14 NOVEMBER 2001

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Labour grooming new middle class image

Kurt Sansone analyses Alfred Sant’s mass meeting speech and concludes that the Labour Party is reaching out to middle class Malta

The mass meeting organised by the Labour Party last Sunday at Zebbug practically launched the party’s electoral campaign and apart from being a call to arms for die hard labourites, it was an attempt to reach out to middle class Malta.

After having groomed the grass roots for three years with hard hitting discourse and promises of ‘looking after’ labour supporters once in government the Labour Party is now bridging out to middle class voters, which are the voters that matter.

An analysis of Alfred Sant’s discourse shows that the Labour Party is trying to project a more moderate image, which is palatable to the discerning middle class voter.

The Labour leader was introduced to the crowd as ‘national leader’ on more than one occasion. Dr Sant must increasingly be viewed as an alternative prime minister if he is to be elected and one way of doing it is by projecting an image that he is above party politics, a statesman.

This was complimented on Super One TV’s recorded broadcast with images of Dr Sant as prime minister meeting various international leaders such as Arafat and Rabin among others.

However, a more telling sign of Labour’s shift toward the middle ground was Dr Sant’s insistence that the Labour Party had to build a ‘new social coalition’.

This statement is akin to the pre-1996 call to build new social alliances with various sectors of society. Then the Labour Party had embarked on an outreach exercise to gain the trust of the business community, intellectuals, university students, hunters, the disabled, working mothers and environmentalists.

Dr Sant’s fresh call on Sunday is a clear sign that in the months to come the Labour Party will be meeting with various community leaders to re-establish the trust that might have been severed after the 1998 debacle.

Dr Sant’s speech was peppered with issues that concern middle class voters such as the environment, taxes and government expenditure. However, he was careful of not being too specific on solutions so as not to tie any future Labour government’s hands.

The Labour leader did not promise that a Labour government would not introduce new taxes, however he pledged that no stealth taxes would be introduced.

Dr Sant spoke about the need to control government expenditure but stopped short of saying how he will go about the issue considering that government’s heftiest expenditure is on public sector wages and social benefits.

On the environment Dr Sant spoke against the proposed Tal-Virtu golf course dwelt on the Maghtab and domestic waste problems and the need for more recycling plants. Much to the chagrin of environmentalists Dr Sant did not tackle the issues of waste incineration, public transport and rampant air pollution.

The issues were hazily spelt out and in the months to come the various sectors of society Dr Sant wants to reach out to will be asking for specifics. The Labour Party would then have to deliver more.

And to cap it all Dr Sant reiterated Labour’s re-engineered 1996 battle cry, ‘Min mhux kontra taghna huwa maghna’ (‘Who is not against us is with us’). A clear move away from the hard-hitting discourse the Labour Party has been accustomed to in the last three years against those who criticise its positions.

In the nineties the Labour Party developed a love-hate relationship with middle class Malta. In 1992 Labour got a devastating thumbs down. This was reversed in the 1996 election victory only to be rejected by the same voters, two years later.

It is evident that the Labour Party has set the ball rolling to try and convince the middle class that it is a government in waiting.

The painstaking trust-building exercise is now underway but a heavily taxed public conscious of the country’s fiscal woes and wary of high sounding promises, will definitely take more than a fiery mass meeting speech to be convinced. The game has just begun.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt