Labour publisher SKS ‘unaware of directive’ to pull Mintoff biography

Biography of former Labour prime minister courting controversy for private family life revelations still being sold by party’s publishing arm SKS

A biography of Dom Mintoff is courting controversy over the private details it reveals of the former Labour leader
A biography of Dom Mintoff is courting controversy over the private details it reveals of the former Labour leader

The Labour Party’s publishing arm SKS has denied any knowledge of an informal directive from the party leadership to withdraw copies of a now-controversial biography of the late Labour prime minister Dom Mintoff.

The book, detailing the long-time Labour leader’s private indiscretions, philandering, and even one instance of domestic violence, was roundly criticised by Mintoff’s daughters.

But Sensiela Klabb Socjalisti’s (SKS) director Joe Borg has kicked back against reports claiming the PL will pull the Mark Montebello biography from the shelves.

“SKS has no knowledge that any directive, whether formal or informal, has been issued with regards to the sales of the book,” Borg told MaltaToday.

“SKS is still selling the book through its website and at local booksellers. SKS has treated and will treat Mintoff’s biography like all its other publications,” he said. “Any decisions about reprinting or a second edition will be based purely on commercial considerations.”

The long read: Dom in the flesh: carnal passions of the great socialist

From replies by Labour deputy leader for party affairs Daniel Micallef to MaltaToday, it is evident that the PL will not be promoting the sale of the book at the party premises.

“SKS operates independently and autonomously from the Labour Party. A number of renowned authors have published with this publishing house, from novels to political content. At the same time, the Labour party has the liberty to decide which publications to promote and sell from its premises. Dom Mintoff’s family is contesting some of the contents in the said publication, and as a Party, we respect that.”

Mintoff daughters Yana Mintoff Bland and Anne McKenna accused the book, ‘The Tail That Wagged The Dog’, which is based on Mintoff’s memoirs which the family made available to Montebello, as being “riddled with inaccuracies, factual distortions, unsubstantiated allegations, hearsay and lies about Dom Mintoff.”

Mintoff Bland and McKenna claimed the book contains material that was untrue or which encroached on people’s private lives.

“This is profoundly unethical and immoral. No members of the immediate family were consulted or given the opportunity to preview the publication. The one interview with a family member conducted by Mark Montebello many years ago was with Anne McKenna, who terminated it abruptly due to his unduly forceful approach. We wish to make it clear that there are many inaccuracies contained within this attempted biography in perception, detail and conclusion.” 

Dr Mark Montebello, a Dominican friar and philosopher who previously penned a biography of the radical Manwel Dimech, has said the memoirs published by the former Labour prime minister’s family, ‘Mintoff: Malta, Mediterra: My Youth’ had had over two-thirds of the original manuscript purged from the final publication.

Mintoff began writing his memoirs in 1993 at the age of 77. “Mintoff had previously vacillated in doing so until he spasmodically began to fill sheaves of rough paper, every corner of them, with his tiny flowing neat calligraphy, writing exclusively in English. When Mintoff’s nephew, David Mainwaring, published the official version of Mintoff’s memoirs in October 2018, 66% had being purged from it,” Montebello said. “Presumably for practical and sometimes for discreet reasons.”

Montebello said the public was given the impression that the published autobiography was unabridged, and that the years it covered of Mintoff’s life, namely, 1916−1943, was a first instalment.

“Dom’s original and unabridged document contains well over 600,000 words, amounting to more than 2,500 printed pages. Eventually only 34% of Dom’s original was published,” Montebello said, who was given a copy of Mintoff’s full original document by Yana Mintoff Bland, Mintoff’s younger daughter right after her father’s death in August 2012.

While copies of the original unabridged version of Mintoff’s memoirs can now be consulted at the National Library of Malta and the Public Library of Gozo, full use of this version was made by Montebello in his biography.

Mintoff’s incomplete auto-biography is just one of the thousands of original primary-source documentation that Montebello consults for the biography. “Professionally speaking, one cannot take an autobiography, be it Mintoff’s or whoever’s, to necessarily tell the complete truth. For this reason, though prized by a researcher, an autobiography must always be corroborated by independent sources, and that is what I do in my work.”

Montebello explains in full his discoveries about Mintoff’s relation to various women, including his wife and daughters, but also quite some others.