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Ask what you can do for your country

A lot of us have spent over three years protesting that Keith Schembri deserved to be exiled from politics, not just Castille. This week, senior Labour politicians and operatives agreed so openly that Schembri felt compelled to resign from the Party.

Are we now on the same page? Not quite.

The protestors – including many Labourites – demanded Schembri’s resignation in the country’s interest. However, the Labour politicians’ demand was made in the Party interest. Just read what they said.

The protestors made their demands in the conviction that what is good for the country is also good for Labour. The Party’s top brass speak in the conviction that what is good for Labour is what defines what’s good for the country.

Hence why Robert Abela says some protest was good, but now more would be a ‘provocation’. It’s why Joseph Muscat gets to make a farewell tour. The two men vying to clear up his mess have to grin and bear it beside him.

Muscat’s immediate defenestration is in the national interest. But undertaking it means wrenching the Party faithful’s guts and losing credibility.

For how would the entire parliamentary group explain how it went along with the defence of the Panama gang for three years? When your best excuse is to claim naivety – and you’re a politician claiming to know how to lead – something has gone really wrong.

“What’s good for Labour (understood as the Party hierarchy) defines what’s good for the country”. That has to be the operating principle. It can’t be emerging evidence. For three long years, Labour has insisted on court-grade proof even for political resignations. We have no such proof yet. Suddenly, however, scandal itself is enough.

There’s more to say about the real underlying principle. Schembri enunciated it clearly. Asked if he felt a Labour traitor, he asked how that was possible. After all, he had led Labour to 10 electoral victories.

The answer only makes sense if Labour’s entire raison d’etre is to win elections, not to govern in the interests of working men and women on an egalitarian programme. It’s based on the idea that democracy is about choosing who governs. Not on how the country is governed and in whose interests.

Here’s the irony. Those of us arguing that Schembri’s sacking would be good for Labour as well as country were right. All along. Those who protected him ‘in the interests of Labour’ ended up wreaking far more damage on the Party.

Yes, Party blood-letting is always painful. But the choice was never about whether to endure pain or avoid it. It was about which pain.

Sacking and investigating Schembri three years ago would have been nowhere near as painful as what Labour is enduring now. Its reputation is in tatters in Europe. In Malta, most people alternate between fury and ridicule.

It was the Labour hierarchy insisting on no change that cheated its own supporters. It lied to them. It exploited the supporters’ love. People are now furious at being played for fools.

But they were played on 1 May, 2016. On that day, Joseph Muscat called a mass meeting, in the name of workers’ interests, to give a reply to the foreign media that was supposedly attacking Malta’s national interest ‘out of envy’.

It turns out that the international media and the critics were right. We were right that the Panama companies were a sure sign of bad actors. We were right that the proportionate response was immediate eviction from government. We were right that would have done a lot to safeguard Malta’s reputation. We were right to insist we were the ones with Malta’s real interests in mind.

That Workers’ Day meeting was a double insult to the people who attended. Workers’ Day was exploited to mobilise support for people ready to rob ordinary taxpayers. Europe Day was used to turn Maltese Europeans against their fellow Europeans, and with the aim to make Malta less European in its form of governance.

Water under the bridge? No. If Schembri deserved to be expelled from Labour, why not Konrad Mizzi?

I’d love to hear the fine distinctions that justify Mizzi not being expelled from the Labour parliamentary group, and indeed standing as close as he could to Muscat in the group photo with the President. A perfect Christmas needs a good occasion to yell, “Humbug!”

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