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frank_psaila
Frank Psaila

Labour's last, best hope is Godfrey Farrugia

Whilst his party is running away from the aspirational working classes and the new middle classes, Godfrey Farrugia must now run towards them. He can be their champion.

frank_psaila
Frank Psaila
18 May 2016, 9:08am
Godfrey Farrugia can't stay comatose while some of his government colleagues trample on the principles of transparency, accountabilty and good governance. He's Labour's last, best hope
Godfrey Farrugia can't stay comatose while some of his government colleagues trample on the principles of transparency, accountabilty and good governance. He's Labour's last, best hope
I don’t want Labour to win the next general election. I support the Nationalist Party. But it’s always useful to try and look for the good in those you don’t identify with or belong to. I believe that there is one good man within the Labour party who’s got what it takes to change things for the better within his party and government. His name is Godfrey Farrugia.

Labour is looking for a new deputy leader, but it would do well to search its soul before it searches for a new deputy leader, and Farrugia is best placed to do that.

Not from the deputy leadership post – that’s a three-man race now, but as a backbencher. His first step should be that of stepping down as whip. In so doing, he would serve his purpose better by being the voice of reason within his party and government. It’s not often that the political earth moves, but such a drastic move would enable him to create some much needed tremors within Muscat’s Labour party.

It’s not that the Labour government failed to take some useful decisions since being elected with a massive majority in 2013. I’m pleased to see the introduction of free child-care, incentives to first-time property buyers and a booming tourism industry. I applaud Muscat’s stance on civil unions. The economy too is doing well – although a greater effort is needed to make sure that the wealth created is enjoyed by all. Unfortunately however, the Prime Minister is undermining his government’s achievements – and the hard-work of well-meaning government ministers, the likes of Edward Scicluna, Evarist Bartolo, Edward Zammit Lewis and Helena Dalli, by throwing transparency and good governance to the dogs. There is widespread consensus that Muscat’s defence of Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi has eroded people’s trust in Muscat’s government and caused untold harm to Malta’s reputation.

The fact is that Labour’s old guard kept pretty quiet following Muscat’s decision to retain Konrad Mizzi, though their frustration must have been huge. So it takes an upright, untainted and well-meaning politician like Godfrey Farrugia to try and turn things round – although admittedly the rot has set in. To be sure it won’t be an easy decision for Farrugia to take, but it is one that both Labour and the country need and one that Farrugia alone is best placed to make because he’s shown, time and again, that he’s in politics for the right reasons.

Godfrey Farrugia’s speech, during the no-confidence motion against Konrad Mizzi in Parliament, was one of those saving-the-world-at-the-last-minute speeches. He showed far more heartfelt emotion than the rest of his colleagues. At one point, his voice broke, stopping short from crying in public. Admittedly, he was in the uncomfortable position of having to toe the party line – all government MPs were ordered, by the Prime Minister, to vote with the whip, and he’s the whip – and vote against his companion, Marlene Farrugia, who is an independent MP, and who brought before parliament the motion of no confidence in Konrad Mizzi.

A few months back he joined Marlene Farrugia in the Front Harsien ODZ, a new lobby which was set up to oppose the government’s Zonqor Point project. Godfrey Farrugia was asked by one reporter how he planned to vote on this, and said that he “didn’t know yet”. Of course being the party’s whip left him with no option but to vote with his government. His job is to make sure that all government MPs vote with the government – he’s party’s enforcer in parliament. Which, given the circumstances, makes his position as whip untenable.

To his credit, Farrugia was the only government MP who acknowledged the untold harm the Panama Papers caused to his party, government and country. He had already expressed himself in public on the matter, stating that if he were in Konrad Mizzi’s position he would have stepped down immediately.

I have no doubt he would – but Farrugia could have never been in that position. Firstly, because he would have never opened a secret company in Panama. Secondly, because Godfrey Farrugia is not Konrad Mizzi – if he did his Prime Minister would have sacked him on the spot. Yes, it would have been a case of two weights two measures. No surprises there.

Labour is lucky to have Godfrey Farrugia – if only it were in listening mode. Authentic Godfrey Farrugia cares about creating a society that is fair and compassionate. A social democrat at heart, the popular Zebbug family doctor satisfies a growing public appetite for genuine politics and authenticity. Unfortunately, it is glaringly obvious that within the Labour party it has become unthinkable even to consider giving a strong voice, and unconditional backing to those – the likes of Godfrey Farrugia, who still believe in the possibility of a decent society.

However, and despite his admirable stand against corruption and his case for good governance, Godfrey Farrugia has made far too many concessions now. My gut reaction would be to advise Godfrey Farrugia to go, go with grace but to go now.

But maybe – just maybe – if Farrugia hangs on in there and seeks radical change within his party and government, he may defy all odds and turn things right. He needs to stake out radical, well-meaning positions that distinguish him from the absolute majority of his colleagues. 

Whilst his party is running away from the aspirational working classes and the new middle classes, Godfrey Farrugia must now run towards them. He can be their champion. He can’t let them down. Whilst his government insists on keeping under wraps major government contracts, he must do his utmost to expose them. Whilst a handful within his party are keen on maintaining close ties with big business, he should do his utmost to protect his party from them. He can’t stay comatose while some of his government colleagues trample on the principles of transparency, accountability and good governance. Really and truly Labour’s last, best hope is Godfrey Farrugia.

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