I have had a keen interest in politics from my schooldays but have been a student of election campaigns since the late 1960s when my then advertising agency, which was Canadian, played a key role in that country’s Liberal Party’s political broadcasts.
So with the UK elections over perhaps for five years and Spain’s not due to 2012 my mind turns to Gibraltar probably in 2011.
I have been following politics on the Rock since 1993 so the next general election will be my fifth – and by chance could be the fifth successive victory for the GSD leader and current chief minister Peter Caruana.
Gibraltar has a small electorate and in recent years the polls have been fairly close. Indeed they were so close in 2006 that the broadcaster GBC called victory for the GSLP Liberal opposition after the polls closed only for the GSD to squeeze back in.
The next election will be special because it will be the first in which Joe Bossano, a former chief minister, does not lead his GSLP in to battle. ‘Old Labour’ Bossano is the GSLP’s greatest asset and liability. Half the voters worship him; the other half wouldn’t even poke him with the proverbial barge poll. To have him off-stage is an intriguing prospect. Will his traditional supporters still rally round his party? Will his exit attract new voters to the party’s colours? And more intriguingly – who will take his place?
For me to back a candidate would be the kiss of death for whoever I name. However the wise money has to be on Fabian Picardo who has been Bossano’s adjutant in recent years and scores highly in the opinion polls. A young talented lawyer he represents the new breed of Gibraltar’s politicians but there are others such as another legal eagle Gilbert Lucudi from the same Hassans internationally ranked law firm in the frame.
It is difficult to see the Liberal leader Dr Joseph Garcia ever taking the Rock’s top political job. He leads the junior partner in the coalition so would always be playing second fiddle. I always think of Joseph as being young – and indeed he is only in his early 40s. He has always been the Liberal leader in all the elections I have covered so obviously started out very young indeed. He is highly thought of in the international Liberal movement but it is difficult to see how he would become chief minister unless the GSLP and Liberals merge. However Picardo and Garcia come from the same political root stock so if they are both party leaders it could prove to be an intriguing combination. Indeed it would be interesting, nay exciting, to see how London and Madrid react to a Picardo – Garcia administration.
The Liberals went in to coalition with the GSLP for the 2000 elections (after the 1996 elections which were a feisty affair between Garcia and Bossano). Cameron and Clegg know that feeling well but the bond between the Rock’s parties is growing in strength – I wonder if British coalition will last for anything like so long.
I have always been puzzled at the coming together of the Liberals and GSLP - and although I have discussed it with both Bossano and Garcia am none the wiser. When the coalition was formed the GSLP had recently been the party of government and the Liberals just scraped along on a few percentage points of the votes (4.7 the same in 1996 as 1992) – so it didn’t even claim a seat in the then House of Assembly. By joining with the Liberals Bossano gave Garcia three of his seven GSLP seats – an act which I cannot comprehend. What was in it for Bossano? Well he gained access to the Liberals talent pool and given the tight nature of Gibraltar’s elections a few percent extra votes – however this was never sufficient to win back power. For the Liberals it was electoral manna from heaven with their percentage of the vote growing with the stature of Dr Joseph.
So what of the ruling GSD? Well as Bossano has been the GSLP the chief minister Peter Caruana is the GSD. He shows no signs of quitting and has indicated it will be the people of the Rock who show him the door (which the Gibraltar Chronicle opinion poll indicates could happen in 2011) and not his party. When the future battle for the leadership takes place it could revolve around the current Minister for Justice Daniel Feetham. He was a member of New Labour in the UK, joined the GSLP of his father on his return to the Rock, fell out with Bossano because he wouldn’t give a date to step aside, formed the Labour Party that did nothing at the 2003 election then scuttled off to join the GSD for whom he stood in 2006. He is a political carpetbagger, as a divisive figure in the GSD as he was in the GSLP and when the push for the throne comes, if he intends to be amongst the runners, it could split the party asunder in the process.
So roll on 2011! One thing is true if you have an interest in politics – you always live in interesting times!