Great expectations were stirred by the election of Charles Mangion and Michael Falzon to the posts of deputy leaders of the Labour Party. Many viewed them as moderates who were not unduly tainted by the past policy decisions and tactics. One could see them not only as able to achieve the containment of the stifling supremacy of Alfred Sant's inner circle but also eventually as able to manage wringing decisive power from the old guard. Though I am still cautiously optimistic about Labour's chances at self-reform, recent pronouncements by the two Labour deputy leaders were, to say the least, disconcerting and went a long way to dent these hopes.
From their interviews with the press, instead of decisive, forward-looking pronouncements pointing to a clean break with the past we received mostly evasive and non-committal responses.
One can readily excuse such replies if the party's stand on issues such as the accession treaty is still being debated internally. But to reiterate that only 48 per cent of the electorate supported Malta's membership of the European Union was, to say the least, idiotic, especially when this was not put across as an opinion but as sacrosanct fact.
It is dafter when Labour wants to disseminate the view that the Nationalist Party won the election only because of the Europe issue. Can't they perceive the contradiction? How can intelligent persons who want to give a new image to their party repeat a statement that had harmed further their electoral chances?
The only explanation I can hit upon is that as long as Dr Sant remains leader, his statements cannot be openly doubted, much less contradicted. In this sense, Dr Sant may prove a crippling baggage on the reforming spirit reigning at present within the party. So I will not, as yet, ask, "where's the beef?" but "can Labour afford to carry this baggage?" Or any other pernicious baggage for that matter?
It seems that one such baggage in the form of the notorious "Tajjeb li Tkun Taf" has already been thrown overboard. What was regarded as the quintessence of Labour broadcasting has now been recognised as one of the most single negative determinants of Labour's defeat.
It is true that this preaching to the converted and a threatening expectation of impending gloom and doom probably prevented the defeat from becoming a total rout. But it also meant that Labour had no chance of winning a majority.
It ensured that quite a few Labour supporters could not stomach such harmful trash, much less could so-termed floating voters. Probably Manwel Cuschieri only came second to Dr Sant as the most counter-productive element in Labour's efforts to win power. Let us hope that the lesson has been learnt.
On the other hand, it is already clear that many in the Labour ranks know that Mr Cuschieri was his master's voice. Many are asking themselves if the sole departure of Mr Cuschieri is enough.
There is a real danger that fair-minded persons will in time see him as a mere scapegoat or as a sacrifice on the altar of political expediency, necessary so that the inner clique can hang on to power. This is not the only shedding of baggage many Labourites would like to see.
It is clear that the thinking rank and file are not at all convinced that reform will come without further effort. On the contrary, some are convinced that the opposite is true.
The efforts of Mr Ronnie Pellegrini and Notary Myriam Spiteri Debono seem to have been blunted for the moment. Others are not sure of their motives. Or rather they are diffident. They fear both are mere unwitting pawns in others' hands.
An increasing number of people are mistrusting the party structures, new deputy leaders notwithstanding. Proof of this can be seen almost weekly in Alfred Mifsud's articles.
Further proof of this mistrust is the desperate calls on Labourites by Anna Mallia to help her make her own inquest on the causes of the repeated Labour electoral defeats.
It is clear that Dr Mangion and Dr Falzon have to raise their efforts if they want to retain the confidence of the delegates who elected them and, more importantly, of the people at large.
Even though they may feel they have been handicapped by unnecessary baggage.