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Tufton avoids PJ's 'I shall return' quip

‘I don’t mimic or try to pattern former leaders’

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, January 19, 2014    

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WHEN then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Planning PJ Patterson resigned from the Cabinet of Prime Minister Michael Manley in 1991, he left with the famous quote: "I shall return", suggesting that he had a visionary outlook that few were privy to.

Patterson rebounded the following year to win the presidency of the People's National Party (PNP) over Portia Simpson Miller and went on to become the nation's sixth prime minister, serving in that role for 14 years — the longest by any Jamaican.

Now, 23 years after that statement, Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) shining light Dr Christopher Tufton has shied away from repeating such a pronouncement for himself, following a tumultuous last few months in the Opposition party.

Political analysts said that Patterson might have known that Manley would not have lasted the five-year journey as prime minister, owing to ill health, and theorised that few in the party could challenge him successfully for the top job when that vacancy arose.

Patterson had resigned from the Cabinet after he had granted a tax relief to oil firm Shell Company (West Indies) Ltd, headed at the time by his lifelong friend, Howard Hamilton, also of horse- racing fame.

As history unfolded, Manley quit as prime minister on March 15, 1992, and Patterson, who had maintained a transparent national and party presence in his time away from Manley's Cabinet, took over as prime minister on March 30, 1992. His month and day of departure coincided with his elevation to the top, as he stepped down as the chief executive on March 30, 2006.

Tufton, a former deputy leader of the JLP in charge of the western region, hopped out of a possible contest for that post after it emerged that his nomination paper, which he insisted he submitted ahead of the required deadline, mysteriously disappeared, leading to the JLP Secretariat saying that it had no knowledge of its whereabouts.

That followed his decision to support the veteran parliamentarian Audley Shaw over incumbent party leader Andrew Holness in the bitter leadership tussle.

Tufton's troubles boiled over after Holness scratched his name from the list of Opposition senators, telling Governor General Sir Patrick Allen that Tufton, along with Arthur Williams, had quit.

Both aggrieved men hit back by saying that Holness had deceived them into signing undated letters designed to address a particular stance, in the event of a departure from the party's position on the issue of the Caribbean Court of Justice.

"No, I don't mimic or try to pattern former leaders. You have to learn from history and I am a student of history," Tufton told the Jamaica Observer in an interview recently.

"I have learnt a couple of lessons from what has transpired to date. First of all, never sign an undated letter, especially if you sign on a particular premise and that premise is not specifically stated. The impression from that letter is quite different from how it was used.

"The letter was a bad idea, not because I have had to leave the Senate, but in retrospect, if you do something that you now feel is not right, you must be man enough to recognise it. We all have eggs on our faces as a party for that whole scenario with the letter. It has painted a negative picture of all of us, whether you initiated it or you just signed it, because it says that we, contrary to the constitution, are pigeonholed into positions that may, from time to time, run contrary to our convictions and the fathers of the chamber of review never envisioned that," he said.

"Granted, in my case I thought it was for a specific purpose, but even so, positions are subject to change ... it's a dynamic environment you exist in. If it were not, as is being stipulated now, then it probably is even a bigger breach, because there is a suggestion that any position that runs contrary, you really now can't use your initiative and your conviction, and so on. While there has to be some sort of party position and party discipline, and the party must meet and collectively take positions, that position must be informed by discussion and dialogue. At the same time, there is something there that gives you a little airy feeling," Tufton said.

The former Cabinet minister in JLP administrations led by Bruce Golding and Holness, said that learning from history involves good and bad experiences.

The JLP, he said, if not now, then later, will have to come to terms with the reality that Jamaica's and the party's democracy requires all hands on deck.

"I have heard leaders say that a piece of the labour party can beat the PNP and it is a truism... we have seen that manifest itself in the history since Independence," Tufton stated.

Does he miss being in the Senate?

"I like to serve. It's not for a lack of options that I serve in Government, as I do many other things," he said. "It's not an easy task, because sometimes it is thankless. So from the perspective of service, wherever I can, I will, and the Senate certainly offered an opportunity to provide a higher level of service, although there are many other areas that you can serve.

"The opportunity, as represented by the Senate, and the opportunity to work with colleagues whom you have known for a period of time on both sides of the aisle, is something that you will always remember. I enjoyed that. I also believe in adjusting, and therefore the issue now is to serve in other capacities. There are unlimited numbers of ways to do it."

Asked whether he felt relieved that he was now out of the Senate, Tufton said: "Relief is probably not the word, because with every endeavour and initiative, there has to be a level of responsibility and unless I stop in time and do nothing, then something else will come and fill the void and I will become active again and take on those responsibilities.

"There is a lot more charity that has come out of this leadership race and the post-activity. To a large extent, people who were not as clear are a lot clearer in terms of leadership at the critical levels, of the thought process of our leaders and even though it's early days, it has offered an opportunity for people to form their impressions or opinions on the leaders within the party, based upon utterances, based upon the positions that have been taken," he said.

"It's not all desirable, and in some instances it may require some rehabilitation in a number of areas, but to the extent to which there is a recognition that on the negative side it exists, and it is a problem, hopefully that clarity will help those who are being affected and who, through that, are affecting the party's prospects and chances.

"Pre-election, there was a lot of uncertainty around some of the positions and the posturing in the party and the personalities. Post-election has done more to define the personalities in the party and their thought processes, their thinking, their desires, through their actions. That can be a positive thing and could also be a negative thing," Tufton said.

As for his current relationship with Holness, Tufton admitted that it was not rosy, but, on the other hand, not as hostile as other political discords have been.

"We don't engage in a lot of discussions, but I wouldn't say it is any better or any worse, pre-election than post-election," Tufton said.

"We don't have any more negatives. I have expressed my own position and some of that position is confidential between he and I. But outside of that, what is important is that I respect his mandate, and given all the action that he has taken from the Senate onwards, I have to read in that a signal that he is sending, and respond to that signal in the way that I think is best for the party, the country and myself," Tufton said.

As to whether or not he was specially targeted during the leadership campaign by Holness, Tufton pleaded ignorance.

"People have said all kinds of things, but I personally don't know if I was targeted by the leader and I would prefer to assume the best, rather than the worst," Tufton said.

"I can certainly relate to the issues that have impacted me and those who have supported me, whether at the constituency level or the area council level, or otherwise.

"The impact of those decisions need to be properly assessed. The party is bigger than all of us at the end of the day. I am a party person and I try to avoid the personalities as much as possible. You can't always avoid it, but as much as possible you should," stated Tufton.

Political watchers close to the JLP leadership campaign said that Holness, while paying keen attention to what was said about him by those who opposed him as leader, focused heavily on the utterances of Tufton in particular.

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