BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau firstname.lastname@example.org
JUNCTION, St Elizabeth — Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Deputy Leader Christopher Tufton last night publicly endorsed Audley Shaw for leadership, insisting that the latter was the man best able to restructure, unify and lead the Opposition party to victory in elections.
"I believe he has the experience to reorganise the party machinery for winning elections again," Tufton told JLP delegates at an internal campaign rally at BB Coke High School.
Shaw will seek to unseat current leader of the JLP Andrew Holness when the party goes to national conference in November.
Tufton, seen as a prospective leader of the JLP prior to his shock loss by just 13 votes to the People's National Party's (PNP) Hugh Buchanan for the South West St Elizabeth seat in the December 2011 parliamentary elections, said his decision had been taken rationally and without emotion.
"This is not a game," said Tufton.
"When you the delegates select Audley for leader, he better understand that you the delegates expect him to restructure and reorganise the party and lead us into winning the next election and provide good governance as prime minister," he said.
Tufton sought to assure Labourites that his decision in no way reflected any personal feelings towards Holness.
"I support Audley, but that does not mean that I dislike Andrew Holness," said Tufton. "Andrew is a good Labourite and he has served his party well. He should be respected at all times.
"But let's be frank. I cannot deny my disappointment with some of the positions taken. I am disappointed in the lack of publication of the strategic review committee -- for me a critical document to help us with the rebuilding process of the party," he said.
Tufton, who was part of the National Democratic Movement in the 1990s -- then led by former prime minister and JLP leader Bruce Golding, following a break with then JLP leader Edward Seaga -- also voiced his displeasure at recent utterances.
"I am disappointed with the comments made about NDM people seeking to undermine the leader and party, as I know, as God is my judge, this is not true. Further, I think this position is disrespectful to Bruce Golding and all those who helped to rescue the JLP after eighteen-and-a-half years in Opposition.
"I am disappointed in attempts at intimidating delegates from not wanting internal elections, by equating challenges to betrayal and disloyalty," said Tufton.
"Fear-mongering is equal to intimidation and manipulation. But Labourites, these disappointments must not equate to hate or bitterness on my part. Because I am not hateful, nor am I bitter," he said.
Tufton described Shaw as "a team player and unity leader and that is critical right now to the party's rebuilding process".
A winning strategy, he argued, could not "single out and make some people feel less of a Labourite than others. People who were former NDM, PNP, brown-skin or otherwise should not be made to feel that they are less of a Labourite than others.
"If we take that approach, then (Alexander) Bustamante (founder of the JLP) would not be a born Labourite, since he did leave one party (PNP) to form his own! He would be a second-class Labourite! What kind of foolishness is that? How could that make sense?
"I am tired of those who seek to use colour and past political affiliation to divide and rule and in the process damage the unity in the party and undermine its chances to win.
"An effective leader always seeks to unite, not to divide," he said.
He recalled that the last time the JLP won parliamentary elections in 2007, five of the 32 seats were "won by people who were previously in the NDM, including Bruce Golding. If they did not win, the JLP could not win! It is an insult to them for anybody to be carrying the divisive NDM argument.
"I have never heard Audley do it. I respect him for it and I think that his approach is the stuff of which good leaders are made," said Tufton. Shaw, he said, was "not an insecure leader" but "a team player" who has the support of "critical stakeholders".
Tufton rejected what he said were suggestions that he and Shaw had entered a "secret" deal for leadership to handed to him (Tufton) at some point in the future.
"I smile when I hear this because I know that neither Audley nor I are living in a fool's paradise," he said.
"The only agreement I have with Audley Shaw is to support him and help him to be the best leader and best prime minister for the JLP and Jamaica," said Tufton.
Tufton argued that as a former finance minister during "the most severe global financial crisis in 70 years", a former chairman of parliament's Public Accounts Committee, and former general secretary of the JLP, Shaw -- a current deputy leader and Opposition spokesman on finance -- had more than proved himself.
"I am convinced that Mr Shaw has the confidence of the critical stakeholders that make up our society and [who] are critical to rescue this country over time. Audley can speak to the capital money class, the working class and the international multilateral and bilateral classes. He understands and can represent the farmers as well as the bankers, the helpers as well as the lawyers, unemployed as well as the factory worker, the school teacher as well as the student.
"He is not just man a yard, but man for all seasons and circumstances.
"Labourites, that is why a Audley mi seh!" said Tufton.