A year after taking on the role of PL Deputy Leader for Party affairs, Daniel Micallef speaks to TheJournal.mt on the past twelve months; on having more checks and balances and accountable structures within the Labour Party, and on the need for a bipartisan approach to move our country forward.
- A year on since you became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, what were the highlights of the past 12 months?
Undoubtedly, the past year was characterised by a number of setbacks due to the pandemic. However, the planned targets we had as a party, were reached in terms of both policy development and also the renewal within our structures.
The 100-idea project was delayed from the originally established timeframes, however the delay enabled us to further develop and advance on the consultations carried out and to evaluate the ideas put forward by the 10 policy fora, a significant number of stakeholders and individuals. As a matter of fact, we could have presented a thousand ideas, not a hundred.
During these days we will also be discussing, and eventually approving during the Party’s General Conference, a number of changes to the way the party operates on a structural level, whilst introducing new checks and balances and more accountable structures.
Our main goal during these last months was for the party to evolve into a distinct stakeholder, even though it is currently in Government, and I think on a number of levels we have managed to demonstrate that. We participated in numerous public consultation processes and submitted our official feedback publicly.
- Not everyone in Malta is into politics. How does the party offer space to these people who may wish to contribute in their own way, and time?
Not everyone is into party politics – however, everyone has political opinions which are derived from their day-to-day situations: family matters, their jobs and careers, educational experience, the environment, neighbourhood and aspirations for the future – so in reality every individual has a contribution to make.
Not everyone is interested in engaging officially or committing to continuous contributions within a political party, however even on this aspect during the past 12 months, the 100-idea project managed to bring together a large number of people from all walks of life, with only some of them having a previous form of political role or engagement. Then there are other initiatives like LEAD, where for the past 4 years we have seen a substantial increase in female engagement which eventually led to hundreds of women involving themselves in different structures within the Party.
- How is the party engaging with the people and understanding their needs? The families in their homes, youths, business owners, etc?
There are various channels of communication, however the most effective remain the traditional tools – sitting down with people and discussing their ideas, concerns, and also their criticism. Social media tends to give real-time indications of public opinion, but at times, also a warped view of the realities experienced by people. To listen is very important – acting upon what you listen, though, is what really matters. The critical point in policy development is balance. Many a times you get conflicting views and ideas from different sectors, all having valid points of view from their perspective – be it individuals, stakeholders or lobby groups.
The key is to balance out the needs and the concerns through well studied policies. Earlier on I mentioned the pandemic – the past months have been difficult (and that’s an understatement), but on a Government level these difficulties did not derail the implementation of its political program, or the increase in social expenditure announced in the Budget for this year. Neither did it deter the resolve to face difficult issues, some of which had been pending for decades – such as the protected rental market. Once again, here the key was balance: in safeguarding both the tenants’ rights and the landlords.
The pandemic has also accelerated several changes, which had been on the backburner for years, in the way we do things – the way we live and the way we work, whilst obviously creating new challenges which we are committed and engaged to solve.
- The distinction between party and government – why is this important?
I emphasize this repeatedly – not only are both entities distinct but the responsibility on the Party when in Government is even greater. We need to continue renewing ourselves, and most importantly we must develop policies for the future of the country. Parties in Government tend to lose their appetite for change – for us it’s different. As the Party in Government, we have not only the responsibility but also the opportunity to implement more changes.
I must refer to a very important statement the Prime Minister made a couple of weeks ago – referring to this exact point during one of his Sunday morning interviews. Being the person leading both Government and the Party, I think it would be easier and maybe also more comfortable for him if both entities are continuously in sync. However, that’s not the way forward, and Robert Abela not only believes this, but the direction we’re taking is there for all to see. Labour’s reply to the consultation process on the cannabis whitepaper, and even the 100-idea project are just two examples which give a clear demonstration that there is a clear distinction. Government is committed to implementing the manifesto it was elected upon whilst also facing other challenges. As a Party we are focused on developing our vision for the country for the coming 10 years.
- The Labour Party General Conference is on this week. Will it be a ‘run of the mill’ event, or will there be any particular announcements? What should we expect?
It’s been a while since the General Conference was held, with the exception of an extraordinary session last July. I do not need to repeat myself – the pandemic disrupted our calendar and hence part of the proceedings will be in relation to general procedures and statutory obligations, whilst during this week delegates will be discussing changes and reforms to the Party together with a resolution we aim to put forward which outlines the direction the Party will take in the next months.
The resolution encompasses the way forward to continue building on the 100 idea project in delivering our vision for the country. It’s time for a paradigm shift on a number of levels in the way we do things in our country; a shift which will require a culture change backed by a bipartisan approach to take our country forward. Our quality of life as a society remains pivotal to our policies and our vision for the coming years, together with our determination to succeed and reach our ambitious targets.