Having spoken to him only a few times, I don’t know Bruce Golding very well. So my judgement of the man is based on media reports and the opinions of those who know him well. But it’s my strong impression that there is no more intelligent and honest politician in Jamaica. And everyone who puts their country’s interests first - as opposed to party agendas or personal vendettas - must be happy at having a man of such stature involved in national affairs once again.


Now some say he lacks fire in the belly and brings to mind the old joke of politicians being smart enough to know how and dumb enough to care. For he often seems too smart to care, meaning the lure of power is not enough to make him resort to the unsavoury tactics often required to win elections in this country. Or at least that’s how he has behaved since 1995, and 7 years is enough proof for me of real change.


A few months ago I was a guest on Mr. Golding’s radio show in Mandeville. The news carried a clip of a politician spouting invective, and off air Mr. Golding spontaneously remarked with genuine relief that “Boy, I am so glad to be out of that nastiness!”. And I suspect one reason the negotiations for his return to the JLP took so long was Mr. Golding’s lack of desire to go back to active politics of any kind, much less take on the task of helping to rescue a party which is 12 points behind with 3 weeks to go.


Which is why I think his return is motivated more by a sense of duty than opportunism. Of course if Mr. Golding was really serious about bringing about the changes he has espoused, he would have been a craven fool to reject the opportunity to articulate them from the platform of a major party. After all to true believers in a cause it’s the message and not the medium that matters. Which is why the NDMers now attacking him sound so pathetic. If they really believe in their separation of powers doctrine they should join forces with him, not indulge in low-minded character assassination.


Now many say he has difficulty making up his mind, and it’s true he sometimes appears to spend too long looking at all sides of the matter. Indeed I once heard a top ranking Labour official exclaim that “Bruce has never made a decision in his life!” But he made the patriotic decision to enter active politics, the painful decision to leave the JLP, the audacious decision to form the NDM, and the principled decision to resign after that party lost badly in the 2000 North East St. Ann by election. And now he has, in my mind, made the noble decision to heed his country’s cry and try to prevent a fourth consecutive one sided parliament that might permanently damage Jamaican democracy.


Comrades who saw an easy victory within their grasp are no doubt grumbling, and we’ve heard many “sankey” jokes and “unprincipled” pontifications. But this hullabaloo will soon die down. Most Jamaicans are too glad at having a real alternative to care how it happened. Politics is the art of the possible, and necessity makes strange bedfellows.


As for party switching, well Winston Churchill more than once changed sides when either his conscience left him no option or he sensed an irresistible opportunity. In 1901 he won a Conservative seat. But in 1904 he joined the Liberals - to cries of “opportunistic traitor” - and remained one until he lost his seat in 1922. He ran as an independent in 1924, losing to a Conservative. Later that year he won as a Conservative. If the great Churchill could cross lines to serve country, why not Golding?


Anyway voters here are fairly forgiving about party shifts, as Karl Samuda has shown. But the JLP still has to make Mr. Golding’s move appear credible to the public, and Mr. Patterson is already promising ‘shark bite shark’ ads showing Mr. Golding and Mr. Seaga attacking each other, a la the famous ‘cock mouth kill cock’ of 1997. So far the PNP has decisively outcampaigned the JLP, and it’s up to Labour to mount a coherent advertising strategy and prove to the electorate that it possesses organizational competence. For many skeptics still expect the Greens to yet again say or do something stupid and ruin the grand return


Now Mr. Golding has his political faults. His people skills need work, and he is an uninspiring speaker who often over-elaborates policy minutae. He also tends to go on too long and dwell excessively on problems and not solutions. A few years ago I attended an NDM fundraiser and left him still going after an hour not convinced of a brighter future with his party, but depressed about Jamaica and almost ready to emigrate.


And while his separation of powers ideas make sense in general, a presidential model is the last thing Jamaica needs. Why should we swap a parliamentary system which has produced 40 years of unbroken democracy for one which has never worked for any extended period except in the United States and Costa Rica? But as he says, let the people decide.


What we really need is a strong opposition with more than one third of the seats in parliament, no matter which party wins. All that matters to me about Mr. Golding’s return is that we now have a good chance of a balanced parliament, which we have not seen since 1972. If Golding brings to Labour even the 5% the NDM got in 1997, the JLP has gone from a probable 15-18 seat situation to a likely 20-25 one and might even have an outside shot at winning. In short our democracy is strengthened.


Of course 3 weeks is an eternity in politics, and the big money effect has yet to be felt. For rumour says millions were promised to Labour coffers if Golding returned, and in democracy money talks. Indeed in 1997 the 56% PNP, 37% JLP and 5% NDM voter shares very closely matched their advertising spending percentages.


Yet the deep pocket men must be given credit for putting country before their accounts. For the truly rich always prosper under one sided democracies, for then the poor have no way to express their dissatisfactions. Indeed Golding’s return to the JLP was a triumph for the Jamaican body politic as a whole, as private sector groups and parts of the media have put long and steady pressure on both sides to join forces and give our democracy a chance to function properly.


As for Mr. Seaga, well though he was the author of his own problems to begin with, he has for once put good sense before pride. Some say only desperation finally made him agree, but maybe his new little girl is mellowing the old boy. And while a last triumphant hurrah for him seemed impossible a week ago and still seems unlikely, who knows if the surprise baby father might not amaze everyone with another unexpected winning shot? changkob@hotmail.com

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