Jamaica Gleaner / Andrew Holness, as he has been accused, may have made many strategic and tactical errors in the 26 months he has led the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). In that case, among the biggest of them must be his failure, up to now, to formally release the report by a five-member committee that reviewed the party’s heavy defeat in the general election of December 2011. That failure has become a cause célèbre in Audley Shaw’s campaign to unseat Mr Holness as JLP leader, the vote for which takes place in five days. It left the impression that Mr Holness had much to hide, presumably that it was primarily his leadership that was rejected by voters in favour of the People’s National Party (PNP). As it turns out, the group headed by Professor Bernard Headley essentially concluded that there was much blame to go around. For whatever may have been the leader’s tactical errors, public perception of the JLP transcended Andrew Holness. It is against that backdrop that we believe that Mr Holness should have let it all hang out, the report that is – and a long time ago. While we believe that Mr Holness, or any leader of a democratic party, must be open to challenges – and this should be expected, especially after election defeats – the circumstances under which he assumed the leadership seems to be either forgotten, ignored or underappreciated. Mr Holness, as Dr Headley’s committee acknowledged, inherited from Bruce Golding a party and government that essentially imploded. Politically, there was Mr Golding’s, and the Government’s, inept handling of America’s request for the extradition of the Tivoli Gardens-based drug lord and racketeer, Christopher Coke. The perception among many was that the JLP was in support of a criminal and that state resources were appropriated in support of the effort. Indeed, the Coke affair triggered Mr Golding’s resignation in 2011. As the Headley committee report pointed out: “Mr Golding passed on to Mr Holness an administration that was in full crisis mode; the Government damaged politically.” While the Coke issue was in full flight, there was scandal over Mike Henry’s handling of a Chinese-funded infrastructure-improvement project that fell, according to Dr Headley, “squarely into Mr Holness’ lap”. All this was happening with Jamaica facing an economic crisis and its agreement with the International Monetary Fund, presided over, ironically, by Mr Shaw, having broken down. Painful decisions The Headley committee observed: “Mr Holness correctly figured that to navigate what would undoubtedly be a difficult road ahead, and in order to make some necessary but painful decisions, he needed a political go-ahead from the electorate. He needed to have his own leadership mandate, a mandate that would also cement his hold on his historically fractious party.” In the end, Mr Holness lost the election. Among the consequences when leaders lose is the questioning of their judgement and capacity, and, sometimes, as in this case, challenges for their jobs. Clearly, the Headley committee didn’t question the logic of Mr Holness’ quest for a specific mandate, although rational people differ on his timing and the management of the campaign. This report, as much as it implicitly criticises him, provided Mr Holness with a compelling defence and a basis for reform of the party. For whatever reason, he didn’t make the best use of it, and provided ammunition for his opponents.
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