Labour in labour

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

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.



15 Responses to “A bow in the cloud: unity, diversity and the Movement”

  1. Tazebao Caretaker said




  2. I agree that Malta requires a united left movement which aspires for governance in order to bring about the necessary changes so that Malta will be more equal, socially just and ecologically sustainable.

    Political parties (e.g. MLP, AD) and NGOs on the left-side of the political spectrum (e.g. Zminijietna Voice of the Left) should increase their collaboration with the hope of becoming hegemonic. This, in turn requires alliances with other groups/agents from the broader civil society.

    Suc a strategy requires not only sound policies, but also populist discourse which meets the particular aspirations of the masses, which, in turn, are characterised by a plurality of identities including class, gender, beliefs, age, etc..

    The PN has succesfully adopted such tactics over the past years, through hegemonic projects based around signifiers such as ‘Xoghol Gustizzja Liberta’; ‘EU Membership’ and ‘GonziPN’, projecting itself as a guarantor of stability. As Mario Vella (1989) puts it

    To the wage earner who was asked to renounce to higher wages it promises higher wages, to the middle class consumer of goods and services whose ‘right of choice’ was limited by economic policies it promises unlimited choice, to the importer it promises free trade, to the industrialists it promises continued profits, to traditionalists it promises tradition and to those eager to adopt the patterns of behaviour of the metropolises it promises modernity

    Michael Briguglio

    [Thanks to Michael Briguglio for another stimulating comment. Could he please be so kind as to mail us the exact reference of the passage quoted above? As soon as we receive it, we will add it as a note to his comment, for the benefit of the fast growing community that is forming around this tazebao. The Caretaker.]

  3. James Debono said

    Am not a Labour party supporter nor a fan of any of the contestants (although I have my biases). Therefore take these as the views of a very subjective outsider who makes no claim to objective truth.

    Some reflections on the choice of new MLP leader

    1. As in 1996 the party has a need to re-invent itself as a party appealing to a plurality of identities and social classes.
    My ideal candidate for this project would be someone who is progressive when it comes to vision, ideas and proposals but also moderate when it comes to delivery, style and discourse.
    For the past years the party was the very opposite; moderate in ideas but belligerent in discourse and style.
    The MLP must ask the question; which leader would be most competitive with Lawrence Gonzi?
    In this sense choosing someone very similar to Gonzi poses the question; why opt for change when we already have it all?
    Having a very light political baggage and a forward looking young image would also help. So does having communication skills to explain complicated issues in simple ways and to win debates.

    2. Sant’s greatest contribution to the MLP was to introduce a discourse based on meritocracy. The party should retain this commitment without sending any mixed messages. While remaining a watchdog against corruption, the MLP should explain better how it plans to change the “jobs for the boys” mentality. People doubted the MLP’s commitment on this issue especially in view of certain declarations on “gvern tal-laburisti” which were taken out of context but harmed the MLP’s meritocratic façade.

    3. The party should focus more on social issues like child care, housing, protection of young workers in precarious jobs, inclusive education and an inclusive family policy. In this area the party’s socialist vision can also appeal to middle class parents. At the same time the party should give priority to the emancipation of those who are still socially excluded and live in depressed areas. It should promote a discourse of social harmony, integration, empowerment and a caring society.

    4. The MLP could project itself as the consumer rights party – thus giving substance to its proposals on the cost of living and ways to regulate the free market to do away with cartels and private monopolies. Rather than just harping on l-gholi tal-hajja-a cliché for some-the MLP should formulate a consumer friendly discourse which also addresses themes like food safety and quality of service.

    5. The party could be more visible in its support for residents confronting developments at local level. The MLP was largely absent in these local struggles which resonate with new middle class and even traditional voters.

    6. The party could regain credibility by being more propositive in parliament by proposing legislation on themes like party financing, whistle blower act, freedom of information and social issues like the rights of cohabiting couples (and I would dare say divorce). In this way the party would be setting the national agenda from the opposition benches. It would also expose the contradictions in a one seat majority government.

    7. While adhering to its socialist democratic ideology, the party could be more open to people who do not necessarily share this ideology but share some common ground. 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.

    8. The party should be more open to people engaged in academic disciplines and research. In this election the party seemed very shallow in its understanding of the Maltese social reality. The contribution of those who actually conduct research on Maltese society is vital to the MLP’s future. In this sense the MLP needs its own think tanks open to the wide spectrum of center-left politics.

    9. The MLP must appear less paranoid of the media. It is true that some sections of the media are biased. (But who isn’t?) This is like crying over spilt milk. Labour has to win the respect of independent journalists because sometimes the party has a way of presenting itself as a joke. The MLP should also reform its own media which is alien to the educated new middle class. As long as it exists One TV could find a balance between populist programes and cutting edge cult programmes.

    James Debono

  4. Raymond Grech said

    Some comments on James Debono’s post [welcome to ‘Labour in labour’ James, hope to see you here often]. I believe I can go along on all points, however:

    Re: point 1 – I am not comfortable with the way in which James poses the question, i.e. “which leader would be most competitive with Lawrence Gonzi?”, for a number of reasons.

    Yes, on a practical level I see the point and accept it, but even if our conclusion is going to be same I think it’s very important that we get to it from a different angle.

    First, there is no guarantee that LG will be heading the PN and its campaign next time round [far-fetched perhaps, but stranger things have happened].

    Second, by focusing on LG we’d be allowing the PN to choose the battlefield, as it were. As James implies, why should voters go for a copy when they can get the original? Rather than focusing on how to compete with LG on his own terms we should be looking for leaders who can go places where he can’t.

    Third, I may be a voice crying in the wilderness but I am VERY UNHAPPY with the keenly ‘personalistic’ bent things are taking.

    Fourth, I would hypothesise that the dynamics of LG’s market appeal have changed significantly post 08/03. Granted, the man has his strenghts, but they are not necessarily what they were before the elections, and may have been joined by a number of weaknesses – but let’s keep this for another day.

    Fifth, the type of voter we want to attract [because political parties are meant to win election, after all] will of course look at the quality of the leadership team, but will certainly want to go beyond that. This kind of voter will look to the leadership ‘brand’ as an indicator of ability to deliver on policy.

    Conclusion – get the policies right, then pick the person who can communicate those policies – to activists, opinion leaders, the electorate – and who has the skills to deliver on those policies once in government [or even while waiting her or his turn on the Opposition benches, as in points 5 and 6]. So I’m with James on the importance of a leader’s marketability, but not on the way he frames the issue.

    Regarding point 7, James leaves out one important group – EuroSceptics [thanks to J. Borg for bringing this up in post no. 37]. The term is somewhat abused and actually lumps together widely divergent views – from “EU membership is BAD, get me out of here now!” to “The EU is fine in theory but is undemocratic and/or bureaucratic and/or wasteful and corrupt and/or taken over by lobby groups and/or neo-liberals and/or politically correct fetishists”. Now I know that my suggestion is fraught with all sorts of difficulties and dangers, but I think it is neither fair nor wise to abandon this particular group to the wolves of the far right – I suppose this is one area where academic research and disciplines and think tanks [point no. 8] will come in very handy!

    Finally, about point 9 – James is right about the need to engage constructively with the media. However, it is important to distinguish [especially for practical purposes, not just in moral terms] media operators who are merely ‘biased’ [we all have backgrounds and pasts after all] from those who effectively function as the PN’s fifth column.

    Thanks for reading this far!

    Raymond Grech

  5. danny attard said

    I agree with the spirit of the post [James Debono’s] … just one question … is not the rainbow symbol old hat (Rainbow Productions etc) and linked to the failed Bertinotti ‘communist’ coalition especially with the ‘ominous’ leftists being highlighted as members of such coalition? I think that an effective package has to be identified. After all, we already had the ‘min mhux kontra taghna huwa maghna’ that failed to make sufficient inroads. Structures as listed by Dr Muscat are indeed needed to actually take forward the raw material of such concept to mould it into a clear, popular easy to understand proposal.

    Danny Attard

  6. Simon Mallia said

    Dear Danny,
    1. Of course the rainbow symbol is old! If it’s quoted in the Old Testament, in Genesis, and if scholars are right about this composite text being the product of anonymous authors and editors working between the 10th and 5th centuries BC, then the rainbow symbol must be between 2500 and 3000 years old. That is, of course, if we limit ourselves to the Bible. I am not an expert but I am certain that it appears in other older sources.
    2. Neither James Debono nor this editorial – I have read both with great care and attention – suggest that the Movement or, even less, the Party should adopt the rainbow logo. The notion of rainbow is evidently used to signify harmonious unity in diversity and diversity in unity. This goal, I am sure, will find the Danny support, if his excellent comments todate are anything to go by.
    3. Of course, the ideas we outlined so far are only raw material for further definition and processing. This why we are discussing them. Moreover, their political feasibility will need to be tested on the ground, in the course of discussions between the various elements concerned (individuals, groups, parties). Poltically viable and effective solutions cannot be be worked out in the stillness and solitude of cyberspace, but in the necessarily unelegant, noisy and often messy world of practical politics.
    Simon Mallia

  7. danny attard said

    Hi Simon,

    re: my comments on Rainbow Coalition, I was referring to the proposal : ‘The MLP could promote itself as a rainbow coalition of progressive people’.

    I fully agree with your comments, specifically regarding:

    “the ideas we outlined so far are only raw material for further definition and processing. This is why we are discussing them. Moreover, their political feasibility will need to be tested on the ground, in the course of discussions between the various elements concerned (individuals, groups, parties). Poltically viable and effective solutions cannot be worked out in the stillness and solitude of cyberspace, but in the necessarily unelegant, noisy and often messy world of practical politics.”

    Warm regards,


  8. Marie Abdilla said

    Like James Debono and Michael Briguglio I agree that political parties and NGOs on the left-side of the political spectrum should come together. Many of my friends and collegues are Alternattiva and in discussions I find that we have much in common. I also always find comments made by Zminijietna to be very close to my line of thinking. It has always saddened me that unlike other leftist movements in other countries, the left in Malta has never come together. But since March 08 several Alternatttiva members that I know are starting to show interest in Labour. Welcome on board to all “Progressives and Moderates” as Joseph Muscat says, both on an individual basis as well as regards more collaboration between the MLP and leftist parties/NGOS/groups.

    Marie Abdilla

  9. Simon Mallia said

    Anyone of you interested in joining a book-reading club to discuss recent literature relevant to environmental politics and policy? Read my comment on a freshly published book on the subject in this blog’s own book corner (go HOME and then click on VOULEZ VOUS LIRE AVEC MOI?).

    Simon Mallia

    [Caretaker says: We’ll be delighted to organise regular book-readers’ workshops on green policy as well as on any other theme relevant to this tazebao’s broad scope. Interested? write to]

  10. Raymond Grech said


    “Mintoff endorses George Abela”, The Times website updated at 10:41, reported this morning!

    According to The Times Dom Mintoff today declared his backing for George Abela’s leadership bid, during a a short speech before an “enthusiastic crowd” at a public activity held by George Abela in Qormi this morning. Mintoff was welcomed by Abela as “an honoured guest.”

    Former Labour leader and Prime Minister Dom Mintoff, 91, spoke about several subjects, “even saying his hearing aid was a means for the Police Commissioner to know his whereabouts” The Times reported.

    He had come to the Abela’s meeting, he is reported to have said, “not to see whether or not Dr Abela had said the truth about the 1998 MLP executive meeting which proposed that the Labour government hold a snap election” but “to see that Dr Abela achieved his aims”.

    According to report in The Times, Mintoff “complained over corruption in the country and said he did not view the next general election as being five years away”. “It is up to us” he is quoted to have said. The The Times reporter says that Mintoff, at this point, added “that no one should tolerate the ‘dirt’ Malta was seeing”.

    This last phrase is not reported as direct speech, the word ‘dirt’ however is written in single inverted commas ‘…’. Presumably this either means that it is the actual word used by Mintoff (this would contrast with The Times’ normal way of indicating direct speech, which is to reproduce the speech within double inverted commas “…”) or that this venerable newspaper is taking distance from the expression ‘dirt’.

    In any case, does anyone here have first-hand knowledge of what went on? What do you make of it? How will Mintoff’s intervention impact upon George Abela’s chances of success?

    Raymond Grech

  11. Dr Anthony Licari said

    MINTOFF ENDORSES GEORGE ABELA. I believe that this will create confusion among certain media people and nationalists – and even disgruntled labourites – who had clearly been promoting George Abela as the modern social democrat of the near future. With Mr Mintoff’s endorsement of Dr Abela, an interesting tandem has been created which plays havoc among the “sober” voters hoping to see in Dr Abela a clear departure from past politics. I believe that the timing of this new development could not have been worse for Dr Abela. Mr Mintoff is not written about very positively in the conservative media. His approval of Dr Abela may, by association, be very harmful to Dr Abela.
    Anthony Licari

  12. Raymond Grech said

    Some quotations from Saviour Balzan’s column from last Wednesday’s edition of ‘Malta Today’ (Wanted: A Labour Party)

    Saviour Balzan says:

    “Listening to George Abela’s political vision for the future I could not help putting him a perfectly legitimate question: is he sure that he wants to lead a socialist party?

    There is nothing in Abela’s proposals that distinguishes him from a Nationalist Party politician. Neither is there anything to identify him as a Labourite or even a socialist or a social-democrat. You cannot even accuse him of being a champagne socialist.

    To me, he sounded more like an Italian Christian Democrat.

    When he emphasised that he saw the family as the centre of his political platform, I could not help thinking that that is exactly what Gonzi would like us all to think. I, too, think that the family is great, but is this not too simplistic?

    It is of course encouraging to know that with the changing face of Maltese society, a politician who expects to be voted in as Labour leader in June of this year and PM in 2013 wants to give us five more years of GonziPN. I would imagine that the issue of divorce, or better still a Zapatero vision of the family, would be anathema to Dr Abela. After all, in Malta we only have just over 25% of our marriages breaking down every year.”

    And also this:

    “The Labour Party today has absolutely no idea what it really stands for, and what’s more it has no idea what is going to happen next. If the Labour party is to exist, it needs a modern leader, and not someone who looks like a photocopy of Gonzi.

    The MLP has a crisis on its hands. I mean, just look at someone like Stefan Buontempo. Just listen to what he has to say and how he says it, and then if you aren’t convinced of my conviction that the Labour party is really and truly a funny version of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, then stop and have a quick peep at Silvio Parnis. Yes: the Rahal Gdid moderniser, the gel-coated Parnis. I am sure if you had to discuss Rosa Luxembourg with him he would think you are asking him about his eau de cologne.

    The Labour party has simply lost its bearings and needs to redesign itself. But it should not do so by replicating GonziPN. I guess Dr Abela shares this feeling too; from the looks of it his political vision is what we would call retrograde, because it takes us nowhere, takes the Labour party everywhere and reconfirms my worst fears that really and truly, GonziPN permeates every nook and cranny of Maltese society.”

    Interesting views from an interesting source. But Balzan is saying nothing new that many of us don’t say to each other daily.

    Raymond Grech

  13. Maria Vella said

    With the significance of to-day’s goings-on seeping through, my mind went back to my no. 137 (in the comments section of the A Lively Debate… post) contribution that reflects on possible reasons why George Abela’s Labour Leadership plans are being so enthusiastically endorsed by so many elements from within the pro-governmet camp. May I share with you one of the possible suggested reasons?

    4) A strange version of a compromesso storico. There are those who feel that real power in Malta does not principally reside in the hands of the political class. The MEPA controversy may be an accidental corollary. The real owners of power may not risk having a ‘nonconformist’ leading a party in Government. Dr Sant may have been seen as a non-conformist. Dr Muscat may be likewise seen. The real owners of power may feel Malta’s need for a change in Government that, while not upsetting their stage, would give some breathing space to 80,000 odd small spirits who have been breathing dust for a few years too many,as the intellectual capacity of this class is becoming more refined by the day. These owners of power will not however permit this change unless the new leader is a ‘conformist’.

    (I made a few changes to the extract for better communication of concept).

    Still a most unlikely possibility. Yet for some reason, this hypothesis again crosses my mind.

    Maria Vella

  14. Karin Dimech said

    I came across Fabrizio Ellul’s lonely comment of April 24, 2008 in the section on Zapatero of this bubbly and unpredictable blog. His is the only comment in that section. Not, probably, because visitors to this site are not interested in Zappy’s great – and so far succesful – sociopolitical experiment in Spain, but simply because the administrators of this blog are doing their best to corral commenting visitors into a few mainstream locations to get the maximum of cross dialogue and focus.

    Anyways, Fabrizio says: “I think what Zapatero is doing for Spain is great. He is radically opening up the system. I hope Labour can truly reflect this liberal socialist attitude; because quite frankly we do not want another Gonzi with his lovely smile and hollow rhetoric.”

    May I suggest that rather than sarcastically discard Gonzi’s “lovely smile”, we try to understand why such smiles (think of Berlusconi’s huge grin) do often succeed in winning over large swathes of ‘the people’ even when the owners of the mouths that produce them are largely discredited by the thinking section of the electorate? Should we not make a bigger effort, intellectual but ultimately political, to analyse those conditions that turn Gonzi’s (and Berlusconi’s) “hollow rhetoric” into apparently profound wisdom in the ears of the majority (no matter how slim)?

    Fabrizio, get yourself out of that lonely corner and join the crowd in this comment stream! You have important things to say. Say them where we can hear and discuss them!

    Karin Dimech

  15. Tazebao Caretaker said



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