Who Dares, Wins

This article first appeared in IDEAT Journal Vol. 2, Carpe Diem, published by Fondazzjoni Ideat August 2010, authored by Andrew Sciberras.

I began writing this article with the intention of continuing where I left off in our first edition’s cover-story which attempted to answer the question: why do we need a progressive movement for Malta? Whilst my intention remains intact, namely that we must now concern ourselves with examining how to construct such a movement, I have decided to do away with all clichĂ©s and dullness of political pieces. It is nigh time that we cut right to the chase. Besides, the summer lull does not soothe the inspiration, ironic as that may sound. For this reason I would like to apologise to our dear readers for what would otherwise be an unprofessional approach to political writing.

That things are simply not right is more than manifestly evident. Twenty-odd years of Nationalist administration have seen many highs (and it would be utterly close-minded to deny this) but at the moment we are simply living the lows. We all know that people are severely concerned with their standard of living and that it’s become such a struggle for many to cope with bills and expenses. We all know that corruption and mismanagement of public funds is rife; that issues such divorce, civil-partnerships (or dare I say marriage?) for LBGT couples, abortion and even “avant-garde” artistic expression are still taboo. When a minor is incarcerated in the Corradino Correctional Facility and a person requiring treatment has to wait for years to get it you know that we are on the brink of despair.

If progressive politics seeks to change all this it is patently obvious that we need a committed group of progressive politicians running our country. For Labour to be a part of this change it cannot be progressive in name and on paper but also in mind and in spirit. It cannot stop at identifying the above-mentioned problems and dragging on about them for months on end in the mass media. That is the issue-based politics which garners attention but doesn’t convince. What people want to know is what Labour is going to do about it? Corruption and mismanagement are indeed bountiful, but what concrete measures will Labour introduce to increase transparency and good governance? The cost of living has sky-rocketed but how does Labour plan to lower taxes, increase public spending and keep the deficit in check? How will Labour introduce divorce (a basic civil right) and limit censorship of the arts when it is itself unsure on where it stands on such issues? Evarist Bartolo (MP, Labour Party) hit the nail on the head when he asked the questions: “What does the Labour Party stand for in the second decade of the 21st century? How can it run Malta better than the PN and create the necessary political, economic, social and cultural conditions in our islands to give our people a much better quality of life? Shouldn’t we take real steps to start moving closer to the open and liberal societies of the EU?”

I sincerely believe that the majority of Maltese citizens feel let down by the Nationalist administration. But Labour cannot possibly lead a centre-left coalition if it is not yet fully trusted. Whilst grass-roots support may have been revitalised since Joseph Muscat was elected leader, the party has yet to convince mid-range income earners that it has the right solutions for today’s problems. To do this is it needs to change radically from the inside-out. It needs, as I said, a committed group of progressive politicians ready and willing to embrace reform. In order to do this, things may be somewhat unpleasant. As the saying goes, there is no gain without pain.

For starters it has to take a clear stand on the breed of politicians it wants to represent voters in Parliament. Do not get me wrong. I am all for giving MPs the right to express themselves freely. Sometimes we can do with a little less whipping and lot more principle. But you cannot have a party which calls itself progressive whilst harbouring some of the most staunchly conservative minds in the country. Diverging opinions are healthy but extremes will lead one to question the party’s consistency and resoluteness to put into practice that which it believes in. The party needs to ensure that, above-all, its MPs (and future ministers) are open-minded and not self-serving; that do not occupy their seat to serve the interests of the majority but of all the country’s citizens. In this light Marlene Pullicino’s (MP, Labour Party) frank admission that she was “narrow-minded enough to disregard this responsibility” is heartening and a welcome step in the right direction.

In no way should this be construed as an indictment of past and present MPs. All MPs are entitled to their opinions and they have served the country and their constituencies well. But a line must be drawn if the party wants (as it rightfully should) to construct a deep and far-reaching movement of progressives and centrists. To have a strong government Labour must look to revitalising itself by reaching out to fresh faces and go-getters who share a similar appetite to battle for change. A future campaign should not be built around politicians who focus on fixing potholes but on the idea that Labour can make a difference; that change is indeed possible. But for this to occur, change must first occur within the party structures and it is time for those who are reluctant to accept this to graciously bow out.

Labour must also renew its sense of purpose as a socially liberal party. There is no wrong committed in moving forward into the twenty-first century. Rather, its failure to do so would render Labour, as Bartolo wisely said, “another shade of PN, unable to offer an alternative to the increasing number of people who want our society to open up and become more liberal and socially tolerant and just.” Ultimately a great injustice is committed upon society and future generations if it they are eternally bound by the cultural and ethical norms of the past.

I remain hopeful that in a few years’ time we will see a Labour Party that is capable of progressive governance; a party which does not lack in courage to implement radical reforms to take Malta forward. It did so in the past and it can surely do so again in the second decade of the twenty-first century. I am certain that Joseph Muscat shares this vision and all that remains now is that he acts upon it. He who dares, wins.

This article appeared in IDEAT Journal Vol. 2, Carpe Diem, published by Fondazzjoni Ideat August 2010, authored by Andrew Sciberras.

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