A Battle for the Soul of the JLP?


Published: Sunday | September 19, 2010



Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

An old British political joke goes like this: An old hand invites a newly elected member of parliament to sit with him in the front bench for the opening of Parliament. As the opposing party files in, the newcomer mutters, "Here comes the enemy!" The veteran sharply upbraids him. "Not so, young man! That is Her Majesty's loyal opposition!" And with a quick glance over his shoulder, he remarks "The enemy is behind you."

Peter Phillips did Jamaica a huge favour by bringing up the Manatt, Phelps & Phillips matter in Parliament in March. At first glance, it seemed perhaps an underhanded effort by the ruling party to block the extradition of Christopher 'Dudus' Coke. So a civil society, motivated partly by a demand for justice and partly by a fear of losing their visas, united around the issue and sent an unequivocal message to the prime minister - 'Extradite Mr Coke and save our visas, or resign!'.

Still unclear

A contrite Bruce Golding apologised and signed the order to send Dudus away. The PM never truly explained what he was apologising for, nor how he could sign such an order, after a few months, before proclaiming that to do so would be breaking the law. But then civil society and the media never pressed him on either point. We were probably all too scared of what might happen next. For despite the ringside shouts of "Sign the order, you coward!", everyone feared a civil war-like explosion of violence if the state tried to arrest Coke.

But, astonishingly, after the initial Tivoli 'invasion' and bloodshed, the murder rate plummeted. Had anyone predicted on May 23 that the murder count for June, July and August would fall to 256 in 2010 compared to 419 in 2009 - a drop of nearly 40 per cent - they would have been branded a lunatic.

Incredibly, this saving of 163 Jamaican lives has been almost totally ignored by the media. There have been no 'Murder plummets' front-page headlines, and virtually no radio or television discussions. Yet, when the homicide rate was soaring earlier this year, The Gleaner front page gave the daily count. Sensible countries emphasise positive developments and downplay bad news. We in Jamaica do the opposite by fixating on the negative and ignoring good news.

So Manatt Part 1 forced Bruce Golding into signing the extradition order for Coke, that ultimately resulted in the relative feeling of safety we are now enjoying. Manatt Part 2, however, has been, in many eyes, a tedious sequel. TVJ not long ago ran a poll asking, 'Should Manatt be put to rest?', and 71 per cent answered yes. Mention the word Manatt to anyone these days and they literally tell you to shut up.

Mr Golding has so bungled the affair that no one is going to believe anything else he says on it. But the messing up also seems to reflect a deep divide in the JLP. Now it's hardly a secret that there is no love lost between Bruce Golding and Harold Brady. Way back in 1997, there was a front-page Observer photo of then JLP St Andrew South Eastern constituency candidate Mr Brady blocking then NDM leader, Bruce Golding, from entering a community centre.

Confusing utterances

Now, if Mr Brady disobeyed his leader's orders not to get the Government involved in the Manatt affair, logic says he must suffer the consequences. And by publicly claiming to have informed Manatt in writing that he had been mistaken in telling them he was working for the Government, and was instead representing the JLP, Mr Brady also corroborated Mr Golding's version of events.

True or not, and confusing as they may be, Mr Golding's utterances on Manatt must have the approval of all JLP executives, since none has contradicted him. So why aren't senior party officials publicly supporting Mr Golding and telling Mr Brady to go quietly? Mr Brady is not, to anyone's knowledge, a party indispensible, and has little public support. So you have to wonder if he is a stalking horse, for bigger party heads, in some Machiavellian plot against Mr Golding.

Outsiders like me can only try to put known facts together and speculate. Furthermore, the latest developments in the Shahine Robinson dual-citizenship case may well leave the JLP majority too thin to govern and soon send the country back to the polls, rendering current JLP infighting irrelevant. But that is a still-developing story whose fallout is right now hard to predict.

The ongoing JLP upheavals perhaps had its roots in Mr Golding's 2002 return. No doubt many senior labour officials then saw the prodigal son's homecoming as a danger to their leadership ambitions. But since at the time the JLP faced electoral annihilation, they bit the bullet and accepted a move that made their seats a little more secure and, in the end, produced the best Labourite election result since 1980. Perhaps this week's unfoldings, and possibly the whole Manatt affair, was the drawing of final battle lines.

Golding tarnished

In raw political terms, ditching a tarnished Bruce Golding and replacing him with the immensely popular Andrew Holness might well strengthen the JLP's election winning chances. With murders down 40 per cent, and the Jamaica Debt Exchange having reduced our debt servicing by about 40 per cent, a Labour party led by a young and energetic leader, promising a break with the dinosaural past, would be very tough at the polls. The PNP has relentlessly targeted Bruce Golding over the Manatt affair, but, as the old saying goes, be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

In some ways, it's hard not to feel sorry for Bruce Golding. After scraping in with the thinnest of margins, he had to battle dual-citizen attempts to whittle away his razor-thin majority, deal with the worst global economic crisis in 80 years, and risk virtual civil war in extraditing our most powerful drug don ever. Already battered with Manatt for six months, he must now deal with Shahine Robinson's ousting. As they say, bad luck worse than obeah.

But Mr Golding's misfortunes have been partly of his own making. Despite his regime's real accomplishments in cutting crime and debt servicing, his buck-and-shuffle, stop and go way of making decisions, has painted him in the public's eyes as an indecisive wimp.

He simply seems unable to take a consistent stand on anything. Take the 15-point reform agenda he circulated in June to civil-society leaders. Despite calls from National Integrity Action Forum head, Trevor Munroe, and the Church Umbrella heads, Mr Golding still has not shared this perhaps ground-breaking document with the general public and tabled it in Parliament.

Practise what you preach

Like most Jamaicans, I am fed up with Bruce Golding's reluctance to practise what he preaches. If his Manatt apologies really meant anything, why not publicly declare his 15-point reform agenda 'A contract with Jamaica', on which he is prepared to stand or fall?

Yes, he might have to tweak the original timelines to make them fully realistic. And, yes, both his green-and-orange clad political opponents will try to delay his promises into failure. But by giving Jamaicans a detailed document of reform, with practical dates of accomplishment, he would have put in motion a train of events that cannot be stopped by future leaders.

Though Mr Golding's actions keep falling far short of his words, he remains our only national leader who consistently talks about fundamental change of governance. In fact, Abe Dabdoub left the labour party railing against JLP 'NDMisation' - his shorthand for party reformation - to be wholeheartedly embraced by the PNP.

Still, if Bruce Golding can't finish what he started with his reform agenda promise to our civil-society heads, what purpose is he serving as a leader?

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