Labour in labour

Re-inventing the Malta Labour Party (and Maltese politics): an unauthorised tazebao.

Archive for April, 2008

And now, please, back to the future…

Posted by fcb on April 30, 2008

 Remember Doc Brown and Marty McFly ? 

Time to get back on track after last Sunday’s diversion. Back on track means back to the present to speak about our future. OK, it was good to revisit the 1996-1998 experience. Now that we have cleared some pending issues regarding who did what, however, we have to keep moving. We need to refocus this debate. We need to discuss visions and programmes and we need to do so much more concretely that has been the case so far. It is not enough for the contestants to tell us that we must reach out beyond Labour’s traditional electorate. We want to know how they propose to do so. It is not enough for them to tell us that that we have to rejuvenate the Party and bring the young on board. We want to see with our own eyes that they have what it takes to attract the young to the Party. What better way, we ask, than showing us now that they can do so. Show us you can and we will believe that you will.


Posted in Editorial | 55 Comments »

Mintoff at Qormi. Flash news, flash questions!

Posted by fcb on April 27, 2008

Dom Mintoff made an appearance at George Abela’s meeting this morning in Qormi. See Raymond Grech’s second-hand report but, more importantly, his first-hand questions. Contributors are kindly requested not to be distracted from the interesting debate developing in the comments’ section under the previous ‘Bow in the Clouds’ posting. Do come in here and post your views briefly and, above all, contructively and with moderation. But then, however, do go back to the previous section where the great debate continues…

Posted in Editorial | 34 Comments »

A bow in the cloud: unity, diversity and the Movement

Posted by fcb on April 25, 2008


Adriaen van de Venne, Fishing for Souls, 1614, oil on panel 98 x 189cm, Rijksmuseum 

 Adriaen van de Venne, Fishing for Souls, 1614, oil on panel 98 x 189cm, Rijksmuseum

James Debono, in a substantial contribution to our open-ended debate on and around Labour’s quest for a new leader, argues that, whilst adhering to the values of social democracy, “the party could be more open to people who do not necessarily share this ideology but share some common ground” (see Comment No. 38 to the post Games contestants play  reproduced below this editorial for easy reference).

Of the five individuals that have so far declared a firm intention to contest for the position of leader of the Labour Party, one of them, Joseph Muscat, has clearly outlined a vision of a party in which everybody that shares its core values has an assured place. Muscat, however, went further – indeed, much further – than this.  The Party, he writes in his programmatic statement for its renewal, should promote a ‘Movement that brings together our society’s Progressives and Moderates’ (Moviment li jigbor flimkien lil Progressivi u Moderati fis-socjeta’ taghna).

What is new and original in this statement is that he is not suggesting that all those who feel they have something in common with the Labour Party – be it core values or shared views on specific issues – need not join the Party if they feel that they may thereby lose their specific individual or collective identity.  In other words, the proposed Movement is not reducible to the Labour Party nor is it a ‘front’ for the Labour Party. The proposed Movement is intended to encompass both the Labour Party and all progressive and moderate elements in society that wish to work with Labour without relinquishing what is unique to them.

Back to James Debono.  In his comment, he writes: “For example liberals, greens and leftists can potentially support a progressive MLP at least on some issues. The MLP could promote itself as a rainbow coalition of progressive people. One should remember that MLP+AD=a majority in the country.” Joseph Muscat’s vision of the Labour Party within a broader Movement of Progressives and Moderates could provide a workable solution to the mechanics of what Debono calls “a rainbow coalition of progressive people”, at least in a transitional phase during which the various elements of the Movement learn to understand each other by working together. In any case, in such a Movement nobody should be made to feel that they must ultimately be ‘eaten up’ by the Labour Party.

Moreover, the Movement proposed by Joseph Muscat need not be limited to “liberals, greens and leftists”, to quote again from James Debono’s comment pasted earlier today on this tazebao. The Movement should encompass a much broader spectrum of colours, a broader rainbow. It should, for example, include an important section of socially committed groups and individuals in this country who conceive of their voluntary work as a Christian mission, as a bearing witness to their Faith.

Anyone with her or his ears to the ground knows that many individuals active in these groups and networks are painfully disenchanted with Gonzi and the Nationalist government. They voted for it on the 8th March because they sincerely believed that Lawrence Gonzi – if given one last chance, a reprieve – would immediately upon re-election set to work to radically improve standards of governance and to exclude all but the morally decent from any political appointment. This has evidently not happened and there are clear indications that it is not likely to happen, ever. Members of voluntary organisations, especially Catholic ones, expected much more from a man who himself comes from a ten year experience as president of the Catholic Action Movement (1976-1986) as well as personal engagement in voluntary work. They are – ask them – very disappointed and many of them are beginning to feel the anguish typical of political orphans.

The rainbow is a profound symbol of alliance with ancient, even biblical, roots: “I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:13). The bow in the cloud bridges over even the most apparently forbidding abyss, as Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne may have been unwittingly suggesting, in his work Fishing for Souls, painted in an epoch of bloody religious and political strife. All decent persons in this country will recognise their own colour in the rainbow stretching above the Movement of Progressives and Moderates, a rainbow of unity respectful of diversity.


Posted in Editorial | 15 Comments »

An open invitation to all contestants for the top job!

Posted by fcb on April 20, 2008

All contestants for the leadership of the Labour Party are cordially invited to post statements (media releases, mission statements etc.) relating to their candidacy on the page OFFICIAL STATEMENTS BY CONTESTANTS in this blog. These may be either posted in the appropriate field in the above mentioned page or e-mailed as attachment to . Contestants may be contacted by us to verify the authenticity of the statement.

The Caretaker

Posted in Editorial | Comments Off on An open invitation to all contestants for the top job!

Games contestants play.

Posted by fcb on April 18, 2008

Negotiations in tents, French, 14th century, Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale

Negotiations in tents, French, 14th century, Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale


Parallel to the canvassing by each and every one of the five contestants (Abela, Bartolo, Coleiro Preca, Falzon and Muscat) there is another activity going on, less visible to the naked eye but not less important. Most of the candidates will also be communicating with each other, mostly through intermediaries. The aim of these ‘negotiations’ is to explore various possible  alliances.

There will be candidates who resort to bluff. The dynamics of the bluffing game are roughly as follows: the effectively weaker party will generally bluff and invite an effectively stronger competitor to step aside and not contest for the top job in exchange for support to win one of the two deputy leader posts. Poker players will understand this best.

There will be candidates who will appeal to a higher good than the interest of the two or three individuals in the round of negotiations. The higher good is the Party and an even higher one is the Country. The argument goes like this: let’s go the delegates as a team and thus avoid unnecessary internal strife. This is a variant on the ‘show of unity’ theme. In any case, it requires one or two of the contestants to give way to another competitor and to refrain from contesting for the top post. It also requires those candidates that are not party of the agreement, to be excluded from the leadership.

There will be candidates who will consider the option of not contesting not because they are objectively weaker than the others or because they have succumbed to another candidate’s bluff, but because they feel that another candidate with less chances of being elected leader stands a better chance of leading the party to victory in general elections. Here again one or more of the contestants may try to bluff his/her way into pole position by conceding that the other competitor stands a better chance of being elected leader but he/she is more likely to win the general elections.

There will be those candidates who refuse to enter into such alliances if and when these are proposed to them. We would expect the candidate who feels reasonably certain of having a majority of delegates (or party members) on his/her side and is convinced of having the right qualities to convince a majority of voters to choose Labour at the next general elections, to call what he/she believes is a competitor’s bluff. “There are moreover”, he/she will reflect, “at least three to five years before the next general elections during which I can organise and motivate this party, and lead it to victory”.

No reason why there may not be more than one candidate who harbors such a conviction. If there is more than one candidate who is objectively in a position to win the leadership election as well as the general election whenever this may be called, that is altogether another matter. Having said this, whoever is elected leader will do a terrible mistake if he/she excludes anyone who will have contested this election from positions of significance and trust. A party divided will not convince a majority of citizens that it has more to offer than a government that, in 2013, will have been in power for almost a quarter of a century.

Posted in Editorial | 47 Comments »

A regatta or an open confrontation of ideas?

Posted by fcb on April 14, 2008


Above: Canaletto, A Regatta on the Grand Canal, circa 1740 oil on canvas 122.1 X 1828 cm, National Gallery, London


Addressing his sympathisers at the Cospicua Regatta Club yesterday, Dr. George Abela appealed “to those who will be voting for the new leader to use their mind not their hearts”. We agree with him completely.

The choice of the venue, a regatta club, set us thinking. The word ‘regatta’ is of Italian descent, from the Venetian dialect, and originally referred to a boat race among gondoliers held on the Canal Grande. The etymology of the term is uncertain. Some think it derives from ‘riga’ (‘line’), others from ‘aurigare’ (competing in an ‘auriga’ – a chariot – race), others yet suggests that it comes from ‘ramigium’ (‘remeggio’, the act of rowing).

John Florio (1553-1625), linguist, lexicographer, language tutor at the Court of James I and possibly a friend of William Shakespeare, in his Dictionarie of the Italian and English Tounges, defines it as “a strife or contention or or struggling for the maistrie”. In this case – where the word is assumed to be derived from ‘regattare’ (to compete, haggle, sell at retail) – the regatta is conceived as a struggle for mastery. Whatever the case may be, the point is that the term has since found its place in all major European languages to refer to a boat race.

But should the process of choosing a new leader for the Malta Labour Party be conceived as a race? Or, thinking of the more cynical of you out there, should it be a struggle for mastery? Would it not be more beneficial for the Party and for this small Country if, rather than a struggle or a race, it were to be more of an open confrontation of ideas, a debate on where we are, where we want to go and how we are going to get there? Quite frankly, platitudes and generalities apart, we have yet to be told by the contenders, what it is concretely that they have in mind for the Party and the Country.


Posted in Editorial | 60 Comments »

Spain’s Zapatero unveils his cabinet: a majority of women and a 31 year old minister for gender equality!

Posted by fcb on April 13, 2008


Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose Socialist Party won Spain’s general elections on March 9 – seven seats short of an absolute majority – was sworn in as Prime Minister by King Juan Carlos yesterday April 12.  Zapatero, who will be 48 on August 4, unveiled his new cabinet, which for the first time includes more women than men. “I feel very proud that there are more women ministers than men”, he said. Nine of the ministers are women and eight are men. If the Prime Minister is included, the cabinet is equally divided by gender.
Mr Zapatero reappointed Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega as deputy prime minister. The former housing minister, Carme Chacon, one of the rising stars of the Socialist party, becomes Spain’s first ever female defence minister. Although Mr Zapatero opted for continuity in several key portfolios – including foreign affairs, the economy and the interior – he also created a ministry for equality and entrusted it to a woman, Bibiana Aido, who thus becomes Spain’s youngest minister ever.
Bibiana Aido (picture above), the new minister for gender equality, was born in Alcalá de los Gazules, Cádiz, on February 2, 1977. She is a Socialist member of the parliament of Andalusia representing the province of Cádiz. She is also the secretary for gender equality in the Cádiz executive committe of the PSOE. She studied economics and business adminstration in Spain and the UK. Visit Bibiana’s blog at

Posted in Editorial | 4 Comments »

Benvenuto Benigni! Abbasso la politica dei cannoli!

Posted by fcb on April 12, 2008

PD leader Walter Veltroni and Roberto Benigni in Rome on 11 April 2008.

Oscar-winning film director, script-writer and actor Roberto Benigni will be visiting Malta for four days next week. He will be honoured with a doctorate honoris causa for his contribution to the humanities. No doubt the propagandists of Gonzi PN’s government will not dwell long on Roberto Benigni’s full support for Walter Veltroni and the Partito Democratico (PD), Italy’s equivalent of the Malta Labour Party. The picture above shows the great Italian actor together with Walter Veltroni yesterday(Friday, April 11), effectively the last day of the campaign. Italians will go to the polls tomorrow Sunday 13 and Monday 14. The PD’s principal opponent is Berlusconi’s centre-right party Popolo della Liberta’ (PDL). Veltroni, who feels politically close to Barack Obama and wrote the preface to the Italian translation of the latter’s book The Audacity of Hope , is 19 years younger than Silvio Berlusconi.

Veltroni broke with a tabu of all Italian politicians since the Second World War and attacked the Mafia head on throughout this campaign. “We’re coming to get you, ” he told them, “we’re going to destroy you once and for all!” Rumours about Berlusconi’s links to the Mafia, on the other hand, have circled since the beginning of his business career. Two of Berlusconi’s closest allies have been found guilty of dealing with the Mafia. Salvatore Cuffaro, Sicily’s former governor, was given a five-year sentence but is running for a seat in the senate, Italy’s upper house. So is Marcello Dell’Utri, who helped to co-found Forza Italia, now part of Popolo della Liberta’ (PDL) together with the far right Alleanza Nazionale called, and headed his advertising company, Publitalia. According to several pentiti, Bernardo Provenzano, the Mafia Godfather arrested on the eve of the last election in 2006, instructed his followers to support Forza Italia.

On the 20 January 2004 Salvatore Cuffaro was made Honorary Companion with Breast Star of the National Order of Merit of the Republic of Malta as approved by Legal Notice No. 162 of 14/11/95. Cuffaro’s decoration was dished out like a hearty serving of cannoli to a dozen others including Silvio Berlusconi, to mark the occasion of the state visit to Italy by the President of Malta in January 2004. Cuffaro’s best known picture shows him holding a tray-full of mouthwatering cannoli. The photo was taken soon after he was sentenced by the court. Cannoli-politics has now become synonymous with corrupt politcs in Italy. We can think of a couple of local candidates for Honorary Companion with Candied Fruit of the National Order of the Cannolu. Can’t you ?

Photo courtesy of PD Network

Posted in Editorial | 2 Comments »

Dedicated to those who are guilty of being young

Posted by fcb on April 8, 2008

Barack Obama’s Yes We Can speech is inspiring millions around the world. Listen closely to Obama’s Music Video. At one point the young Barack says: “We have been told we cannot do this by a chorus of cynics. They will only grow louder and more dissonant. We’ve been asked to pause for a reality check.” One of our young commentators (n. 132) has observed that our own homespun chorus of cynics is whispering that one of the candidates for the leadership of the Labour Party is too young for the job and should let older, more experienced politicians take the lead. Let us be absolutely clear: this tazebao is nobody’s cheer club but we will not stand back when one of the candidates – ironically the most popular one – is accused of being young. We decided to carry Obama’s Yes We Can Music Video. Enjoy it. We dedicate this stirring speech-song to those of you who are guilty of being young at heart. We can. Yes we can.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

A short history of war wrecks in Maltese

Posted by fcb on April 6, 2008

We are publishing a comment (No. 120) about the venom that oozes out of your screen when you access certain other blogs dedicated to the political season Malta is going through. The commentator compares the effect on her of these expressions of hate to the experience of being caught in the middle of a car convoy of celebrating PN supporters immediately after the 8 March elections.

“I was in the presence of three Northern Europeans – one of them driving – and we were caught in a carcade. My friends – who know Malta well and immediately deciphered the symbolism – were visibly upset and one, who later apologised, asked the rest if what we had just seen did not remind them of the revolting scenes of Somali mobs dragging the bodies of US soldiers through the streets after the so-called Battle of Mogadishu in 1993 (ta’ Black Hawk Down biex niftehmu).” [read the full comment below]

The symbolism recognised by our commentator’s foreign friends refers to objects waved by the young men and women in this particular carcade. We do not know if this was an isolated incident or one of many. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it was by no means the only one. The point is, as the commentator emphasises, that we – proud brand new members of the European Union and even prouder advocates of its Christian roots – do not seem to lose much sleep when confronted with the ‘tribal’ psychological and moral violence some of us (many of us?) are capable of.

As the Labour party labours to choose a new leader – understandably a complex process of which the actual election in June will be but the visible part of the proverbial iceberg – some good souls out there are labouring hard to whip up hate against some of the contenders. Our commentator does not ask why this is happening. Is it part of a well-planned strategy or is it just blind, individual and un-coordinated rage? The commentator focuses, rather, on the roots of this cultural phenomenon. Authors of poison blogs and drunk kids in post-electoral carcades puking cheap vodka, undigested pizza and astounding hate are so many wrecks from a war that we have to leave behind us.

“But pappa, have you really thought this through?”, the narrator asks her father in Marina Lewycka’s charming and relatively recent novel ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian’. The problem is that, no, the older amongst us -those that have lived through at least some of what our commentator refers to as the long Maltese war that started more or less after World War 2 and that may have come to an end sometime in the 90s – have not really come to terms with our own contemporary history. Until we do, we will not be able to understand and to manage the extraordinary emotions it is still capable of generating not only amongst its survivors but also amongst those that were born when the dust had already began to settle. Until such time as we do, beware of the wrecks.

Posted in Editorial | 3 Comments »