Dominic Fenech has a long-standing connection with the MLP. Born in Vittoriosa in 1950, his formative years came when socialism held a lot of promise to bring about a real radical break from the status quo.

He was the party's general secretary at the politically-tender age of 27 but left in 1983. He has not been a part of Labour in any significant way for years now, yet he forms part of that list of personalities - that includes his close friend Lino Spiteri - who still orbit somewhere around the party. In his case, possibly close enough to be seen as an ally voice at this time but also distant to a degree that affords him a detached view of what is taking place at Mile End.

Many of the personalities mentioned above being exiles of the Sant era, these people are slowly starting to show interest in the remake of New Labour - people such as Alfred Mifsud (not the greatest of Prof. Fenech's friends) and even George Abela, who both, even if ambivalently, appear to be considering the top post.

Prof. Fenech doesn't seem to have any such ambitions but has plenty of advice to offer.

"At the moment there is a deep sense of sadness and frustration among the broader Labour community," he comments, looking out of his University office window, making it clear that he shares that disappointment. "There is a sense that this should not have happened... This is a case of your turn has come and you didn't take it..."

His has been a critical voice in the past years and especially of Alfred Sant's administration.

"I have some difficulty in criticising Alfred Sant directly at the moment," he qualifies this time round. "I am a socialist who has criticised Alfred Sant in the past years but, obviously, he has just resigned and just went through a medical ordeal that would have devastated anyone of us, so there I regained a lot of personal respect for him, for the way he fought it.

"But, I cannot be critical of Labour without tying in Alfred Sant's political persona because he has been giving his personal stamp to the Labour Party in a way that is felt a lot. And it has been that way since 1992, sometimes in a good way, sometimes less good but it's there.

Even the administration and the way it operates has that stamp, he continues. "Now that the Sant era is over, I want to see that stamp gone and I would like the elements who owe the hold they have on and their weight in the party to Dr Sant, not to be as involved in the succession because, otherwise, you will not turn a new leaf. This doesn't mean that you forget everything but..."

The party swayed from an inclusive platform that managed to attract to it an overwhelming majority in 1996 to an inward-looking organisation that has paralysed its abilities to react to its environment in a dynamic way, he explains, reiterating an analysis that went largely unheeded in the past years.

"This rigidity and closing of ranks and focus on internal discipline instead of the previous inclusiveness, which began in 1998, led to the defeat at the 2003 election. After that there was an important change in Labour's stand on the EU but there wasn't a departure on the issue of discipline.

From there the party's position, and when I say party I mean the people within the headquarters, from the leader to the administrators, was: Look, we have lost a number of people now they can slowly return. Not only was there no strategy for re-admitting those who had been critical but the administration expected them to recant before making their way back and toe the party line."

This time round Labour similarly failed to engage the people outside of its constituency with a package of alternatives. There were ideas, he stresses, pointing out that some of them were half-baked while others had been demonised, but Labour lacked a package of alternative policies, leaving the party with one of the worst defeats in morale since 1932.

The new leader will bear the weight not only of having to make sure Labour wins next time round but that it wins well, Prof. Fenech insists, pointing out that this creates an even greater need for the decision (to appoint the new leader) to be thought out well and not rushed into.

"Ideally, there should be a process over more than just four to five weeks because that is hardly enough time to get over the electoral defeat let alone project where you want to be in the next 10 to 15 years under the next leader," he says, arguing that there should be a contest through which candidates battle out their ideas even with the broader constituency.

"I'm not saying we should have something like the American Primaries but the idea should be that you have to earn your success with reference to the rank and file of the party not with reference to the elite core who is subject to considerations of internal politics."

As it stands today the process is too dominated by internal politics, he argues. "When there is a contest for the leadership, people present themselves and hope that, through the lobbying of the delegates, they have more supporters than the other contender. But this is not lobbying that is made on the basis of issues, between, say, one who gives priority to the environment and another who has a strong social conscience, the lobbying is made on the basis of: Look, take care of this guy because he looks good on TV."

The political debate, ironically, has been taken away from the process of choosing the leader of a political party. "And this is true even for the Nationalist Party," he continues. "It strikes me as odd that parties spend all that money on election campaigns, with stages that look suitable for rock concerts, big screens and what have you but then do not organise a campaign for such a crucial choice. There is no campaign there, no debate. It's not the way to persuade those critical 600 delegates."

On Xarabank last Friday, Prof. Fenech echoed the suggestion made by Dr Vella that paid-up members should be consulted in the selection process and also proposed to have a thorough analysis of the responsibility for the election result prior to the choice of the new leader, "in case those who caused the problem end up proposing the solution".

He is also making proposals aimed at ensuring the transparency of the contest, which has become quite a salient issue.

Not only has a controversy developed between Dr Abela and the present general secretary, Jason Micallef (about who should vote when choosing a leader) but a few of the other prospective contenders have themselves stressed the need for fairness.

Allegations made by Paul Muscat that the 1992 contest between Dr Sant and Mr Spiteri had been rigged, without doubt play a role in this. Even though Mr Muscat publicly confessed he had fabricated the allegation, the episode still left a bad taste all round.

Prof. Fenech is careful not to tread on this issue, arguing that there is no point in recrimination.

"I'm suggesting that there should be a group of people who are Labourites but who do not have any direct interest in the contest and who enjoy the people's respect and who will oversee the debate and see that the party media is fair with the candidates because that is a very powerful weapon".

Hope dies last, they say, and there is a hint of that in Prof. Fenech's argument, which, at times, betrays the fact that he may be seeing this as an exciting opportunity for Labour. In fact, he is clear on the dose of change he would like to see.

"I would like the party to open the windows of its headquarters, preferably on a windy day, and let an overdose of oxygen in to have an awakening, more than a reform... An awakening that democratises the party, in a way that it is given back to the supporters. There could be a lot of talent, even in the new parliamentary group, which could be overlooked."

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