‘Labour will renew itself in the election’
PL candidate Edward Zammit Lewis is best friends with leader Joseph Muscat, whom he says has changed the way the party conveys its message. He tells Christian Peregin he appeals to voters who are not traditionally Labour.
Name: Edward Zammit Lewis
District: 8 and 11
What is your background and why did you decide to contest the next election?
I am a lawyer. I’ve also been active in the Labour Party for a while. I was a local councillor in Attard, president of the Labour Youth Forum and I have advised the party on various issues. Contesting the election was natural for me, even though it is a great sacrifice.
What is your greatest achievement?
That I am a lawyer. I don’t want to talk a lot about myself because I let others talk about me but I think I did a lot of good work as a lawyer. And I helped the party with different things.
Now I want to help the party not only to be elected but to do good things in government and conduct radical reforms where needed.
Why choose the Labour Party?
I come from a Labour family but that is not enough. The Labour Party is, at the moment, a progressive party. It promotes civil liberties and I believe in civil liberties.
I believe in the removal of any prejudice against certain aspects and sectors of society and I believe Joseph Muscat is trying to make a difference in the way politics is done.
Where were you in the 1980s?
I was a child.
As a Labourite, do you look back at that time with pride or regret?
You are referring obviously to certain negative things that happened in the early 1980s until 1987. I’m outspoken about those, in the sense that what needs to be condemned must be condemned, but good things happened as well. A tangible example is social housing. Obviously there were other things, which any Labour Party in the future won’t entertain.
You got involved in the party actively during the Alfred Sant era. What was your assessment of him?
He said certain things that in my opinion were right. And time has proven him right. But we had a problem in conveying our message. We had a good message and good policies but we had a problem in communicating.
I think Dr Muscat and his administration made a great leap forward.
So were you against EU membership? Was the anti-EU stand one of those good policies?
No, not the anti-EU policy... I believe the political, historical and cultural belongingness of our country is in favour of Europe.
Did you vote in favour of the EU?
That’s a bit of a personal question.
You wouldn’t like to answer it?
No... In the sense... I am in favour of EU membership... I was in favour of EU membership, yes.
But, the problem is, as things developed, there was a political party that was totally against and the other party was totally in favour. I think the discussion had to be somewhere in between. I think we should have competed to get a better package...
Did you feel that as a Labourite you didn’t really have a choice about how to vote?
No. I believe the Labour Party’s position should have been that it was better placed and had better resources to get a better package. The Labour Party didn’t do that.
So, like Joseph Muscat, you voted against EU membership.
I voted against EU membership. But I voted against EU membership because I wasn’t pleased with the package the Nationalist Party was negotiating. Yes.
Why do you think the Labour Party lost six out of the last seven general elections?
I think it was a problem with the way we conveyed our message. Secondly, on different issues, like the EU issue, we weren’t in sync with what the people were thinking.
Do you think Labour has changed? What about all the old faces?
Labour has radically changed in the way it conveys the message and I think it is quite evident. With regard to the old faces, I’m a bit cautious. There are people like Karmenu Vella, who is a veteran Labour politician respected by both sides. People who work in tourism praise him. A political party renews itself through elections. I think Labour will renew itself in the next election in the sense that a lot of MPs will change.
Would you describe Joseph Muscat as one of your best friends?
Yes, but obviously that has nothing to do with my candidature.
Do you think the friendship will work to your advantage if you are elected?
In my opinion it is a double-edged sword, now and in the future. But obviously Dr Muscat is smart enough for his loyalty to be first to the country, then to the party, not his friends.
You’ve studied EU affairs. Do you think Dr Muscat might eventually consider you for the post of permanent representative in Brussels?
That’s something that is the prerogative of any Prime Minister and of the Cabinet. But I have heard it before, I must admit.
At school, you were in class with Dr Muscat, MP Franco Debono and (the Prime Minister’s spokesman) Gordon Pisani...
Till Form 2, yes.
Who got better grades: you or Dr Muscat?
To be honest, with regard to Dr Muscat, I can’t remember.
And who was more popular?
Popular in what terms? I was a good footballer so I was more popular in class but obviously it depends on which criteria you use... Joseph Muscat was determined but also a quiet person, which he is still today.
You are contesting 8th and 11th districts.
Yes, but my favourite district is the 8th.
Are you there to attract disgruntled Nationalists? Are you the ‘softer face’ of Labour?
I must admit, even though I don’t like to speak about myself, I appeal to the middle classes and people who aren’t traditionally Labour. But in the last three years, especially on the 8th district, I worked a lot with the Labour core.
You advised the Labour Party on rent reform and the court case on VAT over car registration. Are you involved in the manifesto?
No, I’m not involved in the actual writing but obviously I get consulted like other people on different aspects.
Government entities and immovable property. I think the Government can remove more bureaucracy and exploit its property more for revenue raising. I also have expertise on the law courts because I work a lot there and even on EU affairs.
What is your reaction to the John Dalli case?
I think it is an embarrassment: the whole issue, not the Commissioner John Dalli, who is a competent person in different aspects, even when he worked in Malta.
The Labour Party’s media gives the impression that it is suspicious of the investigation.
More than the Government, I agree with you.
Because we are relying on the interpretation of this investigator, Giovanni Kessler.
I think our Commissioner deserves the benefit of the doubt and should be given the opportunity to clarify certain issues.
In my opinion, he should also be notified with a copy of the investigation’s report. I think we have to be cautious about it.
Do you think the Socialists should accept Tonio Borg as Malta’s new Commissioner?
Tonio Borg has to be grilled in accordance with procedure to be accepted as Commissioner but Dr Muscat already said that, as a Labour Party, we are obviously backing his candidature.
But will you do that in an active way? Will Labour campaign and lobby within the institutions to make sure he is accepted?
It’s not a question of lobbying. He has to pass this procedure. Unless there is something quite serious, as happened to (Rocco) Buttiglione, whose views the [MEPs] felt were not synchronised with theirs, I think he will be accepted.