Veteran Bartlett credits JLP western sweep on programme started in 1996

Veteran Bartlett credits JLP western sweep on programme started in 1996

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

Sunday, September 27, 2020

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The Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) road to victory in all 15 seats in western Jamaica during the Septemwber 3 General Election goes back to a decision by the organisation to position key people to direct political traffic in the region from as far back as 1996, one of them being Ed Bartlett.

The veteran Member of Parliament for St James East Central was assigned to western Jamaica by Edward Seaga, the now deceased party leader, following the embarrassing loss to the People's National Party (PNP) in the 1993 General Election —Bartlett even losing the St Andrew Eastern seat that he had held from 1980 to 1993.

By 1996, the National Democratic Movement (NDM) , a promising and seemingly spunky third party, led by a former JLP stalwart Bruce Golding, had established roots across Jamaica, and with it, had attracted the interest of several JLP stalwarts, many from the west, including Godfrey Dyer, Dr Horace Chang, Brascoe Lee, and JC Hutchinson, the latter who had fallen out of grace with Seaga, having not contested elections in 1989 and 1993.

Then came the general election of the following year, and although the NDM got no seat in the 60-seat Legislature, it managed to split votes that would normally have gone to the JLP, which resulted in another huge loss by the JLP, and many of the prominent names, including Bartlett in east central, falling.

Now, Bartlett believes that the hard work, investment and commitment in the west over the last 24 years have contributed greatly to the JLP's success.

“This victory of winning all 15 seats in western Jamaica began from the move to bring me back to the region in 1996, after the NDM had demolished the JLP and they took away every caretaker, every key worker, and left us with only Derrick Sangster and Dalton Brooks — that was the extent of the JLP's organisation in western Jamaica,” Bartlett said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer last week.

After his loss to the PNP's Violet Neilson in St James East Central in 1997, Bartlett was not renamed a senator by Seaga, but stayed on to become deputy leader, and by the 2002 election, the JLP had won six of nine seats in St James, Trelawny, St Elizabeth and Westmoreland, including his, and two others in St James. It marked the start of a JLP domination of the most prominent parish in western Jamaica and forced a comment from the mouth of then Prime Minister PJ Patterson who uttered that it felt like a dagger had been put through his heart.

When the next election came around in 2007, the JLP added two more seats to its furniture collection, with victory in St Elizabeth South Eastern and South Western. Boosted by that, and fair showing in the 2011 General Election despite losing St Elizabeth South Eastern and South Western, Bartlett pushed his chest out and boldly told the party hierarchy after the general election win of 2016 that he wanted to take on Westmoreland, the only parish that had remained 100 per cent loyal to the PNP over the years, a suggestion that to many in his organisation seemed bizarre, and left one member questioning his mental capacity.

Early indications of a Westmoreland breakthrough came in the Local Government election later in 2016, which saw the JLP winning five municipal seats — four of them in Westmoreland Central for the first time.

“The result of a clean sweep in Westmoreland since 1980 was gratifying,” Bartlett, who was born at George's Plain in the parish, told the Sunday Observer.

“We had set up the management team for central and western and provided all the support for them. Eastern was unexpected, but we felt it, and what happened in central and western impacted eastern,” he said of the transformation that saw long-standing PNP candidates Wykeham McNeill and Luther Buchanan lose in Westmoreland Western and Eastern, respectively. The Westmoreland Central seat was held by Dwayne Vaz, who won it first in the by-election of November 2014, following the death of veteran parliamentarian Roger Clarke, and followed by triumphantly in 2016.

“We saw it coming. The only places we had a little resistance in the west were Negril and White Hall, and when I knew Wykeham was gone was when we went through Mount Airy, Good Hope, Grange Hill, Retirement and Sheffield and saw how the people reacted to us.

“So all the people who thought it was a complete waste of time to campaign in Westmoreland, some of whom said they would never fly over Westmoreland, ended up being shocked,” Bartlett commented. He also suggested that the groundwork was laid during the by-election when party leader Andrew Holness set up camp Savanna-la-Mar, the parish capital, for three weeks, going into communities and meeting the people.

Among the several records established during the last election was one which allowed Bartlett to win his St James East Central seat by the widest margin in its history —4,146, which also ended up as the most impressive win in the county of Cornwall, beating the 4,112 margin achieved by Dr Chang in St James North Western into second place.

Bartlett put the strong support on the over 30-year-old education and scholarship programme that he has in place, which now has recipients in every university in Jamaica and as far away as China studying medicine, as thousands of young people were among the 7,348 votes that he got, which allowed him to win 95 out of 105 boxes, including a historic triumph in the Lilliput boxes, once regarded as a PNP fiefdom.

Negatives from the PNP camp, in particular, the perception of its president, also contributed to the JLP win, Bartlett suggested, as well as the popularity of Holness, which pushed far more people to polling booths than expected.

It also marked a decline by approximately 50 per cent of PNP support in the constituency in what Bartlett described as the cleanest general election in Jamaica's history.


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