When Independents ruled!

1947 — The first Parish Council Election


Sunday, March 04, 2012

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This is the final of a two-part article looking at the first Parish Council Election in 1947. Part one was published yesterday.

Noted Independents entering the winner's enclosure included Sam Reid (Whitehall, St Thomas), BHO Fuller (Fellowship, Portland), HS Schleifer (Richmond, St Mary), Ridley Baird (Ocho Rios, St Ann), AU King (Red Hills, St Catherine), Luther Wakeland (Deeside, Trelawny), Arnold Jackson (Hopewell, Hanover), Matthew Henry (Friendship, Westmoreland) and Donald Sangster (Black River, St Elizabeth).

The PNP polled the second highest number of votes: 68,784 (29.4 per cent), but won only 52 divisions (26 per cent) to the JLP's 54 (27 per cent) with a poll of 65,285 (27.8 per cent). The PNP won three boards — St Ann, Manchester and the KSAC 7-6 over the JLP, but lost control of the KSAC to the JLP which was still boosted by four of the six MHRs as ex-officio members, even in the wake of Evans' resignation.

This, of course, explains how Alexander Bustamante came to be the mayor of Kingston 1947 - 48 (concurrent with being majority leader in the House of Representatives) and Lynden Newland, another sitting MHR, his deputy who succeeded him as mayor.

The PNP won 13 (76 per cent) of St Ann's 17 divisions, 10 (63 per cent) of Manchester's 16, but was starved out of St Thomas, Trelawny and St Elizabeth. The PNP won four each in St James, Clarendon and St Catherine, six in St Mary, two in Portland and only a single seat in both Hanover and Westmoreland.

PNP stalwarts romping home included firebrand Wills O Issacs in the East Kingston No 1 division — a consolation for the 1944 whipping by the JLP's Frank Pixley in Central Kingston; Ken Hill in Central St Andrew No 1 division, who was also badly bruised by Bustamante in their 1944 encounter in West Kingston; William Seivright, Thossy Kelly, Iris King, and Balfour Barnswell in the Corporate Area; Ivanhoe Cameron and Holroyd Thompson in St Mary; AGS Coombs in St James; Stanley Brooks and Wendell Benjamin in Manchester; Herman McMorris in Clarendon; and Cecil Clarke in St Catherine.

The JLP won only in Portland and St Catherine with eight divisions in each, but took divisions in all the parishes, except St Ann. The party won seven in St Thomas; six in the KSAC, Hanover and Westmoreland; five in Trelawny; four in Clarendon; and one each in St Mary, St James, St Elizabeth and Manchester and took control of a total of four boards.

Among the line-up of successful JLP councillors were young trade unionist Hugh Lawson Shearer and veteran Thaddeus N Duval in the Corporate Area, John Barrett in St Thomas, Cornelius McKenzie in St Mary, Austin Taylor, Cleveland Stanhope and Selvyn Crooks in Hanover, George Nelson in Clarendon and Caleb Walters and Issac Bennett in St Catherine.

Undoubtedly, the election's most exciting contest took place in the Cambridge division of Southern St James where two Independents with the same surname, Ernest Morris and Peter Morris, ended up in a dead heat on 331 votes! Ernest was later declared the winner by one vote when he was given the casting vote from the returning officer.

Another very close contest occurred in the Guy's Hill division of Northern St Catherine when the Rev Vincent Robinson (Ind) polled 552 votes (32.8 per cent) to scrape home by just three votes from DE Stephens on 549 (32.6 per cent), with CA Burrowes just another three votes away on 546 (32.4 per cent).

In Cedar Valley, St Thomas, three votes also separated Independent winner Ivan Murray, 349 (41.3 per cent), from the JLP's Jeremiah Blake, 346 (40.9 per cent), with Gertrude Steadman (Ind) trailing on 90 (10.7 per cent).

Other interesting contests saw the JLP's Madame Rose Leon going down to PNP veteran Ken Hill in St Andrew Central in her first political race; the JLP's Arthur Smith trouncing legendary trade unionist St William Grant in the West Kingston No 2 division; Donald Sangster (Ind) getting by EVV 'Dawda' Allen in the Black River division in St Elizabeth; Stanley G Beresford smashing the PNP's Mervyn Harris in May Pen, and at Wakefield in Trelawny, Cedric Titus as Independent beating the JLP's Elliston Wakeland by only eight votes, a situation which would be reversed later when both men challenged each other for the North Trelawny seat twice.

In Montego Bay, renowned businessman and former general secretary of the JDP, Walter Fletcher, jumped ship to contest and win the Montego Bay North division as an Independent. In the Corporate Area, popular Baptist minister Rev Eleazer E McLaughlin, who had been a KSAC councillor since 1924, also moved from the JDP and secured the West St Andrew No 2 division for the JLP.

The 1947 PC Election actually became the consoling political route for a host of big-name politicians of the day — especially in the PNP — whose venture into the 1944 General Election was a complete disaster. Men like Wills O Isaacs, Ken Hill, AGS Coombs, Rudolph Burke, Reginald Lowe in Portland and Wendell Benjamin in South Manchester. Likewise, many who had run and lost as Independents in 1944 — such as Norman Marsh (St Mary), Ernest Morris (St James), Nemiah Wainwright (St Ann), Rev Henry Messam in Hanover, Rev WM O'Meally in Westmoreland, and Spencer Hendricks in St Elizabeth — were all able to make amends at the local level.

For some who would become household names, it was either their first exposure to national politics or the start of a political career. One such young man was 24-year-old trade unionist Hugh Shearer (Central St Andrew No 2 division) who was destined to become Bustamante's heir apparent in both the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and the JLP and a future prime minister of Jamaica.

Allan Isaacs, who was beaten by the JLP's TN Duval in the hills of Eastern St Andrew, would become a senior PNP MP and minister of government (after flirting with the Farmers' Party), and later joined the JLP and elected a JLP MP. Rose Leon, despite the setback, would survive to become one of Jamaica's most enduring politicians and the only person to serve as a Cabinet minister in both major parties.

Iris King would, in another decade, secure the double-barrelled distinction of being the first woman to be mayor of Kingston and the first woman (in 1959) to be elected MHR for the PNP.

Then there were others like the JLP's Arnold 'Dutty Shut' Jackson (Hopewell) and Cleveland Stanhope (Blenheim), both of whom would later reign over all of Hanover for over a decade in Parliament. Felix Toyloy (Lorrimers) and Elliston Wakeland (Wakefield), another JLP duo who ran things in Trelawny for about the same period. Franklin B Ricketts (Salem) would become the PNP Federal MP for St Ann (1958-62) before joining the JLP, and the PNP's Livingston Wedderburn (Dry Harbour) would become the first MP for North-West St Ann, then left the PNP and later joined Robert Lightbourne's ill-fated United Party in 1974.

Clement Afflick (Hope Bay) would move on to bigger things in 1964 when he retained the East Portland seat for the JLP following Ken Jones' death, but lost it in 1967 and was in the PNP camp by 1972. Max Carey (Seven Rivers) started out as an Independent in southern St James and ended up as PNP MP for East Westmoreland, replacing 'Slave Boy' Evans.

Caleb Walters (Hartlands) would later be the JLP one-termer for South-East St Catherine (1959-62), while Andrew Ross (Rock River) would establish a 40-year family dynasty for the JLP in South-East St Mary that started with his first victory in 1949 and ended with his son's defeat in 1989.

Local unsung heroes like the beloved Matthew Uriah Henry (Friendship) of Blackness district went on to represent Central Westmoreland with distinction for the PNP (1959-72), and the amiable Charles LA 'Maas Claude' Stuart, who had been serving the St Mary Parochial Board from 1932, would transcend to PNP MP for West St Mary (1955-67) and become one of the first PNP Cabinet ministers.

Donald Burns Sangster (Black River), who became the youngest chairman of a parochial board when he led the St Elizabeth board after the 1947 election, had been an elected member of the board since 1933 at age 22 and would emerge a giant in national politics as Busta's successor in the JLP and the second prime minister of Jamaica.

The PNP's William 'Commodore' Seivright (East St Andrew No 1 division), who was KSAC deputy mayor 1941-42 and mayor 1944-46, would move to the next political level eight years later and served in Parliament until 1967. Another PNP stalwart, Wills O Isaacs, KSAC councillor since 1943, merely used the 1947 election as a means of sustaining his political presence to exact his revenge against the JLP's Pixley in the 1949 General Election and served as senior MP and government minister in Central Kingston and North-East St Ann until his retirement in 1973.

Similarly, AGS 'Father' Coombs, who was earlier drubbed by the first female MHR, the JLP's Iris Collins in North-West St James in 1944, kept on course in Montego Bay South division and avenged his defeat in the 1949 General Election. Ken Hill, who kept his political momentum focused by turning back the powerful challenge of Rose Leon, would in two years influence the departure of Bustamante from West Kingston and capture the seat, rise to great prominence in the PNP, which would expel him (1952), formed his own party (the NLP) which would flop, joined the JLP and became a Federal MP (1958-62) and ended his political career right where it began — at the KSAC as PNP councillor, 1969-81.

But apart from those who went on to the national level, the 1947 election was a milestone for many who were already in the process or were about to launch a long and distinguished career of service in the parish councils. People like Barnswell and Duval in the KSAC, John Barrett and Vincent Downie in St Thomas, Reginald Lowe in Portland, Myrtle Gallimore in St Ann, Oscar deLisser in St James, Hanover's Austin Taylor (who became one of the first JLP senators of independent Jamaica), Manchester's Stanley Brooks and Assad Lazarus, Clarendon's Stanley Leiba and George Nelson (who rose to become mayor of May Pen), and in St Elizabeth, John Sangster, Egerton Wright and Calbert 'Uncle Bull' Nembhard who swept the Junction division as Independent in 1947, and would retain it unopposed as Independent in 1951 and as JLP, unopposed in 1956.

In later years, Parish Council Elections would mostly result in a PNP victory, with their best performance in 1977 (88.8 per cent of the divisions, 67.1 per cent of the votes and all 13 councils), slightly bettered by the JLP's best performance in 1981 with (91.6 per cent of the divisions, 63.3 per cent of the votes and all 13 councils).

They would also provide the vehicle from which a great number of individuals would rise to prominence in parliamentary politics, such as Ralph Brown, Roy McNeill, Keble Munn, John Gyles, Wycliffe Martin, Edwin Tucker, Jim Thompson, Emerson Barrett, Eli Matalon, Enid Bennett, Eric Bell, Desmond Leakey, Derrick Rochester and Portia Simpson.

They would also produce individuals who virtually became parish council institutions, like Cecil Charlton, JAG Myers, Frank Spaulding, George Mason, Kenneth Haltaufderhide, Charles Gordon, Guy Ottey, Uriah Rowe, Canute McLeod, Minna Wilmot, Martin Dunkley, Guy Christie, Arthur Jones, Arthur Gilchrist, Everrod Williams, Marie Atkins, Lorna Leslie and Lee Clarke. And they would also play a key role in many local political rivalries endemic to Jamaica's politics, where, for example, it was widely known that in the Hampstead division of Central St Mary, the JLP's Harold Haughton-James (father of brothers Richard and Sutcliffe who later contested the parliamentary seat) was dubbed 'Cafenol' for having disposed of PNP incumbent WS Payne!

Overall, the 1947 election established many political trends that would endure in future PC Elections as well as in regular General Elections. Most striking was the low voter-turnout, especially in urban areas, which would be sustained. The strategy of using the PC Election as a precursor to higher office, the emerging family dynasty, the husband and wife team first established by the Gallimores in St Ann and which would be later emulated by the Stanhopes in Hanover, the Leons and the Yaps in the KSAC, and much later, the Buchanans in St Elizabeth.

It also established the trend for a rather scanty involvement of women in politics, which would improve with time in the parish councils, but remained dismal at the national level. And although two JLP women (Rose Leon and Elfreda Watson) failed to make it in the Corporate Area, the party scored with Brenda Silvera in Little London; the PNP won with Iris King in the KSAC and Kathleen McHugh in St.Ann's Bay; while Independents Myrtle Gallimore and Frances I Brissett took the Alexandria and Warsop divisions, respectively. A mere five women (2.5 per cent) of the 199 councillors were elected throughout the island.

Sadly, in a similar pattern to the General Election, the performance of Independent candidates peaked in the first election and declined dramatically with every election thereafter, as the entrenchment of the two major parties kicked in — for keeps. Divisions won by Independents were cut by a third in 1951, their poll share fell below 20 per cent and they controlled only four councils. By 1956, they could manage only 26 of 235 divisions with seven per cent of the votes and lost control of all their councils.

After 1956, Independents ceased to make any meaningful impact on the PC Elections. They won only two divisions in 1960 and in 1966 had just Frank Ricketts alone, having left the PNP and taken with him his old Salem division. Independents then won another single division in 1969, and took eight divisions in 1974, but only because six of those were really former JLP councillors representing the six divisions of West St Thomas where their MP, Robert Lightbourne, had resigned from the JLP to become an Independent.

Since 1974, no Independent has won a parish council seat, except in a few isolated cases of by-polls which lacked participation of either of the two major parties. In the most recent PC Elections, there have only been a sprinkling of Independent candidates polling votes which hardly surpassed double digits.

Clearly, it could be perceived that the failure of the Independent candidates has been a serious indictment on our political system, in that their continued success could have been a most effective ingredient in controlling tribal politics. Perhaps for the sake of the country and the political sincerity of the parties, we need to be taken back to that moment in time when a true Independent takes on a PNP and a JLP — without the intimidation, the bogus voting and the violence — and is triumphant.

-- Troy Caine is a political historian and commentator.





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