Abraham Lincoln said, “Republicans are for both the man and the dollar, but in case of conflict the man should be put before the dollar.”
This article begins by plotting the historical trajectory of the JLP, leading up to the Golding and Holness administration and the process of reform thereafter. It calls for an ideological shift toward a Liberal Democratic framework that best suits our cultural fit in the current political climate. It also calls for a new and improved approach to crime and poverty alleviation, a shift away from the punitive model of justice and the residual model of Social Services to a more integrated model of supporting people at risk of crime and social deprivation.
The Jamaica Labour party was founded on 8 July 1943 by Alexander Bustamante as the political wing of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union; it won the 1944 general elections with 22 of the 32 seats. It went on to win the 1949 elections with a reduced majority before losing power to the PNP in the 1955 elections. It remained in opposition following the 1959 elections, but was victorious in 1962 and was therefore the Government when Jamaica gained its political independence from Great Britain on 6 August 1962.
After Bustamante retired from politics in 1964 the party had a number of leaders both as prime minister and opposition leaders: Donal Sangster, Hugh Lawson Shearer, Edward Seaga and Bruce Golding. It is fair to say that on balance the JLP has been credited for having a better financial stewardship, however, in government and opposition, the party was bedevilled by internal strife. In addition, they failed to communicate a set of fixed core ideological concepts that resonate with the people of Jamaica. Let’s face it, despite the Parties recent victory, the PNP still remain the party of choice for many Jamaicans; mainly because they are perceived to have a more coherent ideological platform. This begs the question therefore that the party needs a progressive reform agenda if the JLP is to be the preferred part of the Jamaican people.
In 2005 Bruce Golding succeeded Seaga as leader of the party and led it to victory in the 2007 elections. Golding resigned as head of the party and head of government in October 2011 and was succeeded by current leader Andrew Holness. He served as prime minister until January 2012 when he assumed the position as Opposition Leader. Holness called the 2011 elections over a year before it was constitutionally due, and the party lost by a 2:1 margin to the PNP. The party held a leadership election on 10 November 2013 where incumbent party leader (and Leader of the Opposition), Andrew Holness, was challenged by party deputy leader and Shadow Minister for Finance, Audley Shaw. Holness defeated Shaw by a margin of 2,704 votes to Shaw’s 2,012.Holiness rallied back from a devastating one tem defeat and entrenched political party infighting. He went on to lead the JLP to a one-seat parliamentary majority (32-31) in the February 25, 2016 general elections with a left of centre manifesto. The central part of this was to was the promise a tax break for the squeezed middle class. This resulted in a surprise defeat relegated the PNP to the opposition benches after one term in government. The confident PNP campaign was caught off guard by the clever strategic positioning of the JLP by offering policy inducements that left-footed the PNP.
With a slim majority win, the JLP and Andrew Holness have much to ponder about: on one hand he has to deliver on his manifesto promise of taking Jamaica from poverty to prosperity, while at the same time he has to transform the JLP into a confident and efficient organisation with a core political philosophy that captures the heart and minds of the Jamaican people. Holness by now is well aware that the weight of history is on his shoulders to unify the party and to grow the Jamaican economy. It’s been 50 years since the people of Jamaica have experienced economic prosperity. What then is the way forward for Holness?
The Shift to a connecting change agenda
One of the unspoken strength of the resurgent JLP has often been over looked. The transformation of the JLP began in earnest when Bruce Golding in 2007 made a policy lurch to the left through provision of secondary level education and health care free at the point of delivery. If Mr Holness is able to make good on his promise of delivering a substantial tax break while meeting the challenging obligations of the IMF, he may go down in history as one of the best Prime Minister of modern Jamaica. Let’s hypothetically give him the benefit of the doubt that he delivers on his manifesto within the next five years. This will not automatically guarantee him a second term in Government. The communication skills of the JLP – in terms of their successes in Government – have been widely criticised. Additionally, the Party has difficulty winning over the hearts and minds of the Jamaican people as a result of its perceived Conservative values and its awkward communication strategy. In order to overcome this Achilles heel the JLP have to communicate an ideological realignment that conveys its true strengths and core political aspirations.
On the evidence of what has been achieved by the Jamaica Labour party between the Golding and Holness administration it seem to me the the party has moved ideologically from its Conservative base to a more left leaning Liberal Democratic party. This policy position better reflects the Parties organic whole. However, the JLP is reluctant to own up to and claim this important realignment as it would be seen as a betrayal to its more traditional and Conservative leanings of the past. Every election we go to the Jamaican voting market to pitch our ideas to a voter base that are mainly living below the poverty line. How then can we pontificate that we are a capitalist Conservative party? Surely, this puts us constantly in an awkward ‘us and them’ situation. A liberal Democratic platform would better place them in an ‘us and us’ situation. We have to nail down the question of our true political identity; there has to be a credible identification and convergence with ideology and praxis.
Now that things have changed politically for the JLP, let us not be bogged down by our short term manifesto demands. Of course we have to make good on our election manifesto. Conversely, we also have to be bold in our long term national ambitions and communicate the true character of our reform agenda in order to win the hearts and minds of an electorate that is no longer beholden to political tribes. We have to communicate a meaningful political agenda to our new constituents as the post-colonial votes are rapidly dwindling. We must pitch our ideas and policies to the new millennial’s who are very suspicious of establishment ideologies that have not served their best interest historically.
Towards a Progressive Social Inclusion Agenda.
The national issue that I have to flag up is the constant fixation on a punitive, militarised, and justice base policy of National security. Certainly there is a lack of talent pool in the JLP on social policy. I f we are to meet efficiently our promise of poverty alleviation a change of course is necessary. I am proposing the following:
- Identifying young people and adults vulnerable to gun crimes and supporting them pre and post entry of the criminal justice system,
- dovetailing Police, Probation Services education, Mental Health, Social Services and The Heart Academy in order to provide services to those at risk to crime and violence,
- helping vulnerable people live as independently as possible,
- providing people at risk of committing acquisitive crime with the help they need to live in their own homes, other specialist housing for people with mental health issues,
Setting crime reduction strategy at a community level and incentivising positive outcomes.
- preventing problems in the first place or providing help as early as possible in order to reduce demand on other services such as the Criminal Justice system health and social services,
- providing help to complement the personal or medical care that some people may need,
- ensuring quality services, which are delivered as efficiently and effectively as possible through joint working between organisations that plan and fund services and those that provide services
- The promotion of equality and the reduction of inequalities by identifying those at risk of taking up opportunities as a result of class bias.
- promoting a social inclusion agenda that safeguard persons at risk of Homophobia, Informant hatred.
- providing new apprenticeships positions and promote job sharing in the private public sector in order to create a more equal society.
It is possible for the Social Inclusion agenda to exist alongside the pressing need for economic growth. This twin aspiration can be achieved with the existing budget drawn from various ministries in addition to creative sources such as grants and lottery funding. For successful implementation it will require constant evaluation to track progress and the necessary oversight. We cannot be tough on crime unless we tackle the underlying cause of crime. A Supporting People’s programme overall aim is to redirect major funding for services to help people at risk, so that our government and their partner ministries can deliver its manifest promise in a more consistent and accountable way. It is a far more competent approach than the PNPs ineffective JEEP Programme. In order to remain in government the JLP has to stay the course by generating ideas that reduce crime, poverty and social inequality; refining our ideology matters. Economic growth must be twinned with a social justice agenda that guarantees progress. A JLP with a Liberal Democratic platform will adjust our direction to achieve a longer and more credible stay in Government. We are a great political Party with an impressive history; if we develop our ideas and policies around the Jamaican people- who vote for us and this improves their lives -then they will become lifelong and in turn the party will develop a loyal support base.
Donovan Reynold is the CEO of Kingstonmouth.com, is a member of the JLP and an independent writer. The views expressed in his article are his own independent thoughts. Readers of this article are welcomed to provide feedback at the space provided at the end of this article or at firstname.lastname@example.org commentary made on our Facebook and twitter pages.