In a word, yes. That’s all there is to it. When Jamaica Labour Party Leader Andrew Holness named a commission headed by Professor Bernard Headley in April last year to evaluate reasons for the JLP loss in the December 2011 general election, it was seen as a good move. The Gleaner’s editorial writers commended him.
“Their job will be to take a 360-degree look at the Jamaica Labour Party and make recommendations for its reform, indeed, transformation,” Holness said at a press conference.
Mr. Holness received the report early this year. He then kept it under wraps. So naturally, it became an issue. In every interview, he would be asked, “When are you going to release the report?” His answer would be some version of “Not yet.”
The report became fodder for the campaign of Mr. Holness’s challenger for the leadership of the party, Audley Shaw.
In an interview with me last week, Mr. Holness announced that the party’s executives
had decided that party officials would get the report this week, and it would then be “cascaded” to the Area Councils, and finally the general public would get to see the executive summary. Why not the full report? Apparently it was thought this might give a strategic advantage to those outside the party.
Some accommodating soul then leaked a copy to the Gleaner, which has been publishing sections of the report. But having seen this report, there seems to be no rational reason for Mr. Holness’s insistence on secrecy.
Remember, the PNP commissioned a review of the reasons for the party’s loss in the 2007 general election. The Brian Meeks led Commission published a report which was made public in short order. You can even find it on the Internet.
The Meeks report pointed to a number of problems, for example, the long campaign period caused by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announcing, at a public meeting in early July, an August 27 election date.
“The August 27 date made the campaign too long, deflated the comrades, put more stress on an exhausted organization, opened the door for more JLP money to flow to the electorate, gave them more time to decimate the PNP with their media campaign…” said the report.
“there was strong support for the view that the party’s media campaign was the worst in recent history…”
The Meeks Report also said that “There was a strong view coming from the constituencies as well as the leadership that campaign organization from the centre was seriously flawed.”
The point is, the report laid bare problems in the PNP which led to its election loss. The press did pick it up, but no more than was to be expected. I mean come on, the PNP lost. Clearly there were problems. Evaluation after a major setback is what organisations do. Recommendations will be made, but the real issue will be what is done with those recommendations and whether the organization concerned then begins the hard process of re-organising and re-building.
In refusing to release the Headley Report for so long, Mr. Holness lost control of the process and made the issues outlined loom larger than they really are. Most, if not all of the problems identified by the Headley Commission had already been picked up by most political commentators and observers. There is nothing shocking or electrifying in it. Mr. Holness’s leadership comes in for some criticism, but so does the party leadership as a whole. And there are positive comments about the party leader. For instance, the Report said that:
“In the discussions related to the party leader the discussion pendulum swung erratically from one extreme to the next…the stronger sentiments would suggest that Mr. Holness is liked and respected and that he has a high degree of trust from the party base. It was felt that his leadership while at the Ministry of Education spoke to an organised, knowledgeable and fearless leadership personality…”
On the other hand, it went on to say:
“…there was a fear that he would be unable to manage the party, to bring the dissenting quarters together…the Review Team found that there were concerns that the leader was too soft, and needed to be more assertive and a suggestion that he needed to follow the leadership style of Edward Seaga especially since he was ‘coached’ by Mr. Seaga.
“…the Party Leader needs to look into his own personal leadership currency, there appeared at the time of the review to be a lot of support for leadership…there were concerns that he was perhaps too aloof…”
The timing of the election, of course, was cited as a major problem with some supporters, according to the Report, viewing this as the most significant factor in the Party’s loss.
But the reviewers also highlighted the party’s weak election machinery, and problems with the candidate selection system and public relations strategy, and poor media relations. Since Mr. Holness only became leader after accepting the endorsement of senior party officials on October 5, 2011, problems contributing to a big election loss in December could hardly be laid at his feet alone. The Gleaner’s editorial writers opined that the report had not been “unkind” to him.
Given that, the politically strategic move would have been to immediately release the report, and allow everyone interested to have his or her say.
Mr. Holness should then have moved swiftly to implement the recommendations and initiate re-building.
Instead of which, he is now, half way into the government’s term in office and days away from a major challenge to his leadership, talking about “cascading” the report for discussion within the party. Taking action early would have eliminated one major plank of his challenger’s campaign, and removed the possibility of criticisms of his being weak, indecisive and afraid to face up to the truth as outlined in the review.
If Mr. Holness loses the leadership election, his decision to “hug up” that report is likely to be a major cause. If he wins, it will be in spite of it.