A left winger waiting in the wings
by Paul Blandford
HAS BEEN CONSPICUOUS BY HIS ABSENCE ON THE POLITICAL SCENE SINCE
HIS DECISION NOT TO CONTEST THE INFAMOUS, PREMATURE 1998 ELECTION.
TODAY, ALEX SCEBERRAS TRIGONA TELLS
MIRIAM DUNN WHAT WAS BEHIND THAT
DECISION, HOW HE VIEWS THE CURRENT POLITICAL SCENE AND WHETHER
HE PLANS TO STAND AGAIN FOR PARLIAMENT
contest the last election because he believed the former Prime
Minister Alfred Sants decision to go to the polls early
was an unwise one.
Alex Sceberras Trigona has been out of the public eye, but the
former Labour foreign minister certainly doesnt rule out
a return to politics.
I would stand again if I felt I could be of service," he
replies, when asked.
obvious question is whether there would have to be a change of
leadership at the top of the MLP for him to make a comeback on
the political scene.
time, his answer is not so direct.
main issue is not the leader personally, but the content of the
party and the policies," he answers. "I had expected
Alfred (Sant) in government to be the Alfred I used to know, but
he was much closer to Thatcher, which created more of a distance
between us. Working people need a real Labour party and that is
missing, on both domestic and international issues."
Trigona recalls how he once criticised Dr Sant in the party executive,
for trying to remodel the MLP on similar lines to the PN.
him that during the first two years in government, we had become
PN2," he says. "Im not for that, since
we would end up with a military dictatorship. I dont think
that is at all useful for working people in this country. Labour
is Labour and should remain so."
I am interested
in why he believes the former Prime Ministers decision to
opt for a premature election was unwise, since Sant himself, along
with others, described it at the time as unavoidable.
were elected for five years and I think the party should have
held fast, rather than risk abdicating early," he answers.
"We shouldnt have denied Malta the three-and-half years
we still had left. We didnt even deny them that when Fenech
Adami was speaking of a moral majority in 1981 1987. We
carried on, despite the taunts, because we were the Constitutional
Trigona also points out that the damage done from losing the 1998
election is serious, and not yet quantifiable in all areas.
is evident is that the situation regarding certain issues high
on Labours agenda will have worsened even further by the
time it gets back into government," he says. "The public
sector deficit will have worsened and cronyism will have increased,
centre of political gravity has moved much more to the right and
it will be much more difficult to pull it back, even if there
is a Labour victory. These are the costs of abdicating power and
the whole country is having to bear them."
it fair to say that the Labour government would have remained
a figurehead, unable to govern properly and pass laws, if Dr Sant
hadnt gone to the polls, I ask?
Trigona believes there could have been an alternative.
recommending a summer break, which would have cooled off heads
and enabled us to establish bridges to help sort out wrangles,"
he explains. "This would surely have been a better alternative
to taking a massive gamble and dashing to the polls."
He also believes
it was unrealistic of Dr Sant to have expected the party executive
to support him on some of his actions during that time of crisis.
Mintoff a traitor - the most abysmal statement Sant ever made
- and then coming to the executive of the party in the evening
and expecting them to ratify what he had said was asking too much,"
he says. "I raised my hands and said Im not going to
be a rubber stamp in this executive. You called him a traitor
yourself this morning, so you bear the responsibility."
But Dr Sciberras
Trigonas questioning of whether events in the summer of
1998 could have been dealt with in a better way is not limited
to the Labour government; he also questions whether the President
was empowered to grant the calling of the general election and
suggests he might have been swayed in his decision-making.
are rules for a motion of no confidence," he says. "It
was merely a resolution on a yacht marina, not a bill to enact
a law, so I dont believe the President should even have
recognised Sants subjective characterisation of it as a
motion of no confidence. His decision showed he had some
winds blowing and couldnt resist the opportunity."
Trigona believes that the way the European Union is overshadowing
so much discussion at a parliamentary level has put politics into
a transitory phase.
is a lull, so I dont think Im missing much,"
he says. "Im sure my constituency would have returned
me in 1998 if I had contested and I might feel Im missing
it in the future if politics becomes more intense again. But I
have to admit, I wonder how I would operate with this mindset
if I were an MP at present."
debate on the EU issue is healthy, I venture.
think its any longer a debate to determine what will be
implemented people are just being presented with a fait
accompli and the debate has become rhetorical," he answers.
"This is impoverishing the body politic in Malta, because
you have a non debate exhausting the arena for other discussions.
There is no full debate on policies, and no platform on which
to hold them."
the subject of the EU, I ask Dr Sceberras Trigona how he views
the MLPs stand on the issue and he admits he thinks Malta
would have benefited far more from the adoption of a bi-partisan
have thought it would have been better for the MLP to support
having an application with the EU and negotiate on the basis of
that application," he replies. "That way Malta could
have been eligible to pre-accession funds, whatever the delay
in joining, without having to pay for certain programmes at the
a Labour government had then decided that they were not happy
with the results of the negotiations, they could have held a referendum
and let the people choose on that basis."
Trigona believes the bottom line is that Malta is suffering because
of the continual zig-zagging caused by the political parties
polarised policies, including their stands on EU membership.
country is losing out now, not because it hasnt joined the
EU, but because of the pendulum swinging we have witnessed,"
he says. "It would have been better if the two parties had
locked themselves up in a room and come out with a unified position
on the EU."
what Dr Sceberras Trigona believes the outcome of the EU referendum
will be and he admits that he believes the chances of cross-party
voting that observers thought might happen appear to be diminishing.
that the PM will tell us on the day of the elections that the
negotiations arent yet ready and that he is seeking a further
mandate to continue negotiations and will then hold a referendum
after the negotiations if he wins," he explains. "Then,
winning or losing a referendum becomes far less significant and
would relieve the whole country of an ambiguous electoral result.
if the main question is going to be the general election result,
I believe most people will go for shelter in their own party and
he became interested in politics, Dr Sceberras Trigona recalls
how, as a student, he was struck by the gross inequalities that
existed in Malta in the 1960s.
were beggars outside Kingsgate and people were living in terrible
housing in certain areas," he says, adding, In fact,
one of the high points of my career was the role I played in bringing
in the emphyteusis law, which prevented a considerable number
of people being thrown out of their homes.
a growing feeling that the establishment was wearing a hypocritical
mask. There was the church, the government and the British authorities
all cemented together presenting a false approach to everything,
sending out the message that things were OK and would get better."
On an international
level, Dr Sceberras Trigona was also observing what Dom Mintoff
was saying, as Opposition leader that Malta was still effectively
a colony, although technically independent.
made a lot of sense to me," he says. "And I think that
was when I started being active in politics in the widest sense
of the word."
As a student,
he went to the UK on a scholarship, and happened to be there when
Britain took its vote on the Common Market, now the EU.
With a smile,
Dr Sceberras Trigona, who played an active role in the no
campaign against Common Market entry in the UK, confesses to having
been involved in a little vote rigging of his own.
as a student I had moved and had three different addresses, I
had three voting documents, and used them all to vote on the no
side," he explains. "I then started a petition to say
the election was rigged, using my own case as an example!"
When he came
back from Oxford, he successfully contested for the post of International
Secretary in the Labour party, which he held between 1976 1981.
say this is when I came into my own," he says. "I found
I worked very well with Mr Mintoff and we were working hard towards
the 1979 date for the closure of the military basis."
Trigona, who successfully contested as an MLP candidate in 1981
and was appointed minister of foreign affairs, has good memories
of preparing to introduce the concept of neutrality post-1979.
were involved in a lot of negotiations with the Italians, the
Libyans, the Algerians, the Soviets and Americans at that time,
to get their acceptance and support, both diplomatically and also
in economic terms," he says. "The satisfaction of witnessing
the Italians signing and giving us a good financial protocol,
which, after all, has set the form until today, was a big high."
he thinks that the Nationalist governments achievements
in negotiating foreign revenue have proved disappointing.
EU pre-accession fund issue is a typical example Lm2.75m
instead of the highly publicised Lm100m which is a mere
pittance compared to what Malta needs to compete in the EU market,"
he says. "Perhaps even I would have suspected that the Nationalists
would have done better. The MLP protocols have pervaded right
through, no new ones have come from the PN and the concept of
pre-accession funds from the EU has not materialised either.
"I am proud
to have been part of a government that made such achievements in