of recognition from the base of the party," the source said.
Shaw himself pointed to his years of service to the JLP in a letter to Montague on Friday in which he served notice of his intention to challenge for the leadership.
"I have served the party for the greater part of my adult life," Shaw wrote. "Of those 26 years, I have served as Member of Parliament for 20 years, general secretary in 1998 and deputy leader since 1999, shadow minister 1989-2007 and 2012 to present and minister of finance, the public service and planning 2007-2011.
"I intend to use my experience to offer guidance on how our party should proceed as I see this as a critical personal responsibility at this time."