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Opinion & Analysis

Family time

Daniel Feetham’s decision to step down as leader of his party was no surprise to anyone fine-tuned to the minutiae of local politics.

It was a decision that had been brewing for months, but one that was accelerated by events during last week’s budget session.

Mr Feetham is not to everyone’s liking. No top-level frontline politician is.

But love him or loathe him, no one can question his commitment to this community.

He drove important changes as Justice Minister in government, and bravely returned to public life following the horrific attack in 2010.

He was fearless and ferocious in holding the government to account in opposition.

Yesterday, as he faced the media to explain his resignation as leader, he delivered an emotional, dignified assessment of his career and the impact it has had on his personal life.

“I have given everything I can and I cannot give more,” he said. “Now is the time to think about Julia and my children.”

Mr Feetham’s record of public service stretches over 15 years and is there for all to see. There will inevitably be criticism, but only his most uncharitable opponents will begrudge him that acknowledgment.

The GSD was right yesterday to say that it is premature to talk about long-term changes at the party. The GSD must now take stock and regroup. This is not just about picking a new leader. This is about the party’s survival into the future.

In the weeks ahead, there will be endless speculation about who will come forward for the job, or about new political projects to replace the old.

There is upheaval on the opposition bench, but opportunity too.

Time will tell how all this unfolds, but it must be done carefully and calmly with an eye on Gibraltar’s best interests. It is a cliché, but no less true for that: good government requires strong opposition.

There is another lesson in everything that happened yesterday.

In Gibraltar, politicians – and party leaders in particular - have to be jack of all trades. They must be equally comfortable holding court with a Prime Minister, jousting with mandarins in the corridors of Westminster, or lobbying for Gibraltar in Brussels and the UN.

They must be fluent in Spanish politics too, able to challenge outdated views in Madrid even while building bridges to foster cross-border cooperation.

They must be adept at attracting investment and creative in their projects for the future of this community.

From Brexit to the latest planning decision, they must be up to speed on the detail and able to react swiftly, efficiently and effectively.

We demand this both from our ministers and from our opposition bench. Some do it better than others, but all give it their best shot.

We want our politicians to collectively ensure Gibraltar’s economic prosperity, rowing in the same direction for the good of this community. But we also demand that our opposition MPs ask tough questions and keep our government under close scrutiny. It is a fine line to tread.

And there are demands on time too. We expect our politicians to work round the clock, weekends included, to be part of the community, present at our cultural, social and sporting events. For most opposition MPs, there is life outside Parliament and professional demands too.

Understandably perhaps, we are always poised to pounce when they get it wrong, even though the nature of adversarial politics means that even when they get it right, they also – for some people at least – get it wrong.

We expect them to do all this under the glare of the 24-hour news cycle and social media's unforgiving stream of consciousness.

And, of course, we want them to listen to us attentively when we bump into them in Morrisons and complain about parking spaces.

We are relentless in our demands and we are right to be like that. Politicians work for us, after all.

But all of that takes its toll because, as Daniel Feetham explained in painful, emotional detail yesterday, politicians are human too.

In the cut and thrust of politics, that is something always worth remembering.

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