In his respected blog ahead of the result being declared in the UK Labour Party leadership election Iain Dale wrote: “I am still at a bit off a loss to explain the reason why the Labour leadership contest has bored most people rigid - even those who have taken part in it. Most of my Labour friends say it has inspired no one and been a total letdown. The only explanation I can think of is that Labour is now in the position the Tories were in 1997 - no one’s really interested in what they’ve got to say.”
Few would disagree with that view but what happened after the result was announced with Ed Miliband defeating the New Labour favourite, his brother David – who then quit frontline politics, for now - was certainly exciting stuff. Bored rigid we weren’t.
Now all eyes turn to the next Labour Leadership contest – not in the UK but in Gibraltar. For in 2011 the leader of the GSLP, Joe Bossano, is due to stand down ahead of the general election with a new man (or possibly woman if one comes forward) leading the troops and their allies in the Liberal Party in to battle with the governing GSD.
The GSLP is a Gibraltarian animal yet its very roots are within the British Labour movement. The party was formed by Joe Bossano who had been a member of the old Labour Party in London before returning to the Rock and leading the TGWU. The actual creation of the GSLP took place with the guidance of a stalwart of the Labour Co-operative movement in London, Alf Lomas. Joe Bossano became leader of the GSLP, led the party in to the 1978 election, has been at the helm ever since and chief minister twice.
In his recent speech the chief minister, Peter Caruana, snipped at the coming leadership changes in the GSLP. Caruana is no fool; you do not get to be leader of your party over such a long term and win four consecutive elections, if you are not surefooted and rule with a rod of iron.
The GSLP is vulnerable to criticism over the long tenure of Bossano and that is something the outgoing leader and the party will have to address as the next election nears. However Caruana’s lampooning of Bossano has as much to do with deflecting questioning of the future stewardship of his own GSD as that of the GSLP. In addition his targeting of Fabian Picardo disguises the fact that the potential heir to the GSLP throne has inflicted a bloody nose or two on the chief minister in their battles across the floor of Gibraltar’s parliament.
Caruana is probably also wrong in his view that the new leader of the GSLP, if he or she won the election, would be a mere proxy for Bossano as chief minister. That may or may not be the intention of Bossano but once you step down the balance of power shifts and in its place would be a young double team of the new GSLP boss and Joe Garcia, the Liberal leader. Unlike the UK where the coalition rocks this relationship is tried and tested. Hence if Picardo wins the crown it would be very solid because both he and Garcia are from the same root stock.
I will refrain here from suggesting Fabian Picardo will be the next leader of the GSLP because as with Gordon Brown (1994) and David Miliband it was a case of heir today, gone tomorrow. There are other politicians in the GSLP parliamentary group and the wider party who might also throw their hats in to the ring and I think it is important that they should.
I believe the GSLP should have a leadership contest rather that an election by acclaim for two reasons. First the new leader would be strengthened by being the choice of the majority of the party rather than being the only anointed kid on the block. Second it is important that he or she shows they can win an election albeit an internal one.
Yet the chief minister is right in one aspect – it is vital that the GSLP under its new leadership redefines what it stands for –staying true to its founding principles but a new look socialist party for a new generation.
(Photo: Joe Bossano and Fabian Picardo at UN)
(Above article appeared in Panorama on September 4 2010)