Why is the JLP not more upbeat about its poll numbers?Wednesday, January 21, 2015
IN the seemingly long and tense months leading up to the mid-2001 by-election in the North East St Ann constituency, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leadership (read, Eddie Seaga), had been mulling just which person from the JLP would be chosen or selected to run on the party ticket after the People's National Party's (PNP's) Danny Melville had walked away and created a vacancy.
One late evening I received a telephone call from someone I knew in the JLP. He and others wanted to meet with me to 'bounce ideas' off me in certain matters having to do with choosing a candidate for the seat.
From the moment the call was made, the words 'confidentiality' and 'secrecy' were the factors in play. At the place where we had arranged to meet -- a quiet little joint off Hope Road -- an urgent switch had to be made as one of the participants saw someone whose familiarity with JLP matters was considered too close for comfort.
Even before we had exited our respective cars, a hurried change of venue was arranged and we were off again. In less than 10 minutes we settled in at the back of another joint that had only a couple of lovers playing 'kissy face' with each other. It was quiet, dark and very fitting for our meeting.
There were about five of us, including the person who had been asked by Seaga to consider running in the seat.
"So, what do you think?" he asked.
I knew him and also knew that there was no love lost between him and the party leader.
"Big mistake," I said. "Maybe Seaga wants to get rid of you. It's a safe PNP seat and I am doing a poll there now. Based on its history, it would be a surprise if the JLP should win there. In your case, I want you to consider that it could be a trap being set for you by Seaga. Send you there, withdraw the party machinery, you lose and you are dead in the party. To Seaga it would be mission accomplished."
All seemed to have come to the same decision that the person should not accept the offer, though for different reasons. At all stages of the meeting one of the participants was, more than the others, drumming it into everyone's head that all matters discussed were secret and even the meeting itself should be kept only to ourselves.
"Remember," he said as we left, "mum is the word. We don't want this getting back to Seaga."
Early the next morning I received a call from someone who was not a participant at the meeting but who was quite close to the party leader. He was laughing as we spoke on the telephone.
"Mark, about 15 minutes after the meeting finished,
-- called Seaga and told him everything discussed," he said.
The person whose name he called was the very same person telling us to keep the meeting and the matters discussed confidential. "Mark, yuh really don't understand the JLP. No one is loyal to anyone and there is little trust."
Eventually Shahine Robinson was chosen. She went on to win the seat for the JLP and she has done a good job in retaining it in 2002, 2007 and 2011. The person who was Seaga's first pick for the seat is now MP for a rural constituency. The person who called me holds a seat in mid-island and the person who was said to be the blabbermouth eventually left the JLP and joined the PNP.
All of this leads to the question: Why is the JLP seemingly not elated about various polls showing it considerably ahead of the ruling PNP? It could be that JLP insiders have examined the numbers and have seen that the JLP's poll numbers are pretty much the same as those scored in the last elections.
One senior JLP person said to me recently, "We have not gained anything since 2011. Some PNP voters have become disenchanted and are registering their disgust. As you know, it is much easier for the PNP to get back these voters than for them to switch and vote JLP. Those voters in fact are not likely to vote JLP because they represent the base of PNP support. If the PNP calls an election and "runs some food, some bullo wuk", those same voters who are never issues voters will likely fall back to the PNP and vote the same way they voted in 2011."
Another JLP insider also told me, as if to echo that meeting of 2001, "Apart from our free market model, the JLP has no set of core values that binds it like the PNP, even though the PNP's socialist model is just a notional thing. The key, though, is that it marshals the PNP troops together and gets them to believe in something bigger than themselves. In our party, we are just a bunch of people having many differing views, little loyalties to the party's cause and even less to each other."
This, to me, makes the case more than in the PNP that the JLP needs the type of leader who can step into that long established JLP vacuum and be the inspiration, the 'big idea' that the JLP needs.
There are, quite obviously, serious rifts inside the JLP as to whether its young leader, Andrew Holness, can be that inspirational leader. One quiet clique, as quiet and as uninspiring as Holness is, will tell you that they are firmly behind him. Not 20 feet away from that clique will be another one lambasting him and telling me that he is a disaster.
"What do you want Holness to do?" I asked one who was definitely no fan of his.
"I see Daryl Vaz talk up and while I disagree that he could have handled his concerns with much more diplomacy, maybe that is the sort of shock treatment the party needs. It's a difficult question.
"The party delegates, in electing Holness, may have done something that cannot be undone. As you well know and have written many times, the first duty of the party leader is to inspire the front-line party workers, then the base and then everyone after that. If he cannot complete the first part, any discussion of anything after that is futile and it gets us nowhere."
"But you guys are ahead in the polls. Why can you not capitalise on that?" I asked.
He laughed and said: "Let me give you a reality check. The leader also has to convince the party funders that he has what it takes to sustain an opinion poll lead all the way to the next elections. These people don't want to believe that they will be throwing good money away on a lost cause. They are not fools and they have people crunching numbers for them. So far, Holness is a big question sign in the minds of the big funders. Without those funds, poll numbers don't mean anything."
"So," I asked, "does that explain why there is no energy among JLP party workers?"
"There is no energy among the workers because nothing is coming to them from above," he replied. "Andrew Holness cannot be anything more than what you and others have seen so far. And what has been seen is nothing out of the ordinary. He cannot inspire the present Jamaican electorate. He doesn't have what it takes to do that."
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