Refreshing frankness in Tufton's thoughts

BY STEPHEN VASCIANNIE

Monday, August 12, 2019

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In his new book, State of Mind: Politics, Uncertainty and the Search for the Jamaican Dream, Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of Health and Wellness, has taken us on a reasonably comprehensive tour of Jamaican politics over the last 25 years or so. The minister has also given us autobiographical content, starting with his time at “Miss Natalie School” in Manchester, through his growth and development at Manchester High School, The University of the West Indies (UWI) and post-graduate studies, and to his successful political career, which has been reflected in various important positions.

Brown Man Status?

State of Mind is a carefully structured, thoughtful book, as one would expect from a cerebral political figure. In large measure, it is also revealing: Tufton is not afraid to dwell on emotionally sensitive personal matters, and to offer private thoughts on public affairs.

To take the former, Tufton is keen to discuss his social origins within the Jamaican racial and political environment. Thus, he notes, with elaboration, that he is often misplaced by Jamaicans. Because of his complexion — he self-describes this as being a “brown man” or a “red man” — it is often assumed that he is a privileged son of Jamaica. This, Tufton disavows as a matter of fact. His position is that, as the rural scion of the working class “Miss Ruby” and an essentially unknown father, he was a stranger to social advantages in his early years — even though he did not realise this.

And yet, through hard work, commitment and with loving but stern mothering and mentoring, the young Tufton prevailed, emerging as head boy at Manchester High, armed with the necessary tools for intellectual and political success.

Scholarships

As Tufton reports, Manchester High was followed by a brief stint in the working world at Alcan, just outside Mandeville, and then the UWI where, with the aid of a Jamaica Flour Mills Scholarship, he proceeded to an upper second class honours degree in management studies.

In short order, again with interludes in the private sector, Tufton took a Master's degree in marketing from Georgia State University (on a Thomas Jefferson Scholarship), and the doctorate in Business Administration from the University of Manchester (on a Commonwealth Scholarship).

Along the way, Tufton on the academic side lectured at the UWI and at other institutions, and became a specialist in the marketing of Jamaican products, particularly in export markets. In his studies, he also developed advanced, specialised knowledge on the role and impact of foreign investment in the Jamaican economy.

But despite his stellar intellectual achievements, Tufton has not undertaken academic pursuits as ends in themselves. Rather, the academy has been the foundation of a political career: in this regard, it is fair to suggest that, with one or two possible exceptions, Dr Tufton has been the most successful politician from the academy in Jamaica's post-independence milieu.

Electoral Success

In the political arena, one key measure of success is, of course, electoral victory, a point which implicitly pervades Tufton's State of Mind. Two broad considerations tend to bring this home. In the first place, readers will recall that Tufton was, in the decade of the 1990s, a leading light in the National Democratic Movement (NDM). (I was a member and spokesman of the NDM between about 1995 and 1998).

His book provides important background information on the NDM, considers the challenges faced by the party, and frankly reviews its impact on the political environment.

In the end, however, Tufton's overall conclusion on the NDM seems to be that the NDM was not a suitable political vehicle because, and only because, it was unsuccessful in its early forays in electoral contests. The purpose of a political party is to win elections, so if your party stalls there is no point in remaining in the stalled vehicle. This approach is reinforced by the unimpressive history of third parties in Jamaica, so Tufton's perspective is entirely consistent with our conventional wisdom.

Secondly, Tufton's commitment to the primacy of electoral success is also reflected in his assessment of the fortunes of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). In the period since 1980, the JLP's electoral performance has been mixed. Against this background, Tufton presents carefully calibrated views concerning internal challenges faced by the party and offers solutions on how these challenges may be overcome.

He also indicates points in his political career when he has been prepared to make personal and family sacrifices for the greater good of the party on the assumption that the party's electoral success is of the first importance.

Political Personalities

On another point, although State of Mind understandably dwells on Chris Tufton's personal fortunes in the political sphere, it also offers fascinating insights concerning other leadership figures in the JLP. There is, for instance, a review of Bruce Golding's leadership style and substance, his strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately his political demise in the wake of Manatt/Dudus turbulence. Similarly, there is also a broad assessment of leadership issues relating to Andrew Holness' contest with Audley Shaw in 2013 and the consequences of that contest.

Denizens of the JLP will be able to opine authoritatively on such internal wrangling, but, from the hinterland, non-members of the JLP may well be struck by Tufton's sense of balance. At different points in the book, he is expressly critical of Golding, and he frowns on the treatment he received in light of his role in the Holness versus Shaw contest. But, at the same time, he adopts a broadly conciliatory position which should augur well for party unity, even as he presents his own perspectives.

In some places, Tufton also offers comments on leadership approaches of late Prime Minister Edward Seaga. He talks about having to go through a “side door” with Wayne Chen when both he and Chen visited Mr Seaga for secret negotiations on Golding's return to the JLP. This was apparently at Mr Seaga's request. More generally, Tufton places Mr Seaga in the mode of a JLP maximum leader in keeping with the Bustamante tradition, again as identified by Tufton.

People's National Party

In this context, it is arguable that Tufton could have turned a proper analytical eye to the leadership style in the People's National Party (PNP). Perhaps he has proceeded on the basis of the restraint of the cockroach in the fowl fight; but the book would have benefited from a contrasting of the styles of PJ Patterson and Edward Seaga, not least because this comparison was a central feature of Jamaican politics for about 20 years. At one point, too, Tufton commends Michael Manley's charisma, but then dismisses his initiatives without much analysis. More could have been said on this point.

By the same token, the book could have drawn an ideological map of the differences between the JLP and the PNP. Tufton provides a good statement of his political views in support of private enterprise and the responsibility of the individual for his or her family upliftment. The question, though, is whether, and to what extent, these views are equally compatible with today's world view within the PNP. Where is the line between both political parties in Jamaica today? As we undertake the collective search for “the Jamaican Dream”, we could benefit from Tufton's view on the essential differences between the main parties.

Stimulating

Tufton has packed much activity in his 50 years or so. In the political world, he has been minister of agriculture and fisheries; minister of industry, investment and commerce; minister of health and wellness, deputy leader of the JLP, head of G2K, chairman of the NDM, member of Young Jamaica, Jamaican senator (twice) and Member of Parliament (for two constituencies), among other things a man of accomplishment.

In these various positions, he has grown increasingly convinced of Jamaica's potential (in Vision 2030 terms), but has grappled with ways and means of achieving this potential. He supports, to some extent, consensus politics across the parties, but does not underestimate how difficult it will be to achieve workable consensus in a political community characterised by enduring paternalism and tribalism.

A final word. Although State of Mind addresses matters of high policy and sometimes low intrigue, it is presented with a readable style. The chapters short and punchy are skilfully titled. We read, for example, about “Cassava Man”, “Ole Time Religion”, “Micey at Mona”, “Locked in the Cabinet”, “Bitter Sugar” and “Thirteen Votes”. In places, we come upon non-conformist thoughts (as, for instance, on same sex relations), and on some matters such as the toll taken by politics on family life there is refreshing frankness.

This book should stimulate argument both within and without the JLP, and throughout the wider Jamaica.

Stephen Vasciannie is the resident of the University of Technology, Jamaica, on secondment from The University of the West Indies.


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