The Malta Independent 24 October 2021, Sunday

TMID Editorial: How Labour ‘stole’ Independence

Thursday, 23 September 2021, 09:25 Last update: about 1 month ago

There was a time when the Labour Party shunned Independence Day and all that was associated with it.

It had even gone as far as to deem it to be so insignificant that it removed 21 September from the list of national feasts.

For Labour, first Republic Day and later Freedom Day were given top place in historical importance. It didn’t matter that, without Independence, there would not have been any Republic or Freedom days. But Labourites just could not bring themselves to celebrate it. The country’s independence was obtained by the Nationalists, so there’s nothing to be proud of, was their argument.

It was the epitome of narrow-mindedness.

Conversely, Independence Day was hugely celebrated by the Nationalist Party. It was the occurrence that galvanised it and its supporters, and made the party even stronger when Labour had cancelled it from the calendar. The more Labour tried to eliminate its significance, including through episodes of violence, the more people turned up at the Granaries in the preceding week and, most of all, on the eve for the yearly mass meeting.

It was the epitome of defiance.

But times change.

Over the past years, the PN became weaker and weaker, with Simon Busuttil, later Adrian Delia and now Bernard Grech failing to convince the electorate that the PN is a better option – and this despite the scandals that rocked the Labour Party in government to the core, leading to the resignation of its leader and prime minister. We’re still right at the heart of the aftermath, but Labour continues to enjoy the support of the majority.

Year after year, the crowds that used to fill the Granaries dwindled, and the PN increasingly found it hard to come up with ideas to bring them back. The internal issues that broke the party in two or more factions no longer make the headlines, but it is evident that the PN has not been able to turn the corner. And, yet, the people who caused these problems are still there and will seek to be re-elected. Maybe this is why the PN is still perceived to be the least popular choice, as all surveys held in the past months have constantly shown.

Learning from lessons of the past, Labour did not remove Independence from the list of national holidays when it regained power in 2013. At least in public, it showed that it had finally accepted the importance of this historic event which gave birth to Malta as a nation. Neither did it create obstacles for the PN to commemorate the occasion.  This acceptance ironically hit the PN harder.

This year, the Labour Party went one step further. It organised what it described as a conference that spanned over the weekend preceding Independence Day, culminating in a rally on the eve, addressed by the Prime Minister. It was tantamount to being in competition with the PN activities and, by so doing, took the little wind that the PN thought they would have in their sails on what is “their” feast.

Labour got as much coverage of its activities as the PN did. Independence was no longer a PN thing. And it worked for Labour.

Until last year, people tuning in on the political stations on the eve of Independence Day could follow the PN leader’s speech. This year, they had a choice, because the Labour leader was giving his own address on the eve of Independence Day.

What used to be a “PN celebration”, at least for this year, was no longer so. Labour was present in people’s homes – for those who wanted to watch – just as much as the PN was.

A clever move, indeed.

  • don't miss