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frank_psaila
Frank Psaila

Can Labour emerge from Panamagate?

The mood is pretty black in Labour. The Panamagate scandal has rocked the Labour Party at its core. Labour is fractured. A catastrophe this great begs the question, what went wrong? It was bound to happen.

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila
21 April 2016, 7:18am
Deep and honest thinking is needed to rebuild the Labour party. It's a question of who will step forward to save Labour's soul
Deep and honest thinking is needed to rebuild the Labour party. It's a question of who will step forward to save Labour's soul
It seems a long time ago now, back in 2013 when Joseph Muscat was given a huge mandate. People had a clear image of the new Prime Minister he would be: an undisputed leader of the Labour party, a Prime Minister backed by a landslide victory able to carry much needed reforms. Forward that to 2016, and Joseph Muscat is in the spotlight over his leadership abilities, or lack of them.

By the time of writing, Thursday evening, Minister Konrad Mizzi and chief of staff Keith Schembri remain firmly in place. Public opinion is four-square against them. There is widespread consensus that they should have packed their bags two months ago, when the story broke. Instead of standing tall and showing Schembri and Mizzi the door, Dr Muscat has shown unwavering support towards his minister and chief of staff. Labour MPs are concerned. Some of them expressed their views in public. There are private mumblings that Muscat’s behaviour will cost Labour dearly come 2018 when Muscat is most likely to go to the polls. Seasoned political commentators who are sympathetic to Labour cannot understand Muscat’s refusal to take a firm stand on the matter.

Admittedly, in its first three years in office, Labour managed to achieve positive results in the management of Malta’s economy and its tourism industry. Evarist Bartolo is doing well in his portfolio – education, so is Finance Minister Edward Scicluna. In Brussels, despite his vociferous opposition to Malta’s EU membership, Alfred Sant is reported to have an excellent grasp of the subjects at hand. Godfrey Farrugia is one of the level-headed people within the Labour Party. Despite their achievements and hard work, the honourable gentlemen are aware that the Panamagate scandal has overshadowed their achievements and are, understandably, furious about it. Unfortunately, for them the Prime Minister continues to back Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.

The mood is pretty black in Labour. The Panamagate scandal has rocked the Labour Party at its core. Labour is fractured. A catastrophe this great begs the question, what went wrong? It was bound to happen.

To his credit, Joseph Muscat mounted an excellent electoral campaign and was very convincing in his arguments. The creation of the Labour movement enabled disenchanted PN supporters to support Labour. It was a landslide victory and the Prime Minister had the strength to carry out some much needed reforms. When he did, he found widespread support – free childcare and the introduction of civil unions are cases in point. But now it transpires that the handful of people behind the successful pre-2013 political strategy have taken hold of the Labour government to the consternation of genuine labour party supporters and senior members of the Labour government – Evarist Bartolo, Edward Scicluna, Godfrey Farrugia and Alfred Sant.

Put simply, Bartolo, Scicluna, Farrugia, Sant and well-meaning Labour party supporters are not prepared to see Labour in bed with a handful of dubious, shady I-want-to-get-rich quick type of characters. What’s more, Muscat’s strategy of abandoning the party’s core values has proved to be a failure, because in the process Labour lost its soul. 

Can Labour re-emerge from the Panama scandal? The answer is a definitive yes, but only if the party evaluates some harsh realities. Labour leader Joseph Muscat has proved ineffectual and unable to take stock of the grave situation at hand. Had he done the right thing and sacked the protagonists at the heart of the Panama scandal – or, at least, asked them to suspend themselves from office when it transpired that they held offshore accounts in tax havens until all facts emerged – he would have probably had the upper hand.

He did not and now Malta, his government and his party are in a mess. He’s got only himself to blame. His trust ratings have gone down dramatically in a matter of months, and the gap between PL and the PN is at a record low.

To compound the misery, for the first time in a decade, senior members of the Labour Party are showing their discontent in public. Not sensing the deep anger the electorate, and members of his party, have over his refusal to sack Mizzi and Schembri, the Prime Minister committed a huge error that could haunt his party for years to come. 

With each day that passes, the current Labour leadership, and the small clique which calls the shots, are creating more and more damage to the Labour government. Deep and honest thinking is needed to rebuild the Labour party. Of course, tomorrow they shall, unanimously, defeat the no-confidence motion tabled by the Opposition in their government – they have no choice but to; however the more level headed amongst them – the absolute majority of Labour’s front and back benches know that Labour is in a tight corner and action needs to be taken, fast. Even if Mizzi and Schembri go, it does not matter now. Labour needs to go back to the drawing board. 

It’s crucial that forthright people within the Labour party who truly value what should be the core social democratic values of equality, social justice, solidarity and accountability come forward. It’s a question of who will step forward to save Labour’s soul. 

Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila, a lawyer by profession, anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on Net TV. He was formerly...
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