Mike Henry saddened by Cabinet snub but presses on
Having been re-elected to the House of Representatives in the most recent general election last September 3, Henry remains “The Elder Statesman” among MPs in the House at age 85, and could very well break the 43-year record held by the late Prime Minister Edward Seaga in Kingston Western as the longest-serving MP for any constituency.
He recalls losing on his first attempt at winning the Clarendon Central seat in 1976, and being shot in his leg while campaigning in the constituency under an islandwide state of emergency which was instituted by the then People’s National Party (PNP) Administration of Michael Manley.
But, despite his loss and injury, Henry, a publisher whose LMH Publishing Limited has been responsible for a number of books on some critical areas of Jamaica’s social and cultural development, returned in the even more eventful 1980 General Election to win the seat convincingly and add to a JLP landslide which routed Manley’s first regime by 51-9 seats.
Since then he has served as minister of state in a number of ministries, including: youth, local government, information, tourism, culture and sports, as well as a Cabinet minister since 2007 as minister of transport and works and minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), followed by a brief stint as the minister of labour and social security for the last few months of the 2016/2020 JLP regime led by current Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
Henry was honoured with the Order of Jamaica (OJ) in 2019. However, he was not reappointed to the Cabinet after the 2020 General Election — a move by the prime minister, which has disappointed him, as well as most of his constituents.
“I am still the MP for Central Clarendon, but obviously the prime minister thinks I am too old to serve,” he commented, recalling a cartoon in the Jamaica Observer prior to the election which showed him being rolled into Gordon House in a wheelchair.
A large number of his constituents, including his favourite team member Councillor Joel Williams, feel that he should have been treated better for his service over the years, including serving as a deputy leader and chairman of the party.
Williams told the Sunday Observer that it was the constituency which insisted that Henry run again at age 85, and expected that he would have been returned to one of the portfolios in which he had served in the past.
“We wanted him to complete his major projects for the constituency, including Vernamfield Aerodrome, the Herb McKenley Memorial Stadium, a new sewage system for May Pen, all of which have been in the works for several years,” Williams lamented.
“However, it is in the prime minister’s remit. We can’t quarrel over that, but we expect a fair amount of the developments to become reality going forward,” Councillor Williams added, as he noted that the constituency’s executives have met with general secretary of the party, Dr Horace Chang, on the issues.
Williams said that they had impressed on Dr Chang the need to assist the constituency in completing at least some of the projects which Henry had started, including his appeal over the years for a multi-modal system of transportation to make travelling much easier for both urban and rural commuters.
“We have a personal attachment to him and if he is dissatisfied, we are going to be dissatisfied, too. We are only asking for a fair share. We know the needs and we are hoping that they will be met over time, because he is not depending entirely on government support. He has been working on getting private sector support for some his projects,” the councillor said.
One of the projects Henry is determined to get going, with some help from the private sector, is to start a constituency trust which administrates the social projects and, at least, gets them moving in the right direction.
Nowadays, Henry, who turns 86 in June, works mainly from his offices at home, or at his publishing company in downtown Kingston assisted by his wife, Dawn. He is usually back in Clarendon Central on weekends, to deal with local matters arising in the area.
Henry is obviously hurt by the demotion, which will exclude him from Cabinet meetings where his voice was often heard on issues such as reparation for Jamaicans of African descent, despite his Jewish heritage.
However, he said that he will use the opportunity he now has to pursue his position on reparation independently as an MP in the Jamaican Parliament, as well as continue his efforts to seek a ruling from the United Kingdom’s Privy Council on the issue.
“I think that this is an opportunity to focus on the major things that I have been advocating over the years, including to have the descendants of Africans who were shipped to the Caribbean to become chattel slaves and have not been paid reparation, although the slave masters built their economy on the backs of these slaves,” Henry said.
“Now, I can speak independently on these issues without being constrained by party allegiance,” Henry said.
“I am not looking for controversy. I am looking for continuity and to have implemented what I think is the settlement of reparations, which is perhaps the most fundamental issue that we can deal with right now,” he added
“I am going to meet with our reparation committee. My case for reparations has been prepared, and I will be writing the attorney general to find out the position of the Government, whether it will support my case being taken to the Privy Council,” he said.
He said that, in addition to the failure of the British Government to pay reparations to the community of Africans, there is also the question of the treatment of Rastafarians which he insisted has not been fair for decades.
“I intend to maintain an independent voice in terms of these things that I think need to be addressed, and I have advised my constituents what I am planning to do. They had a meeting with the party, where they expressed their views and they are awaiting a response from the party concerning these,” Henry said.
“There are also other issues, like the historical drainage problem in May Pen. I am also disappointed with what has been happening with Vernamfield. I don’t know what they are going to do about it. In addition, very few houses have been built recently in Central Clarendon. I am not satisfied with how Clarendon has been treated by either government,” he stated.
“I am tired after nearly 50 year in politics, but I had to run again [in 2020], because we have not settled the issue of reparation. I cannot continue to sit in meetings and continuously being told we can’t afford this when, in the interest of the people, we should be taking it to court — win, lose or draw,” he stated.
“Reparations is one of the five major steps I am taking up, and I am suffering the ignominy of it because the reparations process has not been completed up to now. But, unlike when I was a minister, I have a free hand now to fight from within the Government. My shackles have been removed and the people need me to continue to deal with this issue,” he said.
“As I gradually unfold my plans for retirement from representational politics, having served over 42 years, I looked back and look forward to what drove me into politics and what still drives me.
With all that in mind, I have started the process of putting out my memoirs in segments of what I think were game-changing positions that could have had great impacts on the country’s development.
“I have already written the first stanza of my political journey in my first autobiography, Many Rivers to Cross, and I am now putting the other areas of my political belief into their own volumes such as, reparations, the multi-modal transport concept, inclusive of Vernamfield, and railway restoration, along with the Air Jamaica opportunities and the vision behind the Herb McKenley Stadium in Clarendon. And there will likely be another chapter to round things off,” he concluded.
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