GSD’s insurmountable divide?
By Robert Vasquez
Defining the GSD leadership election as a fight between the progressive centrist, Keith Azopardi, and the more conservative Damon Bossino has been a huge error on the part of Mr Azopardi. It could lead to an insurmountable divide within the GSD.
It brings to the fore the effect on the GSD of the political ethos that backing one or other candidate will have, rather than the real issue, which is Mr Azopardi’s loss at two elections and the consequent need for a leader to take the GSD to an election win.
It also brings into the equation the very cohesion of the GSD, which should never have been brought into play in a leadership election. The debate that was needed centred on the issue of Mr Azopardi having led the GSD to two general election failures. Was that then a clear signal that a change of leader was needed?
The question is what will come of the GSD whoever wins the leadership contest. It is a question that Brian Reyes poses in his Opinion Piece ‘GSD leadership election exposes ‘chasm’ between two contenders’ published in the Gibraltar Chronicle yesterday.
There is no doubting that the GSD, as its name clearly states, is a social democratic party, namely it believes in social values being introduced through a democratic process. It is that which is its ethos and not the ‘conservatism’ that Mr Bossino projects.
Mr Bossino now says that he would not undo what has been done on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Probably not, but it is not the point.
The point is that at the time he held strong views against those advances in the law. The law is secular, it is not religious. If similar issues were to arise in future, it is very clear that Mr Bossino will take a reactionary decision, Mr Azopardi a progressive one.
It is that what is at play in the leadership elections and could lead to a divide within the GSD were no other candidates to comes forward. It is that which both contenders to date, should have avoided in the leadership contest. To make the central point an argument of the party’s political philosophy is to highlight the existence of a huge divide within the GSD.
The existence of that divide alone undermines the ability of the GSD to form government until it sorts itself out internally. It may have got a near win at the last election, but it failed. It may have made significant gains, but it failed. It failed when the election was there for the taking, as proven by the close result.
What the GSD needs is a leader that will take it into government at an election in which the GSLP-Liberals will have taken account of and action based on the last general election result. If the party is given a choice of just Mr Azopardi or Mr Bossino, then the choice is simple. It can only choose Mr Azopardi, if the GSD is to remain faithful to its values, despite his election losses.
The last election result shows that what is supported is social democracy. The GSD manifesto was a social democratic one. It was not a ‘broad church’ or ‘conservative’ manifesto.
If the GSD chooses Mr Bossino as its leader, it will cease to be the GSD and become a ‘conservative’ party. That it has always been a ‘broad church’ does not overcome that criticism. It does not consolidate the obvious gains made at the last election, in that the GSD achieved 48% against the GSLP-Liberal 49.9%. It would be a regressive step.
A ‘broad church’ needs a leader that understands liberal and social democratic politics in the world of today. A ‘broad church’ needs the likes of Mr Bossino to surrender their core beliefs to the open-minded politics of a truly progressive party. It is unlikely that a progressive will give up his/her policies to conform to conservatism. In short, the philosophical road is ‘one way’ and it is not one of ‘conservatism’.
Mr Azopardi attributes the GSD election loss to various matters, the choice of some of its candidates, ‘fearmongering’ about Gibexit, and last minute GSLP-Liberal vote-buying by offering more to different sectors of voters. It may be so, but it may also have been his failure of leadership, when faced with those matters, that lost votes.
It may be that the GSD simply must live with that failing, because the choice of leader is limited to just Mr Azopardi and Mr Bossino. It is a situation that is in large part brought about by Mr Azopardi announcing his candidature at the same time as he announces the leadership election.
The leadership election should have been prompted by his resignation as leader. If he had done that a more contested battle for the leadership of the GSD may have ensued. Such a contest would have improved the democratic offering to all voters.
If the leadership contest continues as it has started, it forecasts a stinging and angry contest from which either candidate cannot withdraw and simply ‘forget’, be he the winner or the loser. The ongoing consequences for the GSD will be serious and unavoidable, putting a patch on it will not work. The effect on voters will be there to be exploited by the GSLP/Liberals, as Brian Reyes makes clear.
We need to wait and see whether either of the two views expressed by Brian Reyes will come about. They are the GSD will implode due to divisions. The other is that the GSD has two strong options to lead it to an election win at the next election.
The GSD Executive and voting members have much to think and be careful about, but they have been put into a difficult position due to how the two leadership candidates have started their respective campaigns.
Only time will tell between now and the next general election and, as the saying goes, “a week in politics is a long time”. Into the final equation will come what will happen with or to the GSLP/Liberals over the next few years. It could be much which is outside their control and more in the control of outside forces!
Robert Vasquez, KC, is a barrister. He stood as an independent candidate at the last general election on a platform of democratic reform.