Myriam – The Speaker’s Speech

Myriam is a very old Hebrew name. As old as Moses. In fact, it is recorded in the Book of Exodus as the name of the sister of Moses, the prophetess Miriam. The name’s etymology is unclear. Since many Levite names are of Egyptian origin, the name could come from the Egyptian mr (love), as in the Egyptian names mry.t-jmn (Merit-Amun) “beloved of Amun”.

An older pronunciation of this name, Maryām, is found in the Septuagint and in the New Testament as the name of several women, including Mary, mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

The name, and its modern derivatives, have remained popular throughout the centuries, especially in the Mediterranean. It is still hugely popular in Malta, due to our ingrained religious and Marian beliefs, customs and mores. Mariology is no joke in the Med.

The first appointed female Speaker of the House of Parliament, by a Labour administration of the mid-nineties, hails by that name. Her name was in the news this week, for all the right reasons. It was the same week in which the present Speaker of the House lost his beloved mother Catherine, another woman who was so full of life and energy. I have worked closely with the Speaker in his previous role as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and know how close he was to his mother. It was indeed a great loss to Anglu Farrugia, his family and his friends.

But let us turn back to the former Speaker. Her Victory Day speech should be compulsory reading to all and sundry who have anything to do with politics and/or public service. Hers was a strong missive against partisan bickering and a genuine call for vigilance against corrupt governance in whatever form. She spoke from the heart. She spoke without fear or favour. She touched, indeed ended her speech, with the Daphne Caruana Galizia tragedy and how it affected each and every one of us. In her speech, she also mentioned Malta’s two other martyrs, Karin Grech and Raymond Caruana. It was a strong, didactic speech. But after all, this was a Myriam Spiteri Debono speech. For people who have worked closely with her, and I have had such a pleasure, this is nothing new.

She spoke from the heart.

She spoke without fear or favour.

Myriam Spiteri Debono is a well-known and respected notary. She has been in the thick of the Labour Party, not only by means of the several positions that she was elected to, but also as one of the movers and shakers within the party activists. She was always a vociferous presence and the voice of conscience throughout the decades from the Mintoff era up to the present days of a Robert Abela leadership. Her untainted socialist ideals and her disdain of pomp and the uncalled-for trappings of a ‘super-star’ politician are legendary.

But it is precisely activists like Myriam Spiteri Debono within both political parties who ensure that the souls of the latter are saved from the ravages of opportunism, sleaze and venality. People like Myriam safeguard and guarantee that politicians within their structures do not forget what being in politics is all about. The word ‘politics’ hails from the Greek politiká, literally meaning ‘affairs of the cities’. It is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status. Every political party needs a Myriam to ensure that politicians stick to this description of the word ‘politics’.

It was also a difficult speech. To diehard Labour supporters who only remember Daphne’s writings as frustrated and venomous articles full of hate and character assassinations against anything remotely associated with Labour, her speech was a bitter sweet to swallow. For those who cannot forget how Daphne enthusiastically penned her dark wishes of seeing Malta’s ex-premier assassinated and how she joyously urged a champagne celebration on the demise of one of Malta’s iconic sons and statesmen, Myriam’s speech might not have gone down well enough. These mixed emotions brought to the fore a rebuttal on social media from another old and respected name from the Labour fold in the form of the ex-minister and lawyer, Dr Joe Brincat.

Every political party needs a Myriam to ensure that politicians stick to this description of the word ‘politics’.

Like anything else in politics, there is no political scenario which is either totally black or totally white. Self-styled ‘puritans’ from the conservative arena have, year in and year out, continued to descend into this mind-set with incalculable damage to the Nationalist Party ethos. Labour, on the other hand, has demonstrably shown that differing ideas, concepts and political opinions can be harmonised and properly channelled for the common good without forsaking the most important political principles on which the founding fathers of the Labour Party based their faith on.

The long-term future of the Labour Party, on the eve of another electoral test, totally and utterly depends on how the Party marshals its strengths and internal differing views on how to reach its political KPIs whilst ensuring that it remains the voice and soul of the Maltese workers and citizens. It is not a small task. It takes a righteous and dynamic leadership to steer such a ship with so much at stake in the coming years. We have been there before. The Nationalist Party is presently, and has been for some time, in the middle of a political implosion which has cost it its essential lifeline to the electorate at large. And the people have to choose between what politicians should represent them for the common good. They can choose Max Weber’s take on politicians or they can choose Larry Flint’s:

Max Weber stated that “only he who has the calling for politics who is sure that he will not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say ‘in spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.”

And then there is Larry Flint’s infamous quote: “Politics is my hobby. Smut is my vocation.”

The choice, as always, rests with the electorate.

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