The next Labour Party leadership challenge

The Labour Party is on track to need a new leader when the next election comes round. This means the party has an interesting choice to make within the next four years. The current jockeying is interesting to watch, but who will be the next leader?

I

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has stated he will resign before the next election. He’s always been open about his intent to only serve two terms which means he’ll be out of the picture by 2022. Two terms are a useful metric. The Americans have this as a limiting factor and it prevents things getting too one-sided. This is a useful restriction to have and it is a shame we don’t have this enshrined in our laws.

The Labour party’s procedures to select a leader suffer like the Nationalist’s do

We know we will have a new party leader contesting the next general elections. This has to happen before 2022. We could have a Prime Minister who will not also be the leader of his or her party, albeit for a short period. This would be a first for Malta.

What’s more interesting now is watching the various potential candidates position themselves to be the next leader. The rest of this article is my opinion of who is most effective and why. Bear in mind that the party has not announced the leadership campaign yet. We don’t know exactly when this will happen.

If the Labour party wins the next election, it’s interesting to follow who could be the next Prime Minister, don’t you think?

II

Name: Miriam Dalli

Current role: Member of the European Parliament (MEP)

Miriam Dalli

Ms Dalli has been vocal about many issues over the past year with the environment and women’s rights being her favourite subjects if newspaper inches are anything to go by. She’s in the news every few days. I see that as an attempt to make sure she remains in the public consciousness.

Her recent work with the LEAD initiative is what impresses me. I like the idea of a political party working to ensure women are better represented in politics. It is better than imposing quotas which I find insulting. If nothing else, there’s a new generation of female politicians who have Dalli as a mentor. They will think of her as their leader.

She is Muscat’s favourite to succeed him according to the Times of Malta. They used to work for party media in the early noughties so their personal connection is strong. And when he talks about her as being the best MEP we’ve had, Muscat doesn’t do anything to hide it. It’s anyone’s guess whether this is a good or a bad thing.

Verdict: Dalli has the ability to win votes because she’ll be the first female party leader in Malta. She has brand recognition having worked with the Labour party for almost 2 decades. She keeps herself in the public eye and seems to have the Prime Minister’s support.

Disadvantage to look out for: She’s not in Malta all the time since her MEP duties keep her in Brussels. Other candidates have the advantage of being in Malta when she isn’t.

Bonus point: As an MEP, Dalli has access to funding which is not available to the other candidates. This can go a long way to helping with a leadership campaign.

Odds: 75 % 80% chance of getting it.

III

Name: Ian Borg

Current role: Minister for Transport

Ian Borg

Mr Borg is often in the news, especially since this government committed to re-doing or re-building all roads on the island. You can’t ask for more publicity than that. In the long run, many will associate a smoother commute with him. People will nod their heads and thank him for shorter travel times. That’s a subtle persuasion move which Borg should leverage.

He’s also kept himself in the news with articles about his marriage and the birth of his baby. The articles seem odd to me – why would anyone care about a minister’s family? It’s possible he thinks these articles help show a gentler side.

The Times quotes an unnamed source who states that Borg “isn’t […] associated” with Labour’s past. This could be a good thing given the events of the 1980s and 1990s. His youth could be an unquantifiable advantage since the Labour Party is full of younger people these days.

Yet, his decision to appoint former Labour Party militant Ronnie Pellegrini2 is puzzling. This connection to old Labour may be his undoing.

Verdict: He’s young and a fresh face for the electorate used to seeing people from the nineties rule the roost. If the roads project works out well, he can ride on the wings of that success. If not, he will be the one to blame and that’s a risk at the moment.

Disadvantage to look out for: I don’t understand his connection to Pellegrini. If the Times is right, this could be a game-changer.

Bonus point: His search rankings in Google show that his social media pages appear above heavyweight sites like Wikipedia. If Google is correct about him, he’s popular enough in ways that are not immediately obvious.

Odds: 65% 70% 75% chance of getting it.

Update: On 12 September, the Times of Malta reported on a rent reform meeting held between government and the Malta Developers’ Association. The MDA was quoted as telling Borg that he’s doing “an excellent job.” There’s absolutely no reason for that comment, especially since it is completely off-topic. I interpret it as a sign the MDA is ready to back him and am revising my odds accordingly.

Update: A national survey in 2019 shows he’s the most popular minister in the current legislature7 which puts him head and shoulders above his nearest competitor, Chris Fearne.

IV

Name: Chris Fearne

Current role: Minister for Health

Chris Fearne

Fearne is also often in the news but with the issues surrounding health, it isn’t always good. The potential trouble around the Steward Vitals deal means many people will be suspicious of him. This doesn’t mean the party delegates see him the same way, but many would consider this before voting for him.

He comes across as being a likeable person. He has charisma and some oratory skills to be able to be a leader. One thing I don’t like about him is his need to qualify every answer to interviewers’ questions. It comes across as being weak. He needs to improve on that if he wants to up his game.

Verdict: As deputy Prime Minister he is, on paper, best positioned to be the next leader. His connection with the health portfolio may be a disadvantage. He can make it work to his advantage if he focuses on the bigger picture instead of the nitty-gritty details.

Disadvantage to look out for: He’s part of the establishment. If any of the other candidates campaign on a message of change, he will be the person to get rid of.

Secret point: By not being the Prime Minister’s choice, he can play the underdog role to win sympathy votes.

Odds:  55%  60% chance of getting it.

Update: A few hours after publishing this, someone contacted me to point out that Labour Party delegates trying to choose a new leader would have a different view of the Vitals scandal. My contact tells me this would not be a disadvantage for Fearne. I still think it is because any other leadership contender could use this against him. However, I’ve revised my odds based on this point.

V

Are these predictions accurate?

It’s possible none of them will be the next leader

They’re as accurate as back-of-an-envelope predictions can be. There are so many things that can change between today and 2022. I can’t predict the future.

Neither can you.

The situation will continue to evolve. If you’re reading this in the future, take them with a pinch of salt unless I’ve updated my predictions to reflect changing circumstances.

I think it’s fun to look at the current situation and make reasonable predictions about the future. It’s always important to be aware of whatever is on the horizon. In many cases, the best we can do is imagine more than one potential future and then discard all the wrong ones.

With this article, I hope I’ve helped you realise that we should be paying attention to these three people. One of them could be our next Prime Minister. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to wait until they’re in power before keeping an eye on them.

It’s possible none of them will; who knows what will happen by the time the leadership campaign starts?

Have I forgotten someone? Who else do you think would make a good leader of the Labour Party?

References

  1. Joseph Muscat insists: I will step down by next election; Herman Grech; The Times of Malta; 2018-02-10
  2. Ronnie Pellegrini appointment ‘backfires’ on Ian Borg; Ivan Camilleri; The Times of Malta; 2018-07-16
  3. ‘Miriam Dalli is best MEP we had in last five years’ – Joseph Muscat; The Malta Independent;2019-03-09
  4. Love strikes in Mdina – Minister Ian Borg gets married; The Malta Independent; 2018-01-19
  5. Minister Ian Borg becomes a father for the first time; The Malta Independent; 2018-08-3
  6. Rent reform will set parameters to protect the most vulnerable; The Times of Malta; 2018-09-12
  7. Roads minister Ian Borg propelled to top of popularity rankings; Kurt Sansone; Malta Today; 2019-02-17
  8. Due diligence report on Vitals prior to hospital contract ‘a trade secret’; Ivan Camilleri; Times of Malta; 2018-06-04
  9. Interview: Muscat’s successor ‘should keep the same formula,’ says Chris Fearne; Anthony Manduca; The Times of Malta; 2018-04-22

All references were valid and correct when this article was published. Changes to referenced websites or web pages may render some references invalid. If this is the case, please leave a comment below.


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