Friday, 8 August 2008


8th August 2008
The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

With the decisions taken over the last two months for the formation of the leadership and administration line-up, Labour will have many an opportunity to celebrate triumphs at local and MEP elections. However they made it unlikely to win the general elections when they come by 2013 even though the PN will be suffering from accumulating voter fatigue and the electorate’s inclination to try something new after long tenure by the same party.

When this will happen eventually, Labour should spare itself further self-flagellation through publishing post mortem reports of analysis and just accept that as the seeds of the 2008 election defeat were sown in the internal leadership elections in 2003, so the outcome of the next general elections has been prejudiced by the choices made in 2008. The delegates who made the choices in 2003 and 2008 need look no further than their reflection in the nearest mirror to understand why the floating voters will again not be attracted to Labour when it matters.

Ultimately in the general elections a party can close on success if apart from holding on to its voters’ base, it wins the majority of the floating voters. And floating voters will sway to Labour only if rather than radical changes it presents credible alternatives for better execution in continuity.

The public opinion of the floating voter segment was already challenged by the choice of Joseph Muscat as leader over George Abela. However as Dr Muscat is still an unknown quantity nothing was seriously prejudiced and indeed the initial soundings and positions taken by the new leader kept the floating voter segment warm towards Labour and willing to give its new leader the benefit of the doubt.

However events over the last two months are making floating voters ever more doubtful about whether Labour can deliver what its new leader has promised. And you can’t blame them! The choice of the two deputy leaders was already out of sync with moderate line of the new leader. Of course the party needs hard-liners as they form a crucial part of the base. But it hardly needs two of them as deputy leaders if it means to deliver a refreshed image of moderation and continuity.

Still the situation, while unhappy, remained acceptable on the basis that the new leader, who had no time to influence the choice of his deputies would somehow manage to keep them on the right side while undergoing a thorough polishing up of their character and image.

But the re-election of Jason Micallef as secretary general of the party, essentially in the role of chief executive, is much more serious stuff with grave consequences for the perception of Muscat as an effective leader. There is no doubt that anybody who has true Labour’s interest at heart, coupled with an intelligence level up to 20 per cent lower than the average, should have known that the party’s interest would have been served better by putting a new person in the chief executive role. The analysis report of the 2008 election defeat puts grave responsibility for such failure on the very sub-standard performance of Mr Micallef who consistently has shown that he does not have what it takes to fulfil effectively the functions of a chief executive of such a huge organisation.

It is therefore completely beyond comprehension how the general conference delegates chose to put stumbling blocks in the way of the leader they elected just two months earlier by re-electing the incumbent chief executive that has a vested interest to resist the promised earthquake of changes.

Many influential Labour exponents, even those who like Leo Brincat are normally very reserved about expressing critical opinions about the party’s internal matters, this time tried admirably to avoid disaster by speaking out clearly about the risks of re-electing the incumbent. Michael Falzon did the same. Now they have to respect the decision of the delegates and suffer in silence while professing willingness to bury the hatchet.

But Labourites on the outside have no obligation to accept the delegates’ decision as part of the democratic process. We have suffered enough through their misjudgements.

Personally I had to leave the party purely because in 2003 I could not remain faithful to the delegates’ decision to re-elect the incumbent leader when it was clear to whoever wanted to reason objectively that this decision was effectively prejudicing Labour’s chances for winning in 2008. I was right and they were wrong. I was also right in the run-up to the 2003 election when internally I voiced my view against all odds that unless we accept the referendum decision on EU membership as final we would lose the election. Why should I therefore respect the delegates’ decision this time given their awful record of getting it wrong?

And what does all this say about Joseph Muscat’s leadership qualities? If he thinks that Jason Micallef is a good choice than he has no business being leader. If he thinks that he has to accept a democratic decision taken by the conference then again his credentials for leadership get dubious as effective leaders have to do what it takes to ensure they get the team that can effectively execute their vision and policies. Effective leaders make things happen not just accept them. The best vision and policies could still fail if they are inadequately executed without good judgement, teamwork, devotion, control and enthusiasm.

The only other explanation for Joseph Muscat’s stand offish approach in the re-election of Jason Micallef (while on a personal basis sending positive signals about his re-election by being seen regularly in public socialising together) is the one I referred to in the contribution Living Contradictions of 13 June 2008, immediately after Muscat’s election. A reminder is useful at this stage:

The contradictions that new Labour leader Dr Joseph Muscat has to resolve would take much more than a smiling solution. The analysis report about Labour 2008 defeat had counselled the new leader ‘to be tough with those who think that they own the party, or even worse, those who think that the party is indebted to them. The party has to cleanse itself from such infantile cliques before its professions of inclusiveness can be taken seriously.

It is more than an impression that those who need to be cut to size before achieving the much aspired unity in Labour’s house are among those to whom the new leader is most grateful for having smoothened his way to success. Those who forced the other contestants to row upstream during the election contest while Muscat was permitted to row downstream.

Muscat’s leadership qualities will be put to test fairly soon. There are many true Labourites both inside and outside the party who feel that the leadership contest was unduly influenced by the incumbent administration. These people fear that change will be merely superficial and that in essence the more changes are made on the surface (hymn, logo, positive talk, smiles etc) the more things stay the same at their core where it really matters.

The new leader must prove their suspicions misplaced. He must show he has the emotional intelligence to eliminate all obstacles that stand between him and election victory by 2013, without fear or favour, without undue submissiveness to those who helped him make it to his post. Above all he must not surround himself with yes men who tell him only what he wants to hear and shield him from the reality that must never fall outside his purview.”

If this is the case then Muscat has failed badly his first major test and it is the worst possible scenario for Labour. A scenario which would give credence to certain suspicions I harbour that the PN don’t just manage their own party but through reverse psychology also manages Labour’s. A scenario explains why the PN, unlike genuine and hurt Labourites, have good reason to be happy with Labour’s choices as they scored a poker in the four top positions that will lead Labour’s assault on the PN’s apparent unassailability by 2013.

Please pray I am wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment