Dangerous delegates

In private many senior Labour figures admit that Labour’s marriage with the private sector has derailed the true purpose of the Labour party

Back in 1993 when Joseph Muscat was still a delegate from St Paul's Bay, his speech at a Labour Party conference 'caused a pandemonium'
Back in 1993 when Joseph Muscat was still a delegate from St Paul's Bay, his speech at a Labour Party conference 'caused a pandemonium'

It was curious listening to Joseph Muscat describe how as a young delegate in the 1990s he caught the eye of Alfred Sant.

He described the first time addressing the delegates at a Labour Party conference in 1993 when he was still a delegate from St Paul’s Bay. “I had got up to speak and was very open about where I felt the party was mistaken and what it needed to go forward. The speech caused a whole pandemonium.” He said that after his initial surprise at being elected in the executive, the second surprise came the following day when Sant had mentioned what the “delegate from St Paul’s Bay had said.”

I would very much like to know what Muscat had said. But I am sure it was all about what was needed for the Labour Party to win a national election, then fresh from the 1992 election loss with Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici as leader.

Sant went on to win an election in 1996 because he addressed VAT – a sore point that plagued the business community and self-employed – as well as the regularisation of hunting and trapping: two interest groups that hit the PN vote hard.

Soon enough, Sant was facing his own major headache. He had mistakenly underestimated the party’s patriarch and former leader and prime minister, Dom Mintoff, who was still a backbencher, as well as the PN’s ability to bounce back with a vengeance… even if it meant embracing their political arch-enemy Mintoff, as a convenient ‘friend’.

All this is history, yet what would a budding delegate in the Labour Party in 1993 tell delegates to really create some alleged pandemonium? It would, doubtlessly, be something about the future of this country, something to the younger generation, perhaps even throw a few taboo issues out there even for the sake of saying something relevant.

I am sure that back in 1993, Muscat said nothing shocking to his audience.

He probably just transmitted some home-truths about the way the Nationalist Party’s well-oiled marketing strategies, and why Labour looked like yesterday’s party, a carcass from the 1980s that had to reinvent itself.

Surely enough in 1993, he did not espouse those ideas which have become part of his legacy: gay rights for example, marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, or the neoliberal economic model for Malta. In 1993, Labour was then still reeling from a legacy of corruption and iron-fisted arrogance after its 16-year rule before 1987.

In present-day Labour general conferences, now well-oiled in their own right and totally exorcised from militant speak, a delegate has to churn out something that is some vision that is of course, never too critical of Joseph Muscat (if they seek to go down that adventurous route).

In private many senior Labour figures admit that Labour’s marriage with the private sector, with so many policies now borne out of this kind of this market economy allegiance, have derailed the true purpose of the Labour party.

Still, Muscat’s achievements on Malta’s economic growth should diminish the importance of other issues. The problem is that the economy is always centre-stage, while so many other issues get placed on the backburner. The environment, chiefly among them. I am referring to the state of our surroundings, the quality of our environs, undeveloped footprints and the social fabric of our communities. And governance as well: the fourth estate, accountability in all its senses, the police, education, innovation and research, agriculture, the working-poor and the underclass living in the shade of the giddy heights of development.

These issues are not for the second division.

If that would-be Labour delegate had the gall to say it, the message should be clear: “We cannot relegate these fundamental issues to the second or third division: they must be a priority.”

That delegate might not get a rousing applause because the majority of party delegates would see this as an affront to Muscat.

But it is not. It is only a realisation that it is now time to address these issues and to give them their due importance as if it were an economic investment or project.

 

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Which brings me to MDA boss Sandro Chetcuti’s comments about the end of Joseph Muscat’s political career in Malta.

Sandro Chetcuti is a much-loved person, albeit only by those in the construction industry. If there was a time when the construction industry should be patting Chetcuti on the shoulders, it is now. He has proven everyone wrong by transforming the Malta Developer’s Association into Malta’s foremost lobby.

But he did Joseph Muscat no favours when this week he asked him to stay on because (and I use Chetcuti’s words), he was the best placed “to drive the Ferrari” – referring to the economy – at this crucial moment.

The truth is that the dependence of the economy on construction needs urgent changing. Developers welcome Muscat because he sees development just in the same way people like Chetcuti see it. He knows that without this industry, there would be a slower economic growth.

Those who operate in this segment do not know what the word ‘tomorrow’ means; neither do they appreciate the concept of future generations. It is anathema to their way of thinking.

They sincerely believe that a tall building towering over the piazza and a Baroque church is beautiful. Their concept of greenery is the view from their villa or penthouse, nothing else, nothing more.

And whether people have or do not have space to go for walks to simply enjoy themselves, is irrelevant for them.

At a time where Malta is attracting yet more business from the financial services, gaming, Blockchain, medical cannabis, AI and citizenship, there should have been a conscious decision to clip the greed and insatiable desire to build more at all costs. Instead we have opened the floodgates for more development and the pressure on communities is becoming unbearable. Our quality of life is under threat. A modicum of normality is next to impossible.

There is no point being able to earn a very decent living only to discover that we are living inside a construction site.

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