BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau email@example.com
CHRISTIANA, Manchester — Audley Shaw has said that should he become leader of the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), rebuilding the base of the party, which he suggests has been suffering neglect, would be high on his agenda.
Shaw told his North East Manchester constituency delegates and hardcore supporters at a "consultation" late Wednesday, that workers and "foot soldiers" at the community level and leaders at the local level such as constituency and divisional caretakers needed special attention.
Shaw said that those who had lost contests in the parliamentary elections of December 2011 as well as the local government elections in early 2012 had been ignored by the Andrew Holness-led JLP hierarchy.
"Forty-two caretakers lost election in 2011, what have we done for them since we lost the elections?" asked Shaw.
"We have lost all of the parish councils in the last parish council election; what are we doing for the councillor (divisional) caretakers? They are like lost sheep without a shepherd, they need assistance, they need mobilisation, they need encouragement," he said.
Wednesday night's meeting at Holmwood Technical High School was described by Shaw as the first of several "consultations" to determine whether he will challenge Holness for leadership of the 70-year-old JLP later this year.
His audience included chairman of the JLP's Area Three, Winston Maragh, former member of parliament for North West Clarendon Michael Stern, as well as several divisional councillors and divisional caretakers, who all endorsed his candidacy.
As part of the drive to build the community base of the party, Shaw said he would dedicate himself to the restoration of the party's branch structure, which is the equivalent of the PNP's group structure.
"Jamaica Labour Party use to have a thing called branches, remember?" Shaw asked.
"Branches are little gatherings in communities, all across Jamaica, where the MP can come, councillor can come and you sit down and you talk about policies, programmes...," Shaw explained.
Shaw, a long-standing deputy leader of the JLP and a member of parliament for 20 years, said the JLP needed more young people and women playing active roles in the party.
"It is too male-dominated, we need more women candidates at all levels, parish council and constituency level, we need to include more women and more young people," he said.
Those selected for representation, he added, needed to be trained, as too often candidates selected ahead of elections were thrown off at the deep end to "sink or swim".
Linked to reorganisation of the party's base, has to be reform of financing within the organisation, Shaw added.
"We are talking about campaign finance reform for the country... but I am putting it to you that we need to have finance reform within the political party as well because it is not fair that one constituency can have all the resources they want... but the other one over there so, no money is there to run that constituency...," he said.
Shaw told his constituency faithful that his decision to "consult" on a challenge to Holness followed months of being "inundated... by people from all walks of life... from Morant Point to Negril Point, delegates, friends, observers, business people, academics, people say to me 'wha happen Audley? are you a coward?'"
He recalled that on two previous occasions when presented with the opportunity to contest the leadership he had backed away. Firstly, following the exit of Edward Seaga in 2005 and again in 2011 when a hopelessly embattled Bruce Golding resigned as party leader and prime minister.
Shaw said that in 2005 "I looked around and I say 'No, mek Bruce (Golding) gwaan' because I said ... although he had bucked his toe and formed another party and then come back, he had racked up a long history in the Labour Party as general secretary, as chairman, as minister. I say: 'you buck you toe but gwaan' and then in 2011 came time for change again, the majority of the members of parliament at the time felt that we should try someone else (Holness). And mi sey 'gwaan' because at all times ... I have always put my party first and I have always put my country first".
He said the country now was in dire need of leadership, with the ruling PNP -- which he described as "a wrecking crew" -- failing in its stewardship which, he claimed, the PNP had consistently done on every occasion it had taken political power since the 1970s.
Always, he said, the JLP had been the party to "save" the country following PNP failures. However, he said, to do that yet again the JLP must first win political power and having done so, couldn't afford to be a one-term government.
Shaw noted what he described as "hysteria" in sections of the JLP because of his proposed challenge.
"We have heard unfortunate comments that have been made about me, which, if I had not indicated an interest at this time, those comments would never come and I have had to say ... tone it down. I have had to tell them because somebody has to exercise leadership," said Shaw.
He said he was consulting with his colleague parliamentarians and would continue to do so, but stressed that "I am not asking any member of parliament to declare any support for me now. The time will come when you have an opportunity if you so desire..."
Shaw ended his presentation by reading from his late father's Bible, the first verse of Psalms 27: "The lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?..."
Earlier, delegates from the floor and platform speakers expressed their "love" for Holness but said the JLP needed a "strong leader" like Shaw to combat the PNP.
"We want a strong leader to match with PNP," said delegate Wilbert 'Gramps' Bailey.
Councillor Cherry Brown of the Grove Town Division claimed Holness was no match for PNP president and prime minister Portia Simpson Miller. "I love Andrew, but I notice everybody can rule him...," she said. "Portia tell him fi call election, him call it...," she said.
According to Maragh: "I love Andrew Holness, but me love the Labour Party more..."
Arguing that a "new direction is required", Stern urged Labourites not to be "afraid of democracy". If the challenge was managed properly by the party it would redound to the good of the party. It would even lead to a more united party, he said.