New British PM Gordon Brown has caused something of a small earthquake within days of receiving his handover and entering No. 10. It looked as if Brown was ready to take his party back to the sullen days of Old Labour, and yet he came out blazing with a reversal of every brooding expectation, including a cabinet reshuffle and important statements on the role of parliament.
In short, Brown has just presided over a “new way of doing politics”, an axiom of change which is often touted in this newspaper as having been absent, regardless of the well-meaning Prime Minister who had used this slogan when ushered into the premiership.
Lawrence Gonzi may vaunt of having steered the country through some trying times – captaining the final journey that saw the deficit return to acceptable levels and entering the eurozone; seeing that Mater Dei hospital is finally delivered; and securing high investment projects and European funds. But his promise of a new way of doing politics – much like Gordon Brown has done within just days of his coming into power – is nowhere to be seen.
Within days of taking office, Brown put new faces in charge of all but one government department, and even promoted Blairites: David Miliband as Foreign Secretary and Jacqui Smith to head the Home Office. Brown has presided over one of the most extensive cabinet reshuffles ever, ditching away any perception that he was some sort of sectarian tribalist.
At the outset of his candidature for party leader, Gonzi never committed himself to a cabinet reshuffle, a painful decision that has left his administration bereft of fresh faces, new ideas, and most importantly, a new style of leadership.
Brown’s reshuffle was remarkable in that it conveyed a sense of transformation despite him having been a central force in Blair’s government for the past decade. Instead, Gonzi steamed ahead with continuity, to the extent of appointing his former leader, Eddie Fenech Adami, to the role of President of the Republic. It sent the wrong message to many of the party’s former vanguard and supporters.
And while Brown drafts in former Tory advisors in a bid to bridge the political divide and reach into the heartland of the Opposition, the Gonzi administration’s network of chairpersons, political appointees, consultants and other top-profile jobs have remained firmly in the hands of Nationalist confidants and close party acolytes. All this has served to reinforce the notion of a closed government that is controlled by an inner circle of party strategists, blurring the line between state and party. While Brown seems to have signalled the end of the era of Brownites and Blairities, the Nationalist administration has to contend with the fact that it has never recovered from the rupture that followed the leadership contest between Gonzi and former minister John Dalli, the latter re-emerging today as one of the most vocal MPs in his criticism of his own party.
Brown also told his new ministers he wants the cabinet to be the forum for decision-making and that policy will be made in cabinet, Whitehall and parliament, rather than by advisers and the media. He even stated in a BBC interview he would not divulge anything on the new Constitutional reforms before making a statement to the Commons as Prime Minister.
This is starkly in contrast with the state of the Maltese parliament today. Debates lack the clarity and imaginative rhetoric that render politics alive. Parliamentary question sessions have been turn into a farce by ministers responding churlishly to several PQs from the Opposition.
Parliament needs to be reinvigorated and given the respect it deserves as the institution which represents Maltese citizens.
There are indeed lessons to be learnt from Brown’s takeover of the premiership. Already enjoying the first few bounces in the opinion polls, Brown has clearly demarcated a line of separation with the former Blair era. Lawrence Gonzi will face a trying moment in convincing the Maltese electorate of the validity of his team after a series of corruption scandals that has tainted the government’s last months before heading for an election. Change never seemed to be in Gonzi’s books, least of all a new style of doing politics.