Political humility: accepting valuable, open criticism

Despite the thriving economy, many people have had enough of the rampant nepotism, corruption, and dilettantism.

In his speech to commemorate the majority of votes obtained in the European Parliament election, Prime Minister Robert Abela acknowledged that the Labour Party must respond to the electoral result “with humility”.

Some Labour supporters believe the narrowed gap between the PL and PN will serve as “a lesson” for the Government, while others feel it does not matter. One Labour voter said, “Whatever the gap, it could be 100 votes; we are still happy.”

Early results and projections had predicted Labour winning a majority of votes, but a lead of over 42,000 votes at the same elections in 2019 were reduced to less than 10,000 votes and the expected loss of an EP seat. Undecided voters appear to have upended predictions.

Labour’s triumph at the European elections was a solid victory that acknowledges the government’s work in the face of unprecedented international and local challenges in recent years. But the result also sends a message that the government will need to heed.

The Labour government must respond to this message with more work, dedication, humility and a stronger finger on the pulse. Ironically, the result, rather than generating despondency, should give it renewed energy to work hard.

Tackling chronic problems

Many cannot understand how the Government remains reluctant to tackle the chronic problems caused by overdevelopment, the occupation of public land, and the decimation of the environment. Other factors clearly swayed this weekend’s vote: despite the thriving economy, many people have had enough of the rampant nepotism, corruption, and dilettantism.

In the last few years, more than one former senior figure within the Labour Party has been accusing the governing party of jettisoning core principles as party discontent continues to surface. The Labour Movement clearly cannot keep on trying to brainwash us with that passé cliché that this is “a government that listens”. It is clear that it must start listening to those it should have listened to a long time ago.

Photo: Marc Galdes/The Malta Independent

If we were to collectively analyse the public criticism of this Labour Government by former ministers, high officials, and militant activists within the Labour Movement, the one undeniable conclusion would be that the party’s position in government is in dire need of a revamped leadership. For example, while we can be legitimately critical of Evarist Bartolo for not pointing to an unholy alliance between construction magnates, criminally-tainted organisations, and the government that accounted for so many political scandals and corruption, inflated house prices, and growing inequality while he served as Minister, at the same time, we cannot simply ignore or brush aside his constructive criticism of his former party once he came out into the open.

Brain drain

Other facts and circumstances can reveal how and why a number of activists have recently stepped away from the party, including former executive and policy branch members. Each has his or her own style, and for various reasons they accuse the officials at the helm of having an autocratic style and complain that the party executive is not holding the caucus and leadership to account over policy decisions in Government. Of course, as was to be expected, those implicated officials have rejected the criticisms, maintaining that the party is democratic and making progressive changes in government.

Yet, then, how can one totally ignore such spot-on criticism based on factual reality as that of former prime minister and Labour leader Alfred Sant when, back in 2017, he had already opined that the Labour administration at the time had problems of governance that needed to be addressed? Not only were those problems never addressed, but the successive Labour government created even greater problems of governance.

Coupled with that, after Evarist Bartolo called it a day for his political career, he publicly came up with a plethora of missives critical of his recent party history and current Labour administration. Indeed, he went so far as to equate Robert Abela’s administration as a ‘rudderless ship’. He aptly described Malta as being held by a “half-hearted captain” with no alternative crew to take over the helm. His constructive criticism should provoke or cause someone to reflect on what he frequently and publicly says and writes. While major reforms undertaken by the Labour government cannot be ignored, Bartolo’s and Sant’s criticism should lead the Labour Party to do a lot of soul-searching.

We then had former Labour Party Balzan local councillor Desmond Zammit Marmarà being critical of the way the party is being run and warning that the PL is being ruined by “brainless idiots”. The party, he contends, is being dominated by the “least intelligent” who are incapable of using any critical thinking and would resort to silencing any dissident opinions. He had noted that Labour intellectuals, whom he defined as “people who have brains and use them”,  are unhappy with the party and disagree with so many things; however, they would not go as far as voting against the party.

He further explained that such individuals would voice their dissent privately and would refrain from joining the pseudo-intellectuals who are ruining the party. Despite these feelings, this silent minority would not oppose the way the party is being run publicly, fearing they would fall out of favour. As for the rest, their only contribution to politics is simply repeating what they are presented with by the Labour media. Instead of taking the cue, his party, through Government MP Glenn Bedingfield, had taken issue with Zammit Marmarà’s criticism, hitting back by stating that the intellectuals, ostensibly including Zammit Marmarà himself, do not have a right to judge anyone.

And what about Xagħra mayor Christian Zammit, a PL candidate with strong environmental credentials who publicly stated that his party, both traditionally and ideologically, should be the party of the environment? He is one of many former Labour activists who believes that the PL needs people who criticise it internally, as he did on the environment, because the moment this ends, the party starts dying. He had to face factions of the Labour Party who saw him as outspoken and had a negative perception of him.

Yet, again, we had former Gżira Labour mayor Conrad Borg Manché hitting out at lawyer Ramona Attard, who is also the PL’s President, in the ongoing saga to relocate a fuel station into Gżira Gardens. He, too, publicly expressed his astonishment at the lackeys who were ready to mock their own party colleagues simply to benefit themselves or some businessman. It is inconceivable that a socialist party does not give serious priority to the environment, and it is undoubtedly for that reason that Borg Manche’ was removed from CEO of Ambjent Malta, because he was not wont to be a ‘yes man’.

Borg Manché had the unparalleled courage to question what party line should be toed in a socialist party if it is not fighting for open spaces for citizens and not showing the necessary spine and personality to serve the people.

Embracing internal criticism

Suppressing internal dissent on critical issues weakens the governing party’s ability to serve the public interest. The Labour party should foster open discussion and debate on critical public issues, even when there are internal disagreements. 

Main photo: Chris Sant Fournier/Times of Malta

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