The Joseph Muscat party

For now, they are ‘happy’ in the knowledge that their party continues to lead in the polls; wishing that tomorrow never comes – or oblivious that it will

In the process of making Labour electable again, Joseph Muscat sold its soul and transformed the party in his image. What happens after he goes is a source of much speculation and uncertainty within the party
In the process of making Labour electable again, Joseph Muscat sold its soul and transformed the party in his image. What happens after he goes is a source of much speculation and uncertainty within the party

The 2008 general election marked a low point for the Labour Party. Under Alfred Sant, it suffered three defeats and the EU membership referendum.

Memories of Sant declaring that his ‘partnership’ had ‘won’  and Labour’s EU membership, scaremongering campaign were strong. The situation looked hopeless. Yet, amid the carnage of successive defeats an ambitious young man set his eyes on the party leadership and turned its fortunes.

From an unattractive and unelectable party Joseph Muscat – who reinvented himself successfully, for he was amongst Sant’s top aides, and campaigned fiercely against EU membership – secured a string of electoral successes, culminating in the 2013 and 2017 landslide victories. Now he announced that he would leave office before the 2022 general election – to the disappointment of Labour Party supporters, except those who want their preferred candidate to succeed Muscat: Chris Fearne; Miriam Dalli; Robert Abela, and Ian Borg are campaigning, actively, to secure the top post.

What happens next?

Labour post-Muscat is a big question mark – the source of much speculation, and uncertainty within the party. Muscat secured landslide victories, which gave him the right to take on the Labour Party to the extent of having it transformed in his own image. The current situation can safely be described as the Joseph Muscat Party – and that there was once was a Labour Party.

Before the usual government trolls take to their keyboards on instructions from their political masters, let me spell it out: I am not suggesting that the party is weakened – it is not, it has a strong political structure which shows no signs of immediate weakness. But this is thanks to Muscat and his chief-of-staff Keith Schembri – the power behind the throne; considered by many to be Malta’s unelected Prime Minister. However, when Muscat and Schembri go, the party faces an uncertain future, as can seen from the latest polls conducted by MaltaToday. In the process of making Labour electable again, they sold its soul.

The rich and the powerful

On Iswed fuq l-Abjad this week, I had the new president of the Labour youth forum – a bright, smart young lawyer. However, she either believes her party’s mantra that everyone is rich and happy or like most of the party leadership she is comfortable in the company of the selected few who are making a fortune oblivious to the needs of thousands of pensioners and to the low-to-middle income families who are struggling to make ends meet. That is the state of play within the Joseph Muscat party today.

Abela pipped Dalli

According to last Sunday’s Malta Today survey, a staggering sixty three percent are uncertain on who should succeed Joseph Muscat. For many there is no future without Muscat – or at least they can’t see one. Labour MP Robert Abela pipped Muscat’s, and Keith Schembri’s favourite, Miriam Dalli.

And Chris Fearne, who until recently was widely seen as Muscat’s successor, slipped to third place – an outcome for which he has only himself to blame. Fearne failed to put a stop to the obscene Konrad Mizzi-Vitals Global Healthcare deal when the health ministry baton was passed on to him from the disgraced former health minister, now turned tourism minister. Instead of doing the right thing – scrapping the deal, and starting anew – Fearne succumbed to the internal pressure of Joseph Muscat’s right, and left-hand men: Keith Schembri, and Konrad Mizzi. That may well prove to be his undoing; and he shall be bitterly disappointed, for it is common knowledge that Fearne strongly wants the leadership post.

Tomorrow never comes

According to the MT survey, only a relative majority believe Joseph Muscat will live up to his promise and relinquish the reins of the Labour Party before the next general election. Forty-eight per cent of those who voted Labour in 2017 believe Muscat will go – which is a significant amount of PL voters, but not an absolute majority. Perhaps, they hope Muscat will stay for they know that a post-Muscat future is an uncertain one for the Labour Party. They know that Muscat has transformed himself into the Labour Party; and that sooner or later he will have to go. The aftermath of that is an uncertain future.

For now, they are ‘happy’ in the knowledge that their party continues to lead in the polls; wishing that tomorrow never comes – or oblivious that it will. Then they will have to pick up the pieces.

 

Frank Psaila is a lawyer and anchors Iswed fuq l-Abjad on NET TV

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