The story of how the Labour Party became Robert Abela’s cult is very interesting and involves different sub-stories. It involves the story of a criminal deal by Robert Abela and Joseph Muscat, a generation of young socialists who abandoned their ideals, an internal government and Party purge, a disunited opposition, and the fizzling out of organic Party activity.
There are many variables and complexities to this story. Firstly, we have to start with Joseph Muscat who is the root of all problems. Joseph Muscat was a very cunning and able political strategist and was fully aware of his surroundings and the political situation of his time. There was a great sense of lethargy in the demoralised Labour Party, but Muscat brought it back to life by allowing organic Party activity to grow and in many cases even go unchecked. He made peace with the Mintoffians, and brought back the left while simultaneously positioning the Party in the center with a New Labour brand. The activity of many Party activists was motivated by genuine and tangible causes and common causes united different Party members. There was also genuine discussion inside the Party and youth activists always tried to push the boundaries, at one point in time even proposing the decriminalisation of abortion, already when Joseph Muscat was still Prime Minister.
Things began changing slowly in the Labour Party in 2017 after Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered but only changed radically in 2019 when panic seeped into Muscat’s mind as he realised that the lid on his conspiracies was to be lifted. Muscat tried to take more control of the Party and the government by bringing in young hardline apparatchiks into his fold and giving them important government positions (Nigel Attard was one example), but in reality, Muscat was losing control. When Joseph Muscat wanted to do a mass meeting in Fgura in December 2019, Party officials like Daniel Micallef opposed him and demanded to drop the plans. Muscat was no longer advised: he was asked to. What had previously made the Party successful, its unchecked organic activity, eventually turned against him.
Joseph Muscat kept several areas of government strictly to himself and his close associates namely: the energy sector, the sale of public hospitals, the sale of Maltese passports, and the Planning Authority – all areas where corruption has been rife and also from where Muscat and his associates got his bribes and dirty money. The Planning Authority is also important because it affects the businesses of construction magnates who are Party donors. Occasionally, when public pressure was high, Muscat would intervene and change plans, as he did with regard to Manoel Island when public pressure by residents and Mayor Conrad Manche was significant. Or for example, the case of the American University’s proposed campus in Żonqor. This balance of power worked until it didn’t. Some people could be bought with causes instead of money, and after all, that was what politics was all about, but intrinsically, despite Joseph Muscat’s extravagant corrupt adventures, the Labour Party still had a little red light that flashed at his activities. He could not be stopped, and some choose the more honorable option to leave altogether like Marlene and Godfrey Farrugia.
Muscat could sustain this balance of power only by having massive support on his own terms, something that only Dom Mintoff could do in the Labour Party’s history. The only way that Muscat could keep his power as he surrounded himself with politicians and Ministers who didn’t approve of his corruption was to have unwavering and uncritical massive support from Party members. This is where Joseph Muscat and Robert Abela begin to differ greatly. There is a very big difference between the cult of Joseph Muscat and Robert Abela. Joseph Muscat’s cult existed mostly among the ordinary Party faithful – many top Party officials, cabinet ministers, and even MPs never bought into Muscat’s cult. Indeed, Joseph Muscat faced a lot of internal Party pressure in 2019 as his support by the rank-and-file remained high. On the other hand, Robert Abela’s cult is stronger inside the Party rather than outside of it, and the Party rank-and-file is loyal to Robert Abela for the Party’s sake and not the other way around. It was different with Muscat who could distinguish himself from the Party and thus, still be known to his faithful as “Joseph”. Robert Abela doesn’t have the privilege to be loved to the extent of being called by his first name instead, they refer to him as “Il-Prim”. Joseph Muscat was just “Joseph”. And the problem with Robert Abela’s cult in the Party is that it is neither organic nor genuine, but imposed heavily with a strong fist of authoritarianism.
The reality is that from the Party’s top brass, Robert Abela never had any support and until this day he is incredibly isolated and lonely. The Party’s top brass supports Robert Abela because they fear him and not by genuine conviction – deep-down most MPs would prefer a different scenario altogether but most of them are too afraid to articulate their thoughts. And Robert’s circle of power is composed of simply a handful of people: Aleander Balzan, his father, George, Louis Grech, and Glenn Micallef. Then he has Silvio Schembri who supports him for personal ends because Silvio, like Miriam Dalli has aspirations for the Party leadership. So, both Miriam and Silvio are currently competing for Robert’s support in a competition of desperate ingratiation and miserable adulation.
Allow me to draw a hypothetical scenario to explain the situation in very simple terms. Had Robert Abela been an independent political candidate he would have been ridiculed and laughed at. If Joseph Muscat contests the elections as an independent candidate he may very well change the balance of Maltese politics and make things, indeed, very interesting.
Even Robert Abela’s rise to power in Labour is wholly and exclusively devoted to Joseph Muscat’s support, making Robert just a derivative of Muscat. Of course, this is why Robert Abela is all about “continuation” and nothing about political vision. A continuation of covering up and protecting Joseph Muscat and his criminal associates, and a continuation of the Party’s dependence on and close relationship with the construction lobby. As for economic policy, Robert Abela’s conception of social justice is a feudal perspective of issuing handouts and cheques to most people while keeping salaries dirt-low. Adding to this narrative of pseudo-social justice, Robert Abela excuses his government’s incompetence in buying oil and gas at higher than market prices by invoking government subsidies. Social justice has become a patchwork of the government’s incompetence.
There is, of course, no real discussion about policy, politics, or Party strategy. Most of the Party’s policy is simply PR-diktat by Robert’s close inner circle. Party policy is mainly a propaganda end for Robert Abela. Everything revolves around him. Nobody dares contest him except Chris Fearne who contested him on his Covid fallacies. The Minister for Finance, Clyde Caruana preaches platitudes that fall on deaf ears, but he serves his Prime Minister well for depicting a supposedly, responsible attitude to public finances. It’s mostly PR with no real substance.
Robert Abela had to make Party MPs and delegates fear him to arrive at this point. Probably, Robert was very aware that he didn’t convince many Party delegates, so the way to convince them was not to align their political interests with the Party’s causes, but by making them fear for their jobs and their livelihoods. He did those brutally and was fully aware of the consequences and his actions. I was also very aware of his tactics and didn’t reciprocate his psychopathic game. Robert Abela fired and replaced many people in the Labour Party from their posts and/or public jobs so as to make them desperate enough to accept his conditions in any way or form. For some who didn’t need to fear for their livelihood, he made them fear their position and future in the Party as he did with Randolph Debattista who today is his very strong supporter, or as he did with Naomi Cachia. This is how he made people in the Labour Party support him blindly and uncritically and this is also how and why a generation of young socialists who fought against censorship are now sitting in silence as they watch their leader pass an authoritarian bill against the press. Like my previous friend from my other life Ryan Spagnol who today is cabinet-secretary.
I’ve been brief, but the story is much deeper and longer than this. I’ll cut it short for today but if you think you would want me to expand on a particular topic, or ask any questions, please do.
Today, this story ends badly and we can see unfolding it in real time. We have an incompetent and dysfunctional government, while the Labour Party has been turned into a shell of what it was. Joseph Muscat corrupted the Labour Party and attached it to his own criminal organisation, but Robert Abela has completed this process by turning the Party’s raison de’tre, structure, and essence into a literal criminal organisation.