Jamaica Labour Party needs internal analysis

By Michael Burke

Thursday, March 29, 2012

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So the People's National Party has won the local government elections. Congratulations are in order to all who won their seats as well as to mayor-elect George Lee of Portmore. Congratulations in advance to those who will be elected mayors. Notwthstanding that, I have held the view for decades that local government elections should be devoid of party politics. Such elections should be contested by independents only because, hopefully, they would have more interest in the real function of local government.

Over the years the political parties have used the local government elections as opinion polls, for awarding party loyalists with safe seats and also as part of the strengthening of the party organisation. It is as if the local government councillors are the party captains, the members of parliament are the party majors and the ministers of government are party colonels, with the party chief of staff being the party president or leader.

Sometimes we get some good mayors and good councillors from the political parties but that is the exception rather than the rule. In any case, the reality is that political parties contest local government elections. The PNP landslide win in the local government elections should have surprised no one for a number of reasons. First, three months after winning power is hardly long enough time for the voters to fall out with the government.

Second, it was the same voters' list that brought the PNP to power three months ago. It is acknowledged that the PNP has more hardcore voters than the Jamaica Labour Party and the election boiled down to a matter of bringing out the hardcore voters. Third, the JLP would have less to spend because most of the JLP's financial backers would not donate funds when there was hardly a guarantee of victory.

In acknowledging defeat, some of the senior people in the JLP said that they had not yet had the time to do a proper introspection. This is understandable, as three months are indeed a short time for such introspection. However, some mistakes should have been acknowledged already but it does not appear that they have been.

In the aftermath of the December 29 general election, some argued that the arrogance of many members of the former JLP government contributed significantly to their defeat. But on the day of the opening of Parliament in January this year, Andrew Holness spoke in Parliament in the form of a lengthy lecture to the newly elected government. This was inappropriate and unwise. It was as if he was chastising the electorate for their decision.

Last Monday night when the PNP won the local government elections, Holness's "concession speech" was in the form of a brief press conference. He limited the questions from journalists to three, although they were able to "squeeze in" four. Has Holness learnt any lessons from the two defeats of the JLP in three months?

Generation 2000 (G2K) along with the rest of the JLP attacked the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) before the December election, as if they saw it as a threat. But G2K still attacks JEEP in their emails as if they have not learnt anything from their mistakes. The JLP should take a year-long look at itself as the PNP did following its defeat in October 1980. In any case, we are in Lent which is a time for reflection anyway.

Where the JLP is going to have it very difficult is in making any criticism of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who is even more charismatic than she is popular. The veneration of the charismatic Sister P is understandable in the Jamaican culture, even if disappointing to those like myself who would prefer Dr Peter Phillips to be prime minister.

Many Jamaicans were raised by their mothers or grandmothers in single-parent families and therefore have great affection for political mother figures. Indeed, some find it mind-boggling that a country so dedicated to mothers and grandmothers should have a problem with Roman Catholics like myself who honour the Blessed Virgin Mary (incidentally the Ethiopian Orthodox Church also honours Mary in a special way).

The fact that many youngsters wear rosaries has nothing to do with devotion to Mary but is rather a fashion statement. The anti-Roman Catholic culture in Jamaica dies hard, even in the face of a culture that should attract devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as evidenced in the near-worship of Portia Simpson Miller.

It was in almost similar circumstances (the charisma of JLP founder Alexander Bustamante, except that Bustamante was a man and not a woman) that the PNP learnt how to overcome this difficulty and win elections. The first PNP president Norman Manley implored his party to "organise and organise and organise". The party obeyed that exhortation most diligently and after more than 73 years of existence, the PNP seems to have become a party of organisation that is unbeatable and unstoppable.





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