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JAM | Dec 3, 2023

The Jamaica Labour Party at 80

Al Edwards

Al Edwards / Our Today

Reading Time: 10 minutes
(OUR TODAY photo)

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) celebrates its eightieth anniversary and what a bash it was at their conference last Sunday at the National Arena.

The party faithful had a lot to be happy about with their party boasting a still youthful Prime Minister Andrew Holness looking for a successive third term and the “ Green Team” dominating and maintaining a stranglehold on Gordon House.

Triumphant would best describe the mood at the conference as a sea of green descended upon the country’s capital to hear what Labourites could expect from their government in the oncoming years.

The JLP was founded on 8th July, 1943 by Alexander Bustamante, born out of the trade union movement as a champion of workers rights. The following year it won 22 of the 32 seats in Parliament.

Impressively, from Independence in 1962 to the present day, six of the nine Prime Ministers have been from the JLP.

Speaking at an Editors’ Briefing last week Deputy Leader and Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie gave a poignant history of the party and its contribution to Jamaica’s political landscape. The theme of this year’s conference “ Building Stronger” seemed apropos.

“When the JLP won the general election of 1944 it was given a mandate by the people and that mandate was further strengthened when we won a second term. Between 1944 to 1949, the JLP was able to chart a course that was responsible for taking Jamaica out of the British system into becoming an independent nation. The country benefited from the work of the JLP.

(OUR TODAY photo)

“We have seen the strength of the JLP over the years, from Sir Alexander Bustamante to Sir Donald Sangster, then Hugh Shearer. The baton was then passed to Edward Seaga who laid the foundation that saw a new look JLP. Then came Bruce Golding and now we are led by Andrew Holness.

“The picture I’m painting is about the start and the start is important because the JLP from its tenure at the wicket as government has transformed Jamaica, taking the country to a level the Jamaican people have never experienced. One only has to look at the JLP’s performance in local government since 2016, taking that portfolio to a different level. The JLP is the party that has built the foundation of Jamaica and continues to build the future of Jamaica. In our eightieth year, no one can deny the JLP’s place in history. It is one of the leading political institutions in the Caribbean. I am proud to be a part of this great movement called the JLP,” said McKenzie.

Having secured back-to-back victories from 2016, the JLP now has to transform Jamaica, bringing developed world status to a small Caribbean nation by the end of a third decade of a new century. Some see that as a tall order but is the JLP up to the task?

It has coalesced around a leader that has proven popular with the electorate and chalked up wins at the ballot box. His position is unassailable and there are no challengers to contend with right now. Andrew Holness has an opportunity to helm both the party and the government for the next decade and he would be only sixty-one.

Lee Kuan Yew took Singapore from Third World to First World. Holness must do the same with the runway before him. He must exhibit political deftness and steer his people to that promised land where Jamaica is the place of choice to live, work, raise families, do business and retire in paradise.

It’s a promise made but can it be kept?

This week, I watched Ridley Scott’s Napoleon about the mercurial French Emperor who was brought down by hubris after 20 years of glory, becoming one of the greatest military leaders the world had ever seen.

“ Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority.”

So said Lord Acton.

Holness having enjoyed a long tenure must guard against this. He must not squander his political capital for that is the JLP’s collateral.

PJ Patterson saw to it that the PNP had 18 years of uninterrupted political power but it presided over a dark period for Jamaica’s economy and the fortunes of its people. After all that, he is still regarded as one of Jamaica’s finest Prime Ministers, but did he take the country forward in a major way. How best does one describe his tenure? What readily comes to mind?

That’s a fate Holness must avoid. He must not be a Geoffrey Boycott playing a long innings of defensive shots but not chalking up runs on the board .He has to employ his time well and preside over a Jamaica that is making major progress- a functioning education system, taming unacceptable crime and violence in the country, young people seeing their lives on an upward trajectory, less bureaucracy, a new energy strategy.

Andrew Holness, leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)

The JLP should be grateful for how he has held the party together since he succeeded Bruce Golding. His political instincts and good favour with Jamaican people has been an asset the rank and file should appreciate.

The PNP made a fatal error from which it still has not recovered from and it too may face the better part of two decades in the wilderness.

Portia Simpson Miller was a trump card, a golden ticket with the Jamaican electorate. She had an umbilical connection to the people of Jamaica that saw her continue triumphs after PJ Patterson. Nevertheless, the heavyweights and intelligentsia of the party sneered at her lack of erudition, her common ways, resented her popularity and embarked on internecine infighting that still today has set the PNP back.

Dr Peter Phillips, Dr Omar Davies, Dr Karl Blythe took on Portia and they all failed. Despite their smarts, they were not box office at the polls-Portia was.

At the end of the day, politics is about winning and to the victor goes the spoils.

Years later, there is still infighting in the PNP. Peter Bunting dealt a fatal blow to Dr Peter Phillips although the banker did not wrest the leadership from the PNP heavyweight. Shortly after that, Lisa Hanna took on Mark Golding and was expected to defeat him. She did not and factions within the party are still at each other’s throats.

Golding has quietly gone about building confidence in the PNP and his popularity is on the rise. It is commendable but there is still much work that needs to be done and there is many a slip between cup and lip.

With Holness at the helm, the JLP does not have that problem. It can focus on delivering that straight third term without the distraction of infighting and with a battle-tested champion to lead them.

At the JLP conference last week, it was apparent that it has a deep bench of talent. Bobby Montague may be out of favour as a frontline minister, but he is a political warrior and a general you need in electoral battles. He is the Patton of Jamaican political warfare and he demonstrated his skills in the National Arena.

Dr Nigel Clarke has proven to be an able and adept Finance Minister and is getting better at the stump. Kamina Johnson-Smith is a capable Foreign Minister and should continue in that portfolio. Dr Horace Chang is the James Baker of the JLP; a wilely political strategist who thinks steps ahead. This JLP administration is lucky to have him. Aubyn Hill is assiduously laying down fertile ground for exports, commerce and industry. Fayval Williams is looking to marry education to the digital age with civics as a cornerstone. Dr Saphire Longmore continues to stress the importance of Jamaicans’ mental health, conflict resolution, child development. The Prime Minister mentioned that he was contemplating establishing a Ministry of Peace and Human Development. He would do well getting Saphire to head it.

Then there are the young lions; Matthew Samuda, Pearnel Charles Jr, Floyd Green, Delano Seiveright. Holness should be looking to move them up and they should not be daft to challenge for leadership just yet. Fellas, it’s not your time. Use that energy to get behind Holness and temper your ambitions-for now.

The grey beards such as Karl Samuda, Pearnel Charles, Tom Tavares Finson, Audley Shaw, Delroy Chuck now in the evening of their years, are elders who bring invaluable experience. They have witnessed a revitalised JLP at the vanguard of transforming Jamaica. They may even get to see the promised land not built by Joshua but by a prince of their very own, a prince that accomplished something that Edward Seaga could only dream of.

The JLP and Holness must not be ensnared by ideologies that take them away from the prize – a modern Jamaica where citizens can prosper and the country can truly be recognised as “developed”.

(Photo: Facebook @jlpjamaica)

“ We had a flirtation with ideologies that were foreign to us and did not serve us well. With all the social problems that need to be addressed, had we stayed the economic course and ensured that our economy was aligned to the opportunities that were created by the industrial transformations that were taking place, Jamaica would be a better place today,” said Holness a few years ago.

He was roundly castigated for this and many viewed it at throwing shade at the beloved Michael Manley.

He wasn’t altogether wrong. He too must stay the course. Last week during his address, he pointed out that Jamaica is in a better position than it was ten years ago- a stronger economy, a stable exchange rate, better road infrastructure, low unemployment, not as indebted, higher paid public sector workers. All this must be continued. The job is not yet done but progress has been made.

The JLP has to do a better job of communicating. After seven years in government a certain apathy and ennui sets in and this must be guarded against. The Prime Minister has lamented that despite some significant accomplishments, most people moan that “nothin na’ gwan”.

The JLP administration performed well in saving the country from what could have been disastrous consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic. That period saw the perfect storm of a health crisis, an economic crisis, a financial crisis and a social crisis. It was a stern test for many governments across the world and even Comrades would have to accede that the present Government acquitted itself well. Here, history will be kind to it. Don’t be coy, let people know that at Jamaica’s greatest crisis, darkest hour, a JLP government was there for its people and managed it.

COVID set the Government back three financial years. In effect, it has reduced this term in office by half .With its messaging and communications this administration is so often taking a rear guard approach. It must remember what brought it to power and the effective way it transmitted to the people.

The battle ground will be millennials and Gen Z and it is there that it will have to set up its stockade and munitions. Many of today’s young people have no recollection of the PJ Patterson/Portia Simpson Miller era. This can work for and against the JLP.

Many of them will see Mark Golding as a cool alternative who should be given a chance to turn Jamaica around. He is not tainted, he has not been tarnished by corruption, he is conscious and righteous.

The JLP would be unwise to dismiss Golding who is getting stronger and is increasingly seen through favourable eyes by many. The question is can the PNP apparatus get behind him?

At an Editors’ Briefing Last month, the JLP’s General Secretary Dr Horace Chang reminded all that far from being an uptown party and one that looks out for the interests of the business class, the JLP grew from the struggle for workers’ rights. The way he sees it, people need to be reminded of the history of the JLP.

He said, “It’s an important time to reaffirm the commitment of the JLP to workers and chart the direction in which we are taking the country. It is good to remind the party of the promises we made to our young people in Jamaica, the value we place on education. It was the JLP that insisted that children have access to education and began school building programmes. It was under the Hugh Shearer Government that we initiated the first World Bank loan of its kind to a third world country to build 55 secondary schools.

“We are now looking at education transformation as well as several hundred critical programmes for young Jamaicans. Never before have so many jobs been created for Jamaicans. We have over 2000 young Jamaicans training for free at HEART. We have nearly 4000 young police officers committed to making the country safe. The central core belief of this party is to give all Jamaicans a better quality of life and in particular provide opportunities for our young Jamaicans. We must remind the country of that foundation.

MP for Northeast St Catherine, Kerensia Morrison sees a coalition of history and a vibrant future for the JLP.

“I am happy to be part of a party that embraces women. On the Government side alone, we have 15 women with a total of 22 in Parliament. No one can deny that it is this JLP Government that has taken deliberate steps to ensure the voices of women are heard and issues around children are addressed.

(Photo: Facebook @jlpjamaica)

“The JLP has moved Jamaica forward, not just in a piecemeal way but in a robust manner. Our party is very serious about young people and they have a major role in moving Jamaica forward. The Jamaica Labour Party is the place for young people to share their ideas , work with us and make their dreams a reality. We believe in consensus and all of us must have a say in building brand Jamaica, making our country the place to live, work, do business , raise families and to live in peace and harmony. We have a strong leader and Prime Minister who will be going for the third term.”

Holness is a good campaigner in the field and he will have to get his Clarks on for all of next year.

The Leader of the JLP is a wholesome character, hailing from Spanish Town, he has worked his way up through education and professionalism. He has an accomplished wife, two wonderful sons. It’s a mirror image he can hold up to the people of Jamaica and say this can be you, this is the way forward-for family and country.

From the Jamaica section of heaven, Bustamante, Shearer, Sangster and Seaga must be looking down and nodding with approval at where the JLP is today.

That breeze Holness is feeling on his back are their congratulatory pats.


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