Friday, 25 April 2008

Joking Apart

25th April 2008

The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

It is true that this month started with April’s fool day but it is evolving into a whole month of foolery. It is about time to move on and get serious.

The government must be joking in offering the opposition nomination of the Speaker, under two conditions which insult the status and the intelligence of the opposition. The offer that the Speaker would be chosen from among the ranks of Labour MPs, is evidently meant to increase the government’s majority in the House from one to two seats. The condition that this would be subject to a formal pairing agreement, shows condescension and disdain towards the opposition in expecting a crucial pairing agreement at a cheap price.

The opposition would be shooting itself in the foot by excluding a pairing agreement as a matter of principle (though this could be justified given that the PN denied pairing in 1997/1998) but it would be unbecoming of Labour to agree pairing on the proposed terms.

Another one cracking jokes is Alfred Sant, who this week broke a lent of silence since his resignation from party leader. If he has irrevocably resigned as party leader why has he not similarly resigned as Opposition Leader? Must he continue to confuse Labourites more than they are already confused following the third successive election defeat Sant led them into?

Sant told the media that George Vella is correct in stating that “there were no internal discussions neither at cabinet level nor on leadership, administration, executive and parliamentary group level in order to get Malta’s EU application from the freeze” and that Dr Vella “does not know of any position paper and never participated in any discussion to change Labour party’s policy in relation to the EU”.

That Dr Vella is an honourable man needs no corroboration. What is funny is that Dr Vella had made his declaration following an interview by Dr George Abela where he reported as follows:

“The Labour government had set the wheels in motion to re-route Malta towards EU membership back in 1997. Former Prime Minister Alfred Sant had personally drawn up a paper to start discussions with the Nationalist opposition, in a bid to lead to “convergence” about EU membership. Internal and informal discussions involving Dr Abela, Lino Spiteri, John Attard Montalto and Dr Sant were held to plot the way forward on the EU issue.”

At the time, former Education Minister Evarist Bartolo had also written an article in a newspaper entitled ‘Convergence’ precisely on this issue, which seems to have gone unnoticed.

“We held internal discussions as we believed it was high time to remove the EU freeze.”

It is not obvious to me that in endorsing Dr Vella’s declaration, Dr Sant was concurrently implying that Dr Abela’s version is wrong. The two stories are not mutually exclusive. Why this double speak? If Dr Sant has to state anything, which I doubt, it is whether he confirms or not the informal discussions referred to by Dr Abela, in which Dr Vella was allegedly not involved. How can Dr Vella deny something in which he was not involved?

I personally have had many informal discussions with Dr Sant on similar matters. On 18 January 2003, Dr Sant held a consultative meeting with the whole executive, which delivered to him a very strong message that the party should change its policy and accept the concept of a binding referendum on EU membership.

This message was subsequently ignored by the leadership, who conditioned acceptance to the crazy idea that the referendum would have to be approved by a 60 per cent qualified majority. Does the fact that Dr Vella was not present at the executive meeting mean it never happened? Does Dr Vella’s non-participation at the meeting with the executive, justify the total disregard by the leadership of the views of such an important organ on such a crucial matter? Why did the leadership then accept such views after the referendum was held, so much so, that the electoral manifesto for the 2003 election carried a pledge of a binding referendum on EU membership if Labour were elected?

Labour seems to be carrying the curse of its ex-leaders. Boffa left to form his own. Mintoff aggressively kept interfering in the choice of his successors and finally voted against the only Labour government elected after his departure from leadership. Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici desperately keeps trying to impose on the MLP his narrow view of the outside world. He even thought it fit to nominate his successor, who refused the appointment but always projected a shadow of moral authority on the leader for ceding the throne. Sant did not leave after his strong anti-EU membership policies were rejected by the electorate and stayed on as leader, thrusting upon the party lack of credibility for its adopted post-EU membership policies.

Can’t Labour elders understand that they serve the party much better by shutting up, rather than by using their power of ex-incumbency to influence Labour’s future?

Just last week the largest corporation in the world, General Electric (GE), announced quarterly results, which were below expectations. GE had a reputation of consistently beating expectations. Jeff Immelt, their CEO, was instantly in the media apologising to shareholders for failing to deliver as expected, and promising that this was just a bump on the road and there was nothing wrong with the company’s structural health. The next day the media cornered his predecessor, the revered Jack Welch, six years into his retirement, who said that such misses could tarnish the reputation of management. The comment made instant headlines. Welch for the first time was coming out to criticise his successor Immelt. Welch was instantly back on the media reading an unconditional declaration of support and confidence in Immelt and pledging never again to pass any comment about GE’s performance.

If I were to have any say I would put two conditions in the employment contract of Labour’s new leader. Firstly, that he submits himself for reconfirmation mid-term during the legislature, where he will have to prove that he is raising the party and personal ratings among the electorate – enough to give confidence for the aspired success come next elections. The second one is that when he leaves, he leaves – parliamentary seat and all – and should never comment about anything Labour, even if his life depends on it.

April has been a month of jokes. Let’s look forward to the first of May.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

What Makes a Leader

20th April 2008

The Malta Independent on Sunday

As the government seems to be in limbo, the talk of the town remains the leadership contest in Labour’s fold.

With five confirmed contestants so far and with their exposure on the media gathering momentum, it is inevitable that one starts making judgement on the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the personalities involved.

From what I have seen so far, I am gaining the impression that some of the contestants have problems making the distinction between skills of administration, co-ordination and leadership. So I asked myself what the attributes that distinguish true leaders from the rest are.

I tried to brush up on my MBA notes but too much time has passed to keep up with modern management thinking. So I thanked God for Google and accessed some fresher stuff. And after reading through a vast amount of literature I decided to focus on Daniel Coleman’s contribution in the Harvard Business Review 1998 based on his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence.

It is a given that a leader has to have some basic qualities that are traditionally associated with leadership – like intelligence, toughness, determination, vision and technical skills. However, there are many stories of highly intelligent and highly skilled executives who failed miserably when promoted to a leadership position. In contrast, there are many stories of people with quite normal intellectual abilities and technical skills who soared when achieving a leadership position.

Intelligence and technical skills are merely threshold capabilities, entry-level requirements for leadership. In addition to these basic skills, effective leaders must have a high degree of emotional intelligence. What is emotional intelligence?

There are five components that are the building blocks of emotional intelligence.

The first component is self-awareness. It is the person’s ability to recognise and understand his/her moods, emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others. The hallmarks of self-awareness are self-confidence, realistic self-assessment and having a self-deprecating sense of humour.

The second component is self-regulation. It is the ability to control and re-direct disruptive impulses and moods. It is the propensity to suspend judgement and gain time to think before acting. The hallmarks of self-regulation are trustworthiness and integrity, comfort with ambiguity and readiness to embrace change.

The third component is motivation – a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status. Motivation develops a propensity to pursue goals with single-minded purposeness, with energy and persistence. Its hallmarks are a strong drive to achieve, maintenance of optimism even in the face of failure and unwavering organisational commitment.

The fourth component is empathy – the ability to understand the emotional make up of other people by treating them according to their emotional reactions. Its hallmarks are expertise in grooming and retaining talent within the organisation, having cross-cultural sensitivities and showing passion for service to clients.

The last component is social skill – proficiency in managing relationships and building networks. Social skills means having the ability to find common ground and build rapport even while dealing with conflict. Its hallmarks are effectiveness in leading change, persuasiveness and expertise in building and leading teams.

If a leader can master all these skills than he/she can be effective in his/her most important function, ie, to lead. This might look very obvious but in reality one often finds people in position of leadership who are not aware that they are meant to lead. Often they mistake their role as that of an administrator or co-ordinator. Such failed leaders think that leadership consists of sitting in the most comfortable chair at the table and registering all views until people are tired enough to come to some sort of consensus, no matter how inadequate it could be, through false compromises. Quite common circumstances like these are very dangerous to the organisation, as the invisible leaders, who have a natural talent to influence decisions and create a situation where authority and responsibility get divorced, often fill the vacuum created by lack of leadership. They would effectively reside in different personalities rather than co-existing in the personality of the leader, as they should be.

The measure of an effective leader comes in the quality of his or her judgement. The CV of a good leader should show how they managed to turn around organisations, to induce motivations and energise subordinates, to get work done through others, to create space for subordinates to perform at the top of their ability without feeling threatened by their superior performance, to communicate their vision with enthusiasm, persuasion and infective passion, to keep themselves accessible, to tolerate, indeed encourage, dissent and internal criticism, and to beware those around them who are too ready to assent without questioning.

If a leader is capable of creating this sort of environment around him/her then he/she can feel confident that not only he/she can generally retain the cool-headedness to make the right decisions but to stand an excellent chance that his/her decisions are executed with promptness, accuracy, passion and dedication without having to waste extra resources in excessive controls to guard against non-compliance or mal-compliance.

There is another quality that distinguishes a good leader, but unfortunately verification is only possible at the end of his/her tenure. A good leader departs when everybody asks why is he/she leaving not when they ask when is he going to leave.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Business Friendly

18th April 2008
The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

In a globalised economy, there is only one way to generate wealth. That is to adopt business-friendly policies, to lower taxation and to liberalise the economy.

This quote from a recent interview I gave to the media has apparently raised concern about the congruence of such views with basic social democratic principles espoused by left of centre political parties whose doctrine I openly profess.

Such concerns quite understandably are often raised by people whose economic thinking is ingrained in the protectionist attitude of the 1970s rather than the globalisation realities of modern times.

There is much to complain about the unpleasant side effects of globalisation. However it is not something we really have any choice about. Unless we participate and effectively compete in the globalisation process we will not be able to grow our economy at healthy rates that can sustain the economic growth we aspire for. And to compete we need to attract investment which would only come our way if we adopt consistent business-friendly policies.

So most governments today, whatever their basic creed, cannot actually succeed and survive unless they adopt business-friendly policies.

However I do not subscribe to any argument that by so doing social democrats would be betraying their basic socialist doctrine. The biggest of all social services is giving all able-bodied the opportunity to participate in economic growth by having a productive job that satisfies their economic needs with a fair pay as well their psychological needs through the self respect generated by feeling useful and appreciated. A very close second to this is the opportunity of having a whole menu of such jobs giving the opportunity to switch jobs to improve economic status.

This can only be realised through the adoption of business-friendly policies that attract quality productive investment. The alternative would be economic stagnation, loss of job opportunities, higher unemployment and clear advantage to right-wing parties to win elections to implement such policies that sit better with their traditional political philosophy.

If social democrats are constrained to espouse business-friendly policies in order to generate wealth, in the process giving rise to accusations of becoming cloned right-wing parties with a left name tag, they can still differentiate themselves in the way the wealth is distributed.

In this respect conservative parties had to clone themselves on traditional social democratic principles. Though their conviction is rarely more than skin deep few can disagree that the conservative parties had to abandon their traditional free market approach to wealth distribution and pose as defenders of the social model.

In so doing conservative parties in Germany, France and Italy have enjoyed electoral successes by keeping their traditional right-wing core while making gains in the centre strip. The UK and Spain are notable exceptions marked by electoral success of Labour/socialist parties who moved their policies substantially to the right of the centre, often to the dismay of their grassroots base.

In Malta we have had a similar experience with the conservative PN winning a higher percentage of the vote than liberal Labour in six out of the last seven general elections. Labour really has no option but to accept wealth creation through adoption of business-friendly policies. But there is ample scope for differentiation in the development of the Maltese social model. The conservatives have rendered the social model an unsustainable hotchpotch which unless overhauled with dignity and foresight will eventually explode much to the detriment of those in society who are least protected.

What social model can be truthful to its name if we have devised a system where the fruit of labour is taxed at a much higher rate than the fruit of capital? Why should earnings through hard work, whether the wages of an employee or the business profits of an entrepreneur get taxed at 35 per cent while the unearned investment income from capital, quite often not even declared for tax purposes, gets away with a 15 per cent final withholding tax at source?

Not only are we discriminating through our fiscal policies against those who have to work and take risks for their income in favour of those who simply enjoy the fruit of their capital, but in giving universal free social services to all, we are basically either not giving enough to those who really need such services but cannot afford them, and/or we are giving such services by accumulating debts which require expensive servicing that absorbs resources that would otherwise be available to give more to those truly in need.

The result is evident in overcrowded hospitals, long waiting lists for ordinary operations, lower quality of schooling at primary and secondary level of public schools and inadequate level of support to those who because of age factors, health barriers and genuine unemployment cannot participate through active engagement in the benefits of economic growth.

Which principles of socialism teach us that we have to provide universal free services for all rather than to give more to those who are most in need? The very principle of universal free services, in the context of the limited resources available to any government, automatically imply that we cannot be giving enough to those who need most.

Would it not be more fruitful if in full engagement with globalisation realities we aim to reduce all forms of taxes, direct and indirect, to one unified low rate which eliminates the discrimination between earned and unearned income and in the process stimulating economic growth by leaving more funds in the pockets of those who earn them? Would these people who benefit from a much lower impact of direct taxation honestly find any objection if they have to start contributing for what is so far free and universally available public services, especially in health (through insurance-type of arrangement) and education, to ensure that government resources are directed to those most in need so that no one, really no one, is left behind.

Should we not, as social democrats, aim to transform our social services, as enabling schemes, to place people back in the economically active market as quickly and painlessly as possible, while reserving application of assistance type of expenditure only to those, who because of age and health limitations cannot participate in the productive economic activity?

Yes, social democrat policies can be both business friendly and protectors of the social model they had founded when the world was much less open and challenging than it is today; when competition for a worker in a job was from colleagues seeking a similar job rather than the millions in faraway lands that each month are abandoning their rural activities to engage in productive manufacturing that force factories to close in developed countries and relocate in lower cost emerging ones. When Labour can persuade the electorate that it can do so it will quickly find the majority it has been missing.


Friday, 11 April 2008

Ask the Client

11th April 2008
The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

In business marketing sciences are crucial to success. Whether the product is as big as a luxury car or as small as a safety razor, no organisation that expects to achieve success can develop such product without keeping clients in mind.

Indeed the most successful companies spend huge amounts of time and money to engage continuously with existing and potential clients to ensure that they develop products that meet and surpass consumer expectations. Focus groups, direct interviews, telephone surveys are all tools that marketing departments have learned to develop to ensure that they turn out products returning commercial success.

All aspects of the products are seen from the consumers’ viewpoint. Even the packaging is subjected to rigorous testing to ensure that it arouses consumers’ emotions that can be translated into hard sales. Perfume manufacturers research the scent as much as they research the shape of the bottle and the brand to label such perfume. Car manufacturers are now packing their outfits with a vast range of standard accessories that could stimulate buyers’ interest beyond the basic need for a comfortable and safe drive. All such decisions are taken after regular research about consumers’ attitude and expectations.

Such research is also quite standard in modern politics. The PN branded their last election campaign as gonziPN not because Prime Minister Gonzi wants to build a cult in his honour. They did so because research among the electorate showed that while the party was suffering fatigue and dissatisfaction with its long stay in government, voters’ attitude was much mellower regarding Gonzi personally.

If Labour failed to paste up huge pictures of Alfred Sant on their billboards it was not because they wanted to show disrespect to their leader. It was because their research showed that voters were much warmer to the party than they were to Alfred Sant personally who consistently, in all reliable research, scored less than Gonzi on the issues of credibility and appropriateness for the top job.

Any organisation, be it a commercial manufacturer or a political party, that does not take its customers’ feedback into consideration when making internal decisions would be seriously risking to fail the market test where it really matters.

I dare suggest that unless Labour adheres to this principle when it makes the choice of the new leader, it could prejudice as of now its chances of winning the next election. The PN did not make that mistake when they chose Gonzi to take over from Fenech Adami. The party machinery, a common phrase these days, which is not easily definable but basically refers to those who really pull the strings behind major decisions, threw its weight behind Gonzi because they got market feedback that while Dalli could have been more popular with core PN supporters, Gonzi was more acceptable to the narrow middle segment of floating voters.

Why is it that I get the distinct impression that the Labour Party machinery does nothing of the sort and really do not ask the simple question which everyone else is asking, namely what are Labour doing wrong not get a majority in six of the last seven general elections?

The Labour Party machinery is clearly backing the candidature of Joseph Muscat. Have they made any research showing that Joseph Muscat can offer better prospects for winning the next election than the other candidates? My impression is that while Joseph has great potential to reach the top post at some point in his career, he still needs to enrich his CV with executive experience and further doses of maturity before he would be able to successfully take Lawrence Gonzi head on sometime in the next five years. So I thought the Labour Party machinery must know something I don’t know, that my impression is wrong, and that they truly see Joseph Muscat as their best hope to win government next time round, an elusive objective if they ever had one.

So I decide to ask the client. I had a survey organised among a sample of 400 telephone interviewees chosen by age and location to be representative of the electorate. What I found out is reproduced in the table above.

While such surveys have to be read with caution in that they carry a wide margin of error and need substantial validation which is only achievable through the conduct of additional surveys to capture both trends and absolutes, I think it is obvious that the client is proving my impression that the Labour Party machinery have decided to back Joseph Muscat’s candidacy for reasons different from the most crucial one i.e. who is the candidate that offers best prospect for victory next time round.

Labour voters and decliners (generally considered pro-Labour people who refuse to disclose their voting preference for fear of recrimination from incumbent government) are for Joseph Muscat, possibly influenced by the party machinery. However these will vote Labour irrelevant of who is chosen as the new leader. They do not signify any new votes for Labour.

Floating voters clearly prefer George Abela. PN voters are probably people who normally vote PN but I have found that PN hardliners were hard to persuade to participate in the survey. So these must be PN voters with potential to become floaters as the PN continues to accumulate fatigue and if Labour were to propose a refreshing alternative. They also prefer George Abela.

So what is the client saying? The client who decides which way elections go, floaters and potential floaters, are clearly saying that as things stand today if Labour wants to stand a chance of attracting their vote, George Abela is the best candidate for the top post.

Based on this research I cannot but conclude that the party machinery and most of the candidates contesting are telling the people who ultimately decide which way elections go, the floaters and potential floaters, that they do not care about their tastes, feelings or expectations and want to continue with the trial and error methodology, based on hope rather than logic. Small wonder that if this persists Labour could be forcing floating voters as of now to vote it yet again in opposition right until 2018.

I will be publishing the full numerology of these surveys on my personal website in the next few days.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

A Strange Paradox

6th April 2008
The Malta Independent On Sunday

The  process leading to the election of Labour’s new leader is caught up in a strange paradox.

Is electing Labour’s leader simply an internal Labour affair, which people outside the party should watch over without undue interest and without comment? Or is it the election of a potential future Prime Minister and accordingly the process becomes everybody’s business as the elected person could very well be tasked to making decisions that could affect everybody’s life?

In principle the answer should be pretty obvious. Labour has every interest to ensure that when making their choice they pick the person that gives the strongest reassurance of victory at the next general election. Losing six out of the last seven general elections, and being unable to properly execute the mandate of the only election won in the last quarter century, makes it critically important for Labour to lose no more. Intelligent Nationalist sympathisers on the other hand are clever enough to appreciate that whether they like it or not Labour will in the end make it to government. They therefore should have some interest in ensuring that Labour elects a leader who will not scare away investment by sharp u-turns in crucial policies that demand better execution rather a new beginning. In short, no more removal of VAT or renegotiation of EU arrangements fancies, but a Labour government that can promise continuation of business friendly policies and more social conscience in the delivery of social services.

In practice, unfortunately, it does not work out that way. Many in the Labour camp somehow consider the leadership election process as an internal affair that is nobody else’s business. They do not take kindly to any suggestions coming from external sources and indeed consider it very suspicious that sources with a track record of being critical of Labour should show the audacity to make any suggestions. Indeed any names so suggested should, according to such thinking, be excluded merely on the basis of their being promoted by sources normally hostile to Labour and who therefore cannot have Labour’s best interest in mind when making such suggestions.

The paradox is that one is hard put to decipher whether the gratuitous advice from sources normally hostile to Labour is motivated by genuine interest for Labour to become a credible electable alternative, or whether they do it in a devious exercise of reverse psychology forcing Labour to choose less worthy candidates by having the most worthy excluded merely for being promoted by such sources normally hostile to Labour.

Let’s be more specific. I have been openly supporting George Abela’s bid for leadership. I made clear that I consider Abela as offering the best prospects for making Labour electable again purely because he commands the highest respect among the narrow but decisive floating voter segment of the electorate. Daphne Caruana Galizia (DCG) is also clearly suggesting that Labour’s only hope for offering PN a real challenge is through the election of George Abela as their next leader. In truth we are both saying the same thing, using the same reasoning to arrive at the same rational conclusion.

My motivation is absolutely altruistic. I am not contesting for any position and I am busy enough as I am and really cannot complain of suffering any financial distress under PN administrations. I work hard; I take calculated business risks and reap reasonable rewards, which thankfully help me need no favours from any political quarters. Having espoused Labour principle in my youth I want Labour to spend their fair time in government in line with democratic principles and I consider losing six out of the last seven elections as an aberration which is not in harmony with Labour’s glorious past where it was at the avant-garde of the country’s social progress.

DCG professes her motivations for supporting George Abela stating that while she will probably always put her weight behind the PN’s bid for re-election, it would save her many anxious moments if she knows that should the PN fail, the country will be in the hands of someone who can maintain confidence in continuity and refreshed execution. This may well be so. But it is hard to exclude that she could also be motivated by blind loyalty to the PN and consequently is promoting George Abela’ s bid for leadership knowing that it is the best tool to ensure that Labour, in defiance, will not choose Abela but will choose instead the candidate she criticises most.

It would be the paradox of all paradoxes if Labour’s next leader were indirectly chosen by the likes of DCG in a devious exercise of reverse psychology.

Don’t for a moment think that I am letting my imagination run away with me. I have first hand experience of it. My ascendancy in Labour’s ranks was fouled up and eventually aborted not when the PN criticised me, but when they flattered me as being more logical than my leader. That’s how political parties work, unfortunately! How else could one explain JPO being elected from two districts when in actual fact his party was a whisker away from losing the election thanks to him?

What DCG’s bottom line motivations are for promoting George Abela’s bid and berating that of Joseph Muscat only DCG would know. In 2008 one cannot expect to draw any red lines around areas that should be out of bounds for journalists and columnists. It is up to Labour’s delegates not to let themselves be unduly influenced but to make their own conscientious judgement irrespective of what friendly or hostile sources suggest.

As the list of contestants for Labour top post is populated with more and more names, even though most of them must know they don’t stand a chance in hell of being elected, it would do Labour no harm if each of the contestants uses his or her imagination to fast forward five years and ask why floating voters should prefer him or her over Gonzi, especially if voters experience a fairly good performance achieved the new legislature about to start. If they need advice they can seek it from sources with better credentials for having Labour’s best interest at heart than DCG, even though they may well get the same reply.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Defining Loyalty

4th April 2008
The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

Encarta dictionary defines loyalty as “a feeling of devotion, duty, or attachment to somebody or something” while Oxford dictionary defines it as “being true or faithful and steadfast in allegiance”.

As the line-up of candidates for Labour leadership starts taking shape, I find it illogical that some contestants are sporting proclaimed loyalty as a worthy qualification for the post.

Firstly it should be established to whom is loyalty due. Should one be loyal to the organisation or to its leader?

It is true that often this is one and the same thing. But this is not always the case. Certainly it was not the case in Labour’s fold following Alfred Sant’s re-election as leader in 2003. It was clear that Alfred Sant over-used his power of incumbency to get himself re-elected by excluding more promising contestants. To name but a few I can vouch that George Abela and Evarist Bartolo, among others, would have contested if the post was not being reclaimed by Sant with the unfair advantage of his incumbency.

I had to take a decision. I was forced to choose between being loyal to the leader and disloyal to Labour or being loyal to Labour and disloyal to the leader who himself was being disloyal to the organisation which he was supposed to lead by example. How could the incumbent honestly contest leadership when the report of analysis for the 2003 election defeat had not yet started?

I made my choice. I never had any doubt that loyalty to the organisation was supreme to anything else. I openly criticised the manner in which Sant got re-elected, and how his actions were compromising Labour’s chances to win the 2008 elections as his personality denied credibility to Labour’s adopted EU policies.

For remaining loyal to the organisation and trying to defend it from what eventually cost it dearly in electoral terms, I was threatened with discipline if I did not accept to be muzzled like all the rest so readily accepted. In loyalty to the organisation I refused to be muzzled, and continued on my quest to avoid Labour’s third consecutive crash.

How can anyone who accepted to be muzzled consider themselves as being endowed with the attribute of loyalty, when in fact their submissiveness and silence is more typical of disloyalty by putting their personal political career before the party’s interest?

Is it not funny how many contestants are now professing their internal disagreement with Sant, and are distancing themselves from responsibility for Labour’s third defeat by claiming they were not allowed to voice their opinions and were not being informed of what was actually happening and who was taking real decisions on the campaign strategy?

By so doing they are all showing their lack of leadership attributes. Leadership means leading, not just following. Leadership was what Mintoff did to Boffa in 1949. Leadership was what Fenech Adami did in 1974 to his then leader Borg Olivier, by isolating him in voting in favour of the republican constitution. Were Mintoff and Fenech Adami being disloyal to the organisation they eventually led so successfully, or where they showing their leadership skills by standing up to be counted when it mattered and not just when it is convenient?

Was George Abela’s quitting deputy leadership in 1998 (when against his advice it was decided to go for early elections, rather than continue to explore a compromise solution, a decision which brought Labour’s downfall from which it still has to recover) an act of disloyalty, or a heroic act of loyalty to self-sacrifice rather than participate on a route to disaster?

Labour delegates have a grave responsibility to consider this matter seriously, so that they choose true leaders and not lesser mortals at the helm of the party. Ultimately whoever is elected will stand or fall by the choice of the wider electorate – who certainly can distinguish between true leaders and mere followers who have difficulty in distinguishing between abilities of coordination and qualities of leadership.

Furthermore, whoever is chosen as the new Labour leader should readily accept to submit his/her performance for review by the general conference at the mid-term of this legislature. Winning local elections is not enough! By then the new leader must command a substantial lead in the opinion polls, both for the party and for own personality. Failing this Labour would again be heading for disaster. Incumbent governments normally reach a low point in popularity mid-term through the legislature, so unless Labour can gain a good lead in popularity at such a point it would not augur well for eventual success at the end of the legislature.

Prime Minister Gonzi also has a severe test to prove his leadership qualities. Managing a thin parliamentary majority needs much more skill than managing government with a comfortable majority. His handling of the JPO affair will make a mark for his leadership. True leaders would not rest before JPO is forced to resign for having lied bare-faced to the electorate – and possibly to his own party – about his involvement in the Mistra development affair. Irrespective of whether or not something illegal happened in this case, what makes JPO’s position as representative of the people untenable is his political dishonesty; now proved with documentary evidence beyond any reasonable doubt.

If Gonzi compromises in accepting JPO to stay on as his party’s representative in parliament purely to protect his thin majority, then even Gonzi will start confusing priorities for his loyalty. His loyalty to the electorate should precede loyalty to PN’s interests. Alfred Sant remains a model in this regard.