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Labour’s love is being lost

Joseph Muscat would do well if he were to take a leaf from the diary of British Labour leader Ed Miliband. On Tuesday, Miliband was heckled and booed during an address to the Trade Union Congress after re­peat­ing his condemnation of this summer’s strikes in Britain as a “mistake”.

More than half the five-year span of the present legislature has passed and time is no longer on Muscat’s side
- Michael Falzon

Miliband said he was unmoved on his position not to back the strike action, which saw tens of thousands of teachers and civil servants protest over pensions.

A number of the 300 delegates present shouted “shame” and took issue with the Labour leader’s message in which Miliband warned unions they risk irrelevance, insisting they must embrace change and get private sector employers to recognise the unions’ relevancy while pointing out that only 15 per cent of private sector employees in Britain are trade union members.

In a typical traditional militant trade union ‘us-against-them’ comment, Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said Miliband “needed to decide just whose side he is on”.

Muscat’s lesson from Miliband should be that the latter has the courage to take clear positions shorn of any ambivalence.

Even though his party depends financially on the unions with whom he has openly disagreed, Miliband stuck to his stand. Muscat, on the other hand, tries to be whatever whoever is listening wants him to be.

At the end of the day this stance, akin to serving God and the devil at the same time, is untenable.

Muscat must make it clear that his party has indeed been reformed and that today it can be considered to be a genuine mainstream European democratic socialist party.

Unfortunately Muscat still has a long way to arrive at that point, mainly because of his party’s lingering efforts to take comfort from its uncomfortable past.

When they hear Labour’s deputy leader Anglu Farrugia say he has decided to contest the fourth electoral district because he was a friend of the late Lorry Sant, people who are considering switching their vote to the PL are instantly put off.

This may be music to the ears of loyal Labour diehards who will keep on voting for the party irrespective of how their party behaves and presents itself, but this type of message certainly does not en­hance Labour’s chances at the polls in 2013.

Too many people are now starting to think Muscat is continually failing to persuade them that Labour has indeed turned a new leaf and has started from a fresh line under his leadership.

To do this successfully, Muscat must clearly admit Labour’s past mistakes and promise they will not be repeated.

He should renounce the use of violence as a political tool, forego past friendships with all kinds of rogue states, affirming the importance of human rights in foreign relations and persuade people that it sincerely shares the vision of Malta as a small but economically vibrant EU member state.

Muscat has wasted too much time prevaricating: trying to send such positive messages while at the same time attempting to assuage the desires of those Labour supporters who still hanker after the ‘good old times.’ More than half the five-year span of the present legislature has passed and time is no longer on Muscat’s side.

Labour’s past relationship with the moribund Gaddafi regime, for example, is being depicted as something equivalent to – or even less pervasive than – the relationship of the different PN administrations with the Gaddafi-led Libyan government.

Add the bizarre allegation that Gaddafi financed the PN’s Yes campaign in the EU membership referendum and you get the sort of hotchpotch that continues to keep reasonably minded people away from Labour. This allegation was recently made by Muscat’s predecessor and the PL has not disassociated itself from it.

What was even worse was Muscat’s attempt at linking the recent decision taken by Moody’s to downgrade Malta’s foreign-currency and local-currency government bond ratings with the alleged increase in the number of households that are finding it hard to make ends meet.

This is sheer nonsense.

The Maltese economic situation is certainly not as rosy as the PN propaganda machine depicts it to be but here the issue is one of curbing expenditure and ensuring that Malta can cope with its debt.

Labour ought to be explaining how it would tackle these problems rather than trying to square them with its eternal lament on the cost of living and its vague promises to reduce water and electricity tariffs.

For the past two decades, Labour has been pushing the notion that people are becoming increasingly worse off when this message rings a bell only with a very small minority of voters. Looking at the progress in our standard of living achieved since Labour lost its grip on the country in 1987, should be enough to spur Labour to change tack.

On the economic front, Labour has put itself in a quandary. It cannot criticise the economic situation seriously without saying that the country needs more austerity measures – the exact opposite of what it is promising.

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