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‘I’ll quit when Eddie does’ – Karmenu Vella

Labour heavyweight Karmenu Vella says the only thing consistent about his critics is that they’re always criticising him. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Labour heavyweight Karmenu Vella says the only thing consistent about his critics is that they’re always criticising him. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Former minister Karmenu Vella, who was recently given a more prominent role in the Labour Party, yesterday responded to strong criticism that he was a blast from the party’s ugly past.

In a characteristically animated and witty speech, Mr Vella said he was proud to have militated in the party since the 1960s when he used to be criticised for being “too young”. Now, he pointed out, critics were saying he was too old and Labour leader Joseph Muscat was not old enough.

“Why don’t you just leave us be for a while,” he said, adding that the only thing consistent about their criticism was that they were always criticising him.

He then mentioned a chat he had with Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami, in which Dr Fenech Adami suggested that he call it a day from politics.

“I told him I will leave when your father does. He was Prime Minister till he was 70, he made himself President till he was 75 and now he’s almost 80 and he’s still in the picture,” Mr Vella said, referring to Dr Fenech Adami’s recent appearances on the media where he is campaigning against divorce legislation.

Mr Vella said the Labour Party had no intention of taking the country back to the 1970s and it was in fact the Nationalist government which had taken the country even further, “back to the 1960s”.

Addressing the party’s general conference, Mr Vella said that while in the 1960s contraband cigarettes were available in the Parliament’s bar, corruption had now seeped onto the very benches of the House.

He then listed some of the highlights of old Labour governments: the building of hospitals and housing estates, the setting up of banks and factories, the creation of the Freeport and Air Malta, and the introduction of women’s rights, social services, free healthcare and free education. At that time, he said, the national coffers were full. But now the country was €5 billion in debt.

“I hear you ask, so the Nationalists did nothing? Of course they did, they gave us a new power station, which still has to be paid for, fresh roads where the Queen and the Pope passed through and a fountain in St George’s square,” he quipped to roaring applause.

He said the government members criticising Dr Muscat’s call to boost tourism marketing to capitalise on the unrest in north Africa were being “hypocrites”.

What was insensitive, he said, was the fact that, while giving the people €1.16 increase a week, Cabinet members gave themselves a raise of €600 per week. And they had the cheek to say it was now only €500 or less.

“They say it as if we should thank them, as though we should thank a thief who stole €600 from us but dropped €100 on the way out.”

He ended his speech with an appeal to young people and disgruntled Nationalist voters to join in Labour’s dream to build a better country.

“We will take care of the cobwebs but first we need to get rid of the spider,” he said, implying that, before tackling issues of inefficiency and bureaucracy in the country, the electorate first had to remove the root of the problem: the government.

Mr Vella, who served as a minister in the Labour cabinets of Dom Mintoff, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici and Alfred Sant, was recently tasked with drafting the electoral manifesto and became main spokesman for finance in Dr Muscat’s shadow cabinet reshuffle, taking the place of Charles Mangion.

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