Perhaps Labour needs a revamp

Somehow, somewhere, something has been and is still going wrong. Perhaps even someone, or more than someone, has been getting it wrong.

While the Labour movement seems comfortably numb, sitting on its laurels and riding on the crest of two successive record-breaking and resounding electoral victories, recent frequent surveys conducted by different media outlets show that the enviable majority that Labour enjoyed until a few months ago is continuously being nibbled away.

Somehow, somewhere, something has been and is still going wrong. Perhaps even someone, or more than someone, has been getting it wrong. How could this wobbling popularity of the Labour Party in government be so once it has the credit of coming up with and implementing a plethora of commendable social measures, much-needed legal and institutional reforms, a consistently ever-growing national economy, and budget after budget that truly projected its socialist ideology and did the utmost to stand with the people in any circumstance?

Granted and admittedly, the recent spate of major political scandals and other questionable deals, a few u-turns on controversial issues that did not go down well with the party’s loyals, and the general perception of a Labour government in denial, are all reasons that explain what’s going on.

Two major changes needed

There are two major changes that Labour needs to undertake. The first is to introduce a ‘mediated system’ to regulate, and possibly solve, internal conflicts within a stipulated organisational context and according to certain rules. Experience proves that, wherever an activist or official in a responsible position seriously practices sincere and necessary criticism before the party membership and the masses, internal solidarity will develop, work will improve, and defects will be overcome.

The second is to do away with party patronage, whereby the government takes control of state institutions through partisan appointments, not just in the sense of implementing a partisan policy platform but also as a strategy of taking over state institutions and putting them in the service of a political party in a struggle with its opponents.

Labour is in dire need to remedy matters and portray an image that it is ready to come clean. The Labour Party needs committed members who work for its political goals but who should also know how parties function and what they can do to participate successfully in political competition. At the moment, it is not quite close to corresponding to this ideal.

Leaders’ responsibility

For democracy to rise again, the Labour Party (and even the PN, mind you!) must change. To do this, the party, its members and, above all, its leaders must meet two requirements. First, they must be genuinely committed to maintaining and strengthening democracy in our country while also respecting and defending the fundamental principles and procedures of democratic order. Second, the party must be able to shape the political and social developments of our country while maintaining democratic order. This requires the will to gain political power, empathy for the concerns of the people, and the ideas to politically shape a community.

What is also required is knowledge of the various elements that make up the essence of a political party: its role and functions in the political process, the importance of party and election programmes, the establishment of an efficient organisational structure, the participation of members in internal party debates and decision-making, transparent financing, its interaction with other social groups and actors, the efficient handling of modern and traditional forms of political communication, and, last but not least, its successful participation in elections. Above all, it needs leaders who possess political expertise and meet high ethical standards.

Saving democracy

Democracy of Malta is under siege. Political parties are affected by, and have a role to play in, this state of affairs. They are victims of both the threats to, and the decline of, democracy but in many cases they are also the direct or indirect cause of the problems. Above all, however, they are part of the solution.

Democracy without political parties is near impossible today. Anyone interested in the concept and practice of democracy needs to know what political parties are, what they do, especially in a democracy, where they can do better, and how they affect the society they are part of.

Being a party member can be stressful and frustrating at times, but it is a personal contribution to the democracy of a country that should be made by many more citizens if possible. Labour would benefit from having more committed and informed members in its ranks. True, the party has ample opportunities for young people to get involved in it. Political commitment requires idealism and the willingness to take on responsibilities and political office, which includes painstakingly familiarising oneself with substantive issues.

Without a quorum of idealists among its members and leading representatives, no Labour Party will be able to defend the principles of democracy credibly and effectively. Those who seek their own economic or financial benefits in politics face the risk of ending up in the swamp of corruption. Political engagement is first and foremost a service to the community, requiring personal commitment that cannot necessarily be rewarded in monetary terms.

That being said, democracy is not for free. Political work must be adequately remunerated, especially if it is carried out full-time. Therefore, parties and politicians must be financed and paid appropriately. That is why the subject of party financing in Malta needs to be taken out of the doldrums.

Today, nobody can take away Labour’s credit for a very good performance in steering the economy, for record low levels of unemployment, for a bonanza of social benefits, and for hoping for a better quality of life, but the now too often incidents of mismangement and corruption have caused and are causing it a lot of damage.

Faced with these issues, there remains the risk that people will be inclined to vote for a different party and government in the next election in the hope that the situation will improve. Labour politicians must stop promising improvement while disregarding the principles of democracy. This creates opportunities for populists.

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