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Interview • May 16 2004

“We were never Eurosceptics”

Super One journalist Glenn Bedingfield says the next European Parliament elections are no test for Alfred Sant’s leadership

Glenn Bedingfield is publishing a new book. It is his third publication, and the second chapter in the mysterious case of Zeppi l-Hafi and the attempted murder of Richard Cachia Caruana, aide to former Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami, today Malta’s permanent representative in Brussels. The book, aptly named ‘Il-Proklama’ in reference to the three presidential pardons Joseph Fenech (Zeppi l-Hafi) was granted by the Fenech Adami administration, now in its final stages of publication is a collection of the case reports in which prime suspect Meinrad Calleja was found not guilty of having commissioned Joseph Fenech to carry out the murder of Cachia Caruana.
His first volume on the revelations behind the thorny case of Zeppi l-Hafi and his connections with the PN administration, named ‘Il-Gurament,’ also translated to English as ‘Witness,’ incurred the wrath of then Prime Minister Fenech Adami, who took Bedingfield to court for libel. The PM’s case brought on a massive wave of support from Labourites for the then 24-year old Glenn, back in 1999.
Today that case is no longer. Fenech Adami has retired all pending cases instituted by him during his tenure as PM since he is today the President of the Republic, and quite honourably, has chosen to leave behind controversy once and for all.
“Fenech Adami has unfortunately retired his case. I say unfortunately because I did not have the chance to put forward my own evidence, and have him and George Grech (former Police Commissioner) and Joseph Fenech counter-examined and present my own witnesses. I wanted this case to proceed, but Fenech Adami chose the honourable way out.
“What I’d like to see from President Fenech Adami is if, should the case warrant so, he would agree to remove the presidential pardon for Joseph Fenech. I would really like to see that,” Bedingfield says.
Glenn Bedingfield, 29, came to the Labour fold at the start of the 90s after a journalistic stint with Bay Radio, when he joined One Productions, Labour’s media venture. Since then, he has been involved in politics at district level and in the party’s youth organ. Between 1997 and 2001, he was elected member in the Labour Party’s national executive.
Today, he is one of the youngest candidates running for the post of MEP. In a Naxxar garage converted into an office, Bedingfield propaganda – photos, business cards, and even bookmarks – are sprawled over the table. A box of tobacco surprisingly reveals the Super One journalist enjoys smoking a pipe: “I just smoke every now and then, but not when I’m with people,” he says.
There’s a lot at stake for the MLP in the coming European Parliament elections. Labour leader Alfred Sant is banking on victory at the June hustings. If he doesn’t, movements in the party indicate another leadership struggle is underway. John Attard Montalto, the moderate Labourite who controversially broadcast his intention to contest the leadership on NET TV, when Labour had lost the 2003 general election, is paving a way out of Sant’s clutches through the European Parliament elections. Others in the party corridors are, however, waiting patiently.
Bedingfield is unmoved by the ‘rumours.’ I ask him if he is concerned that Labour is in for another battle at the top if they fail to gain a three-seat victory: “What saga?” he asks without any coyness about my reference to the long drawn-out battle to the top in the months following April 2003, when Sant managed to secure his throne from the interests of contestants Attard Montalto and Anglu Farrugia.
“I don’t think there will be any struggle. When Dr Sant was interviewed some two weeks ago, and was asked whether he was convinced of winning the next elections, Alfred Sant answered ‘yes.’ So that means Alfred Sant is determined to go for the next general elections. So the subject is closed. And it has been closed since last November.”
Does he pay attention to the rumours? “They are just rumours. The same rumours which go on within the Nationalist Party,” he replies succinctly. Bedingfield is telegraphic in his answers. “I am a journalist,” he concedes.
“This is a new experience for everyone. It is a test for everyone, for every political party. Every election is a test. It is obviously important for the Malta Labour Party. Whether this election will be sending a clear message to government is something we have to see after the elections. Nationalists will remain Nationalists, and Labourites will remain Labourites. But there will be people who will be changing allegiance. Those who are shifting political alliances are growing in number, the ones who vote without passion. This election will not bring any change in the government. So there will be cross-party voting in this case.”
Labour’s campaign for the European Parliament has seen candidates and leaders appealing to the masses to come out and vote. Dazed by the changes in the political circumstances that saw Labour acquiescing democratically to the will of the people in April 2003, the Labour electorate is being urged to vote in these elections. A low turnout would make things easier for the Nationalist Party, who are at present trying to fight off general disillusionment.
Labour’s attitude towards the European Union has not changed. Critique, in many aspects rightly directed, still forms the mainstay of their arguments. Alfred Sant has only just been criticised by l-orizzont’s nom-de-plume columnist Platernian for apparently seeking to confound potential voters with his brand of criticism. I ask Bedingfield if things are being made harder for the MLP candidates to get the people to vote.
“No. It does not complicate matters. Labour voters will come out and vote. There were a certain number of voters who were Eurosceptics. From my experience, canvassing since November, many have changed their mind. But I don’t blame them for thinking otherwise.
“What most of our voters are talking about now is work, and the lack of employment. When carrying out home visits, seeing nearly a hundred or so families daily, only one or two told us they still have doubts about the European Union or that they were thinking of not voting. However, when we try to explain to them the value of these elections we show them these elections are not about the EU. We voted on the EU in 2003. These elections are about who will be representing us the best in the European Parliament. I am convinced the Labour voters will come out and vote.
“Our criticism was never directed towards the European Union per se, but towards the negotiated accession packet, and we still believe it was not the best possible deal. We continue criticising because otherwise we would not be credible. Let me give you a simple example. Government accepted to stop subsidising Gozitan farmers on transporting their produce over to Malta, which previously comprised a handful of thousands of Liri. The reason for this was because subsidies would disrupt the EU’s internal market.
“Now, the few thousands that eased the burden of transport expenses for Gozitans to cross over to Malta was in no way going to disrupt the EU’s internal market, that’s for sure. These are the bad things in the EU packet. Just because we are now an EU Member State does not mean they are good. We will still continue saying these things.”
Labour’s manifesto, in tandem with the Party of European Socialists, is based on work, environment, and equal rights. I push Glenn to tell me whether he feels the Maltese socialists should be at the forefront of pushing so many issues so far not yet introduced in the mainstream political agenda, such as divorce and gay rights. “I think divorce should be treated as any other issue that should be analysed. Those who cannot afford obtaining a divorce abroad have to resort to the other legal remedies available in Malta, and that is not easy either.
“As for the question on gay rights, I believe there should not be any form of discrimination for any social group. The only thing I do not agree with, and I made this clear in a questionnaire which was sent to all MEP candidates by the Malta Gay Rights Movement, are gay marriages and adoptions. That is my personal belief.”
However Glenn makes a reservation about this kind of discourse. He stresses that what the Labour electorate is mostly worried about is employment, or rather the lack of employment.
“When you have serious problems like this, issues such as gay rights tend to be discussed at later stages. What people are mostly worried about is employment. They don’t even talk about the electoral campaign. They are mostly worried about the fact that they have either lost their jobs or have the possibility of losing their jobs hanging over their neck. Mainly it is those in the public companies which are about to be hit by what government calls ‘reforms,’ which could mean either redundancies or early retirement schemes. This is the major issue I encounter everywhere I go, from the southernmost point in Malta to Gozo’s northern tip.”
Glenn says the Malta Labour Party and the Party of European Socialists are now on the same wavelength in this campaign. “We see that in Malta there are grave problems of employment. Anyone who says anything to the contrary is not living in Malta, certainly. The same problems are affecting Great Britain, Germany, and southern Spain, and the PES’s major priority for these elections is the ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ slogan. We are looking at how the European Parliament can legislate in favour of greater employment. Maltese MEPs can influence the course of employment in Malta if they contribute to European legislation that favours more employment, better and more value added employment.”
Any divisions which previously existed between the MLP and the PES are now bridged since the party was welcomed as a member party following Malta’s entry into the European Union.
“There was never a big divide,” he says. I point out that the MLP held a eurosceptic position against a bloc which advocated stronger European integration.
“We were never eurosceptics,” he replies briefly, but this turns into a question of semantics - Sant had actually suggested membership should have been shelved altogether at one point throughout the campaign in the run-up to the referendum.
“I don’t think we were against the EU. What Sant proposed was to compare the two negotiated packets of full membership and partnership and let the people decide in a referendum.”
I ask him whether Labour could have played a more positive role by being at the negotiating table with all the other social partners and parties involved in the Malta-EU Steering Action Committee.
“We are not in government. We are not the ones who negotiated the packet. It does not bother me that the Malta Labour Party was not part of MEUSAC. Negotiation was government’s business, not ours. And when we are in power, we shall negotiate ourselves. History shows us we have always been good negotiators. It was Labour in 1971 that modified the 1964 independence packet to the better. And it seems history is proving us right once again.”
What if Labour was there?
“Decisions are always up to the government at the end of the day. In most cases, MEUSAC was a rubber stamp for government. MEUSAC participants will tell you how they would have to analyse a report one day and give their reactions the next day. I don’t think that was a serious attitude on the part of MEUSAC. Instead it served as an excuse to accuse Labour with not having participated in such a body, which was not really a consultative body after all. We have heard how MEUSAC members have criticised the methods adopted.
“The Opposition’s duty is to be an alternative government. When the party in opposition is returned to government, it will take up the country’s plans to move forward.”





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