A Konrad Mizzi candidature is not what Labour needs

The Labour party is already spoilt for choice when it comes to electing Muscat’s successor. It does not need the embarrassment of a Konrad Mizzi candidature

The very fact that Konrad Mizzi is even considering contesting for the PL leadership after the fall-out from the Panama Papers, is proof enough that the minister might be incapable of understanding the very basic requirements of a potential prime minister.

The post of Labour leader has since the party’s foundation been occupied by people who – though controversial and at times divisive – presented themselves to delegates for election with their moral integrity intact.

This counts for all past Labour leaders, namely William Savona, Paul Boffa, Dom Mintoff, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, Alfred Sant and Joseph Muscat.

The party was always careful in blocking the leadership ambitions of aspiring politicians who had a shady reputation: as was the case with Lorry Sant, a charismatic politician whose reputation for delivering was tarnished by serious allegations of impropriety. Delegates even preferred the not-so-charismatic but impeccably clean Alfred Sant over Lino Spiteri, whose reputation had been (somewhat unfairly) blemished by an anonymous letter on the eve of the 1992 leadership contest. One can safely say that none of the PL leaders had any baggage before being elected.

Muscat himself must have realised this when he retained Mizzi in his Cabinet, but made him resign from party deputy leader: a post to which he was elected during the early days of Panamagate. This is a clear indication that while Muscat trusted Mizzi to continue serving as minister he also wanted him to relinquish any role in the party’s formal leadership. That said, Muscat is partly to blame for Mizzi’s latest delusion. For having retained Mizzi as minister, he gave the impression that all was forgiven.

Moreover in Konrad Mizzi’s case we are not dealing with mere allegations, as was the case with the Egrant allegation against Muscat’s spouse, but with confirmed facts: namely that he had set up a company in Panama while serving as Minister.

Before even toying with the idea Labour delegates have to ask themselves: could they imagine any of the past party leaders bringing the same baggage to the leadership as Konrad Mizzi? The answer is surely a resounding no. Even if one were to exclude any bribes, money laundering or illegal acts (which have so far not been proven), the fact that Mizzi opened an offshore company in a secretive jurisdiction should disqualify him from the post: especially in view of the fact that the Labour Party belongs to an international socialist political family which is historically averse to offshore companies. 

Electing Mizzi as party leader would immediately turn the Labour Party, which has already been damaged by Panamagate, into an international pariah. He would be a walking embarrassment for the Malta Labour Party.

One has to acknowledge that Mizzi is popular (recent MaltaToday surveys confirm that he is the third most popular minister, second if taking Labour voters alone) and is considered to be a capable hardworking Minister who has left his mark on the energy and tourism sectors.

Yet one cannot ignore that even in his role as minister his reputation has been blemished by the sale of public hospitals to offshore interests in a controversial deal which is still shrouded in mystery, and which is now disowned by the government itself.

Moreover, although under Mizzi energy prices have been reduced, the 17 Black revelations have cast a shadow on the relationship between the government and the business interests in this sector. Mizzi has also presided over controversial land grabs involving the DB group and Corinthia, which cast a light on Mizzi’s extremely pro-business politics, raising further doubts on his suitability as Labour Party leader.

Sure enough one may argue that Mizzi represents one of the reasons behind Muscat’s success, having delivered on energy bills and contributing to making Labour acceptable to business interests, taking the wind from the Nationalist Party’s sails as Malta’s traditionally pro-business party. Yet one may also argue that after a decade of Muscatonomics, the party needs a leader who is more in tune with the party’s social democratic roots: something which Mizzi surely isn’t.

After Panamagate, the party needs to restore its moral credentials. With Mizzi as leader, the very opposite will happen. Mizzi’s retention as Cabinet minister weakened Muscat’s hand in enforcing standards of political propriety with his ministers. With Mizzi as leader, Malta would risk a free fall in standards of good governance.

So news of Mizzi’s possible candidature inevitably raises the question: is he doing this for his own personal interest and survival? By presenting himself as candidate Mizzi raises suspicions that he would be doing so to condition the choices of a future labour leader. If he gets a decent amount of support, it will become difficult for a future leader to remove this albatross from around the party’s neck.

One hopes that in this case, delegates are not so unwise as to elect him. But if he persists, he has to be told by party elders that he should not even think of putting his name to delegates and party members. The Labour party is already spoilt for choice when it comes to electing Muscat’s successor. It does not need the embarrassment of a Konrad Mizzi candidature.