MaltaToday | 06 April 2008 | The way ahead

OPINION | Sunday, 06 April 2008

The way ahead

Evarist Bartolo

Electing the next leader of the Labour Party is obviously not just an internal party matter. The way we behave in the process will have a great impact not just on party delegates and members but also on the electorate at large. A party that aspires to govern the country must show that it can govern itself. We must all make an effort to behave in a dignified manner and not allow the election of the next leadership and administration of the Labour Party to degenerate into fratricide.
We must stop tearing each other apart. I have already said during the last 10 years that what worries me about the Labour Party is that there is too much infighting, too much biting at each other’s tails and it has to stop. I know it happens in every political party especially after an electoral defeat and when it is caught up in choosing the next leadership. We need a cultural change inside the party that allows for more diversity and disagreement, but also compromise.
I remember following closely as a young man the experience within the PN when Dr George Borg Olivier was replaced by Dr Fenech Adami. The process was painful and there was a lot of fierce party infighting, but although the internal electoral mechanism was allowed to take its course ultimately a compromise was reached by sharing out leadership positions among Dr Eddie Fenech Adami, Dr Guido de Marco, Dr Censu Tabone, Dr Ugo Mifsud Bonnici and Dr Louis Galea to keep the party united.
The PN passed through a similar painful experience of party infighting when the time came to choose the person to succeed Dr Fenech Adami. Some of the wounds inflicted in the contest between Dr Lawrence Gonzi and Mr John Dalli are still open. But the PN managed to emerge from that experience without harming itself deeply.
As all the focus right now is on the internal turmoil of the Labour Party, all is being forgotten that the PN has its soul searching to do, as it has just won an election with a very small majority where more than half the population voted against it. It has several seriously disgruntled back benchers who either lost their ministerial portfolios or were not made ministers or at least parliamentary secretaries as they aspired to. Will they rock the boat? Will they make life difficult for a government that has a one-seat majority? When it comes to holding onto power and winning elections, everybody in the PN falls in line and the party mobilises all its resources and does all it can to chase voters and tries to keep them from switching to other parties.
The Labour Party must show the same unity of purpose and determination if it wants to become a party of government.

Hardworking families
The voluntary price agreement between government and the business sector has come to an end. A government minister has already said that no price hikes are expected. Even if this proves to be the case many hardworking families are still struggling, faced with higher prices for food and energy which are crucial household items.
Over the past decade household incomes and wages have had to contend with higher taxes and costs of mortgages. Will inflation rise higher during the coming summer months? How will the government seek to squeeze out inflation: wage restraint? Will public spending be reduced, and if so, in which areas? Labour agrees that there is a need to deal with social benefit fraud but government must lead by example and cut down waste.
How is government going to create the right conditions for hard working families to improve their quality of life by lower taxation, better public services, creating higher earning jobs that replace part time and low paying jobs? We have thousands of families whose livelihood depends on part time workers and employees. We need to change the education and health services and create child care facilities to reflect changing family needs. We need more recreation areas to improve the quality of life of our families.
Creating a better quality of life for families must be at the top of our agenda.

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