Dad, political sociologist, local councillor, drummer from Malta

Monday, June 06, 2016

Mutiny in the Labour Party?


Not everything seems to be sailing smoothly aboard the Labour Party. For a starter, scientific surveys are showing that its 36,000 vote majority has all but disappeared.
Yet it might also be evident that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat is facing an internal problem of diminishing authority in view of his staunch defence – or powerlessness – over Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.
Traditionally, Labour’s structure has been hierarchical and rather lacking in pluralism. Everyone is expected to toe the party line and there is a strong sense of loyalty even when policy U-turns are pronounced.
And discipline needn’t be imposed from above – party members regulate themselves on behalf of the party’s greater good.
One can say that this is an iron law of all political parties and institutionalised organisations, and to a certain extent this is true. But surely, Labour, and its loyal ally GWU, prove the point.
But is the party now taking things too far? Party machines are made up of people after all. And even in the most authoritarian of structures, people still have the possibility to think and to communicate.
People can choose. Of course, choice is related to different pressures, influences, experiences and motives, ranging from the rational to the emotional, but still, it exists.
And here lie some interesting choices made by different distinguished Labourites in the past weeks. I will not elaborate on Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi’s respective choices to cling to power despite Panama Papers, nor of Joseph Muscat’s choice to defend the duo at all costs, even at the risk of sinking with them when political judgement day arrives.
Instead, I will hereby write about some pronouncements made by other distinguished Labourites in the past days. And coming from a party which, as I said previously, is rather monolithic in its discourse, such pronouncements may be very significant.
Choice is related to different pressures, influences, experiences and motives, ranging from the rational to the emotional
First, Evarist Bartolo. Through parliamentary intervention, Facebook posts and comments to the press, the Minister of Education and Employment has expressed unease on the Panama Papers issue and related topics such as regulation of offshore investment. At times he was clear, at other times he used metaphors to explain his unease.
Second, Edward Scicluna. The Finance Minister took immediate action to suspend a civil servant from the Inland Revenue Department because of a spouse’s company linked to Panama Papers, which was opened before they got married.
Using the same yardstick, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi should be suspended by Muscat, especially when they opened their respective controversial companies after they became Prime Minister’s chief of staff and minister respectively. Was Scicluna’s decision to suspend the civil servant a message to the Prime Minister regarding how things should be done?
Third, Edward Zammit Lewis. Some days after Malta woke up to read of the shocking mega-project at St George’s Bay, the Minister of Tourism made it clear that the Institute of Tourism Studies will only move out of St George’s Bay once work on a campus and hotel at Smart City are completed in 2019.
The ministry’s statement might just have been a clarification. But it might also have been a sign of defiance to decisions taken high up within the oligarchy.
Fourth, Alfred Sant.
The former prime minister and current member of the European Parliament can be criticised on various grounds, however, he surely was instrumental in the modernising of Labour and in the cleaning up of the party from violent and criminal elements. And he recently made it clear that Mizzi should go.
These distinguished politicians all happen to be among the top performers of today’s Labour Party. Then there are other Labour politicians such as Helena Dalli, Jose’ Herrera, Louis Grech and Leo Brincat who have not gone out of their way to defend Mizzi and Schembri. And again, these politicians happen to be among Labour’s best elements. Hence, their silence is significant.
Of course, there are those who did go out of their way to defend the Panama Papers protagonists, and these include two of the deputy leadership contenders, namely Chris Cardona and Owen Bonnici. Will their tactical choices pay off politically?
(Picture: Robert Dodd:  The mutineers turning Lt Bligh and some of the officers and crew adrift from His Majesty's Ship Bounty, 1789)

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