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Mark Wignall | Political change creeps, then it leaps

Published:Sunday | March 19, 2023 | 12:56 AM

In this September 2020 photo members of the cabinet are seen at the swearing in ceremony at King’s House, St Andrew.
In this September 2020 photo members of the cabinet are seen at the swearing in ceremony at King’s House, St Andrew.

As impressive as the then unknown Senator Barack Obama’s speech in October of 2002 was, one would have had to be close to end-stage delusion to suggest that he would win the US presidency in 2008.

Local political discussions and early conclusions to political arguments two years ago would always include the given that the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) had at least two more political terms in its arsenal. Just as long as it kept its powder dry and those manning the ramparts were in tip top condition. Now the creeping change seems to have caught up with the JLP for now as recent political polls have shown a dead-heat situation.

A political analyst friend of mine emailed me last Wednesday. “The PM seems tired and aloof. Maybe his upcoming Budget presentation will be good, and his stock will rise again, but ever since he spoke about a ‘legacy’, he seems to have faded. I think the SSL crisis weighs heavily on him, too.”

My view is that the biggest headache the PM has at this time is finding that sweet-spot pushback against crime. To many in the public, he has tried. Maybe to himself he has come to the end of his tether, between him, his security minister, the police commissioner and army heads, no significant decreases in violent crime can be realised. Maybe the prime minister has secretly labelled himself a failure on that front.

“The only performer in the Cabinet is Dr Nigel Clarke,” a regular reader said to me on Thursday morning. “But even he is being weighed down by the SSL matter.” I did not share the view that other Cabinet members were not performing, but of course, we had quite a few names to attach to the non-performers.

FILLED WITH RELICS

“The Cabinet is filled with relics and non-performers. They must face the reality that their best days are behind them. The fact is it is tough on them. They cannot reinvent themselves, and it is difficult to convince them to step away,” he said.

“I can’t quite figure out why Health Minister Dr Chris Tufton. I do not see him advocating strongly for resources to improve healthcare for Jamaicans. It is disgusting how poor the healthcare is for most Jamaicans.

“Mr Bartlett is on cruise control with tourism. He is not doing anything troubling, and he is not doing anything noteworthy. He lets the tourism stakeholders run things.”

Prime Minister Andrew Holness knows that the longer the creep of political anger simmers in the political high grass, the more likely it is that a huge leap is imminent.

The People’s National Party (PNP) is, very obviously, in a better place than, say, even late last year. And of course, because more in the electorate are listening to the PNP, it has to present its matters on fighting crime clearly and give meaning to a country with many of the poor trying to navigate their way through feeding their children with reduced stock in the kitchen cupboard.

This presents the PNP with another fact of politics. Once a ruling political party loses flavour and begins to taste bitter in the mouth to the electorate, lesser amounts of people will believe much of what it says. At this stage, the PNP needs to rejig its machinery.

IS A HIGH HOMICIDE RATE EVERLASTING?

“Crime, well, it is the monster that cannot be slain so far,” said another reader. It is acknowledged that murders are down since the start of 2023, but other crime is trending up.

“The JCF can tell you the murder rate in practically every district in Jamaica, but crimes of fraud, well, they are not up to speed on that. Theft and other crimes are up, too. Mr Chang is not up to the task. He may be well meaning, but he is out of touch.”

Fact is, what can Security Minister Dr Horace Chang do that no other security minister in modern Jamaica has done? And that is, cut Jamaica’s high rate of violent crime in half and then set Jamaica on the road to be a considerably saner and safer place for our most vulnerable communities.

In November of 1992, Carl Stone polls were showing the JLP under Eddie Seaga leading the PNP and on the way to making the PNP the first one-term administration. By March of 1993, the PNP was back on top and won until it became the political fashion.

There was no social media to add interesting unknowns to the mix. “The economic fundamentals are in place,” is the general mantra from the JLP administration. What is unsaid is the fact that the usual inequities in the system persists. The huge gap in wages between those at the top and those on the shop floor.

Maybe the JLP is finding that it is better at dealing with the macro economy than understanding the need to better articulating and fixing problems in the economy at street level.

But that calls for real work at the constituency level, the thing my JLP insider friend tells me the PM is pushing in internal meetings.

“Jamaica needs good leadership, hard-working leaders, a serious Cabinet of members who can perform, achieve results, and meld with the PM on policy initiatives. The Jamaican people need water, housing, healthcare, jobs, proper education, and peace, to name a few basic needs. The JLP is not delivering, and I get the distinct impression the JLP are sleeping at the crease and will be bowled soon,” wrote a high-level PNP insider.

”No wonder the recent Don Anderson poll was good for the PNP and bad news for the JLP. Jamaicans see the overall runnings and don’t like what is going on. The JLP is being slack.”

- Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs analyst. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.