[WATCH] Muscat pitches ‘need for party-government synergy’ as new deputy leader’s job

Labour delegates approve statute changes MPs to run for second deputy leadership • Muscat wants link between party and government • Economy minister Chris Cardona rules out interest in running

Photo: James Galea/MediaToday
Photo: James Galea/MediaToday
Labour leader Joseph Muscat
Labour leader Joseph Muscat
New deputy leader 'to create synergy' between government and party

Changes to the Labour Party’s statute to allow MPs to run for deputy leader for party affairs were part of a renewal, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told an extraordinary general conference on Friday evening.

Muscat was addressing delegates on changes to the party statute following Toni Abela’s nomination to the European Court of Auditors, that will pave the way for the second deputy leadership post to be open to MPs.

“The amendments are not a sign of a party in crisis but a renewal, showing the work of a party that is always seeking to deliver results,” Muscat said.

“Being in government helps me understand the shortcomings we might have as a party. I understand those who support the notion that a deputy leader should focus on party affairs, but we have a missing link,” he said.

While arguing that the red line separating government and the party should not be overstepped, Muscat insisted better synergy was needed. “You [delegates] feel that the party has been forgotten and I think that we need a link that joins these two souls.”

Saying that the new deputy leader for party affairs will build on the work of outgoing deputy leader Toni Abela, his successor will deliver on a new structure.

“We are not just preparing for the general election taking place in two years and a half, but a new structure that will make us future-proof, embracing social media and reaching out to the people who do not attend our political activities… structures that ensure we remain relevant from the coming 10 years,” he said.

Muscat praised Abela’s “integrity and honesty”, arguing that his successor will have a hard act to follow. “Toni made sure we respected our values … what he underwent in the last campaign and the targeted attack [by the PN] attempting to implicate him in a criminal act was disgusting.”

Bringing the conference to a close, Abela paid tribute to the members of the administration and the party’s branches. He said he was serenely departing his post knowing he could not miss the writing on the wall.

Outgoing deputy leader Toni Abela addressing the conference
Outgoing deputy leader Toni Abela addressing the conference

On Muscat, Abela admitted that at times he doubted his leader’s political methodology but “each time he proved himself to be right”.

Delegates approved a motion to amend the statute, allowing members of the parliamentary group to contest the post of deputy leader for party affairs. The amendment was approved with 392 votes in favour and one against.

Nominations open Saturday 6 February and close on Tuesday 9 February. Elections will be held on 25 February. If necessary, a second election will be held the following day.

The party has long had two deputy leaders: one for party affairs and the other for parliamentary affairs. This division of roles was introduced by Dom Mintoff as a way of diluting the deputy leadership and quell ambitions by the notorious government minister Lorry Sant from using a deputy leadership as a stepping stone to party leader.

Muscat, who upon becoming leader abolished the post of elected secretary-general to introduce that of a handpicked party CEO, now has paved the way for a Labour MP to be elected to the second deputy leadership post.

Energy Minister Konrad Mizzi has been touted for the post, bringing in his managerial skills to the party. Sources have also described Mizzi – a newcomer in the last general election – as having won the support of the party’s grassroots with his successful delivery of the reduction in energy bills, the planned opening of a new gas-fired power station and the ongoing reform in the health sector.

Economy Minister Chris Cardona ruled out any interest in running for the post: “I have a younger person in mind, whose strength and drive will push the party forward.”

Expressing their support for the amendments, delegates urged the party’s leadership to ensure that, whoever becomes deputy leader for party affairs, draws the party closer to the delegates.

Newly appointed parliamentary secretary for lands Deborah Schembri said the statute’s updating was needed for the party’s renewal. “This party became a movement, opening its doors to different people, including myself. Today we play an essential part in this movement… sometimes I ask myself what was I doing elsewhere,” she said.

“The party needs to remain relevant, allowing us to be well-prepared for the next general election.”

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