MICHAEL MANLEY, BETTER MUST COME
Dyke & Dryden Ltd,
West Green Road, Tottenham
Professional objectivity has prevented me from supporting either party in Jamaican politics. I have deflected all inquiries to that effect by saying:
“I can’t take sides by saying for whom I would vote if I were a Jamaican”.
Some wags have pointed out that it didn’t prevent me from saying for whom I wouldn’t vote. Either way, the only prime ministers of that country whom I have known personally have come from the People’s National Party (PNP). In the years after independence, the leaders of the PNP had greater contact with the United Kingdom whereas their rivals in the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) were associated more with the U.S.A.
Technically speaking, Norman Manley wasn’t an ex-prime minister when I met him at the Porchester Hall. That post was not operative until after independence had been attained. He was the former chief minister. When he was in office, Manley won the love and respect of his compatriots here by touring the riot-ravaged streets of Notting Hill in the wake of the disturbances and the murder of the student Kelso Cochrane. I had met him in my capacity as manager of the Links who were providing the entertainment, and had time for only a few cursory remarks with the great man before promoter Hector Karam ushered us out and his distinguished guest into a more private room.
On his retirement and his death shortly afterwards, Manley was succeeded as party leader by his second son, Michael. The latter was well-acquainted with this country through war-time service in the Royal Canadian Air Force and his studies at the London School of Economics. In autumn 1969, Michael Manley made a getting-to-know-you visit to his fellow-Jamaicans in the United Kingdom. The trip, set up by businessmen Len Dyke and Dudley Dryden, kicked off with a reception at their offices on West Green Road, Tottenham. I was among the two dozen or so guests – this time invited as a journalist.
Michael cut an imposing figure, even more imposing than his father, and not only because he was taller. He was a very good orator, spoke as easily and impressively in one-to-one conversation as he did in public, was humorous, and was strikingly good-looking (though not in the film-star way). In style Michael resembled more Sir Alexander Bustamante, former leader of the JLP and his father’s long-time rival, to whom, indeed, they were related. It is easy to understand why a recent opinion placed Michael Manley top of all Jamaican prime ministers.
I was taken as much by the qualities of his colleague, another politician, whose name was not yet known to me. He was shorter, had a darker complexion, and his oratory was of a different kind. As my grandfather would have said admiringly:
“But that man could speak”.
His tone, while lacking his companion’s natural fluency, did not pull punches. It seemed that he could be formidable at the election hustings.
“Who is that man?” I asked the guest standing next to me.
“That’s P.J. Patterson” he replied.
“Do you think that if the party had not decided to keep the leadership in the family, he would have been the top man?” I pressed him.
“His time will come” the man said with a knowing style.
As it certainly did. Jamaica has been well-served by two leaders of such stature. Still, I cannot help thinking that P.J. Patterson’s best years were spent as understudy to Michael Manley and when he got to the premiership conditions had changed and he wasn’t quite as effective as he might have been earlier. That is not to knock his considerable achievements but to appreciate his capability.
Although I did not meet Edward Seaga, the long-serving leader of the JLP prime minister, I was once introduced to his sister, and I worked happily for many years under the Gleaner editorship of Hector Wynter who had been in the JLP cabinet of his predecessor, Hugh Shearer. My credentials for professional impartiality have not been impaired!
In drawing up the itinerary for the tour, the organisers had overlooked the politicians’ travel arrangements. Photographer Eddie Grant volunteered his service as a driver and said to me:
“There’s a fourth seat in the car. You know London well. Why don’t you come along as our navigator?”
It gave me the inside-track on any other would-be reporter of the visit. The arrangement was what might be referred to these days as “embedding”.
I should have told you already about Eddie Grant. For three years from 1968 we were as inseparable as I had been earlier with Dave Cole. We were inseparable, too, in the public mind because of the alliteration of “Grant, Goodwin, Gleaner”. Although we were very different and background, we established instant rapport and mutual respect. It was a sad day for me, and for the newspaper coverage of the Jamaican community in the United Kingdom, when Eddie decided to settle in Canada. Conversely, it was very fortunate for the community in Toronto because writing up to the time of writing he is still providing excellent service to the Gleaner, the press and the people of Jamaican heritage in that country.
The number of events we attended in a week would astound present-day readers. That was because Eddie had a car and new his way around London – in spite what he had said to persuade me to take the spare seat – with an expertise that would shame a cabby. We also thought alike. There was no need to waste time in discussing, arguing and deciding on which person or activity on which to concentrate. We just did it.
Grant will be mentioned again in this narrative in greater detail. The stories of these years are very much his stories as my own. Like most people who reach the top of their profession from a position of disadvantage, Eddie did so through sheer hard work. When I first knew him, he was a floor-worker at one of the West End’s best-known department stores and carried on his photography from his modest home in Brixton. His bathroom was a mesh of film hanging up to dry. He has come a long way since then.
For a week Eddie and myself travelled around London with the future of Jamaica in the back of his car. Michael Manley was well received by both Jamaican and English audiences. In spite of the economic troubles in both countries his “better must come” was infectious. Local councillor Sir George Young, host of a reception in Chiswick, has become a prominent politician at Westminster.
To one crowded attendance Manley announced that a follow-up meeting had been arranged for a couple of days later starting at 7 p.m.
“That is 7 p.m. British time and not CPT (Coloured People’s Time”). Turning to me he explained: “For an Englishman, meeting at 7 p.m. is the time he arrives, but for a Jamaican that is the time he leaves his home to go to the meeting”.
The tour closed at Brixton town hall. As with all his meetings, the venue was crowded to overflowing. I took my usual place, sitting on a windowsill watching from the wings. As one of the dignitaries hadn’t arrived Manley sent word for me to join them on stage rather than leave one chair empty.
There was a racial tinge to this meeting that had been missing earlier. A speaker from the floor who proclaimed his African heritage, and African alone, ended by asserting vehemently that Jamaicans owed nothing in their development to the English.
The politician asked him quietly: “Please tell me, sir, in which language we are conducting this discussion”.
Another speaker to raise a question was the political activist Richard Hart. I was surprised that he was still with us – and so young, as I had had known of him as being a pioneer of the preceding, pre-independence generation. He did not pass away until after the first draft of this book had been completed.
As we spilled out into the street at the close of the meeting, Courtney Lawes and Neville Royes, two prominent members of the Association of Jamaicans, called out to me:
“How is it that a white Englishman gets to sit on the platform with our leader when it it is denied to a black Jamaican?”
It was no use my trying to explain to them that no black Jamaican had been denied, that I had not sought the privilege, and that it would have been an insult to Jamaicans to have refused an invitation from their national hero. They had political point to make. I understand, too, that they were supporters of the JLP who may have wished to embarrass Manley. Already in the meeting Michael had drawn attention to nameless individuals displaying their PNP credentials prominently and sitting in the same front row of seats as they had been photographed in the Gleaner waving their JLP insignia his rival, Hugh Shearer, had spoken at the same venue some time earlier.
Association of Jamaicans
At this time some Jamaicans, a very few, who were inspired by the rise of Black Power in the USA attempted the get the “white man Goodwin” replaced by a Jamaican in “his position with the Gleaner”. It mattered little to them that I had no position with the Gleaner. All my reports were on a free-lance basis. If I didn’t report these events, nobody else would so they and their community would be the losers. The Association of Jamaicans lobbied successfully for one of their members to be become the newspaper’s first official correspondent.
To their credit, almost all the people about whom I had written regularly were prepared for their achievements to go unrecorded rather than to deal with a competitor. Theo Sealy, Gleaner Group editor in Kingston, sent me a pass marked “special correspondent” and told me to carry on just as I had been doing.
After that there was no further overt opposition from any Jamaicans, except for one or two professional rivals wanting the work for themselves. All subsequent attempts to get me out of the job were from white, English men. The help and support of the Jamaican community has been re-assuring. In the 1980s, Hector Wynter – Mr Sealy’s successors – told my critics:
“A contributor to this newspaper does not have to be Jamaican. However he does have to be able to sum up accurately and represent the thoughts of Jamaicans. Does Mr Goodwin achieve this aim? The fact that until they meet him everybody assumes that he is black proves the point”.
There was no further problem of that nature.
Long after Courtney Lawes and Neville Royes had departed the scene the then current officers wanted to produce a history of the Association of Jamaicans but did not know anybody who could recall some events in its early years.
“Why don’t you ask Clayton Goodwin to write a piece – he will know” somebody suggested.
And so they did – and so did I.
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