The proposal to have all registered members rather than just delegates choosing a new Labour Party leader did not receive much support at Tuesday's meeting of the MLP's parliamentary group and national executive, even though the idea was not discarded completely.

No decision was taken on the matter but a number of issues, primarily logistical, were raised against the proposal.

In the meeting, which started at about 6.30 p.m. and ran past midnight, the deputy leader for parliamentary affairs, Charles Mangion, who was mentioned as a possible candidate for the top job, informed colleagues he would not be contesting any of the leadership posts.

He told The Times yesterday he preferred to have others have their chance, adding that he wanted to assume part of the responsibility for the electoral defeat.

For the time being, however, Dr Mangion will serve as acting leader, standing in for Alfred Sant who resigned following the election result.

The general conference that will elect the new leader will take place on June 5, as opposed to the previously mentioned mid-April session. This in order to give the party a longer reflection period and enough time to compile and possibly digest an analysis on what led to the defeat.

The contest for the deputy leadership posts will be held on June 12.

Prospective candidates, Labour insiders and a number of former pariahs, who now seem keen to return to lend a hand in the remake of New Labour, following its third defeat at the polls, have appealed to the party not to rush the decision.

A former MLP general secretary, Dominic Fenech, in particular, stressed in an interview in The Times on Monday, that the party needed to take its time for a proper debate both on what led to the defeat and to analyse what the prospective candidates for the leadership post have to offer.

He even suggested, as did former deputy leader George Abela who is interested in the leadership post, that the members should be included with the delegates when choosing the new leader.

However, Labour insiders told The Times that the biggest hurdles to implement such a proposal at this point in time are of a logistical nature. Having said that, the proposal is not completely off the cards yet.

The party knows, for instance, that a number of its members are also members of the Nationalist Party, something which would have to be dealt with before members are given the privileges enjoyed by delegates in the choice of the party's leadership, the insiders say. The numbers of such dual members could even run into hundreds. "Those people would have to be weeded out and that takes a lot of time," a Labour source insisted, adding that, beyond this particular example, the mechanism through which members are registered is generally not rigorous enough for the party to safely give them a vote in such a crucial decision.

"I don't think this idea is being discarded as a matter of principle but it's next to impossible to have such a radical reform at this point in time."

Another proposal floated by Prof. Fenech - to have the prospective candidates engage in debates in the presence of both members and delegates before the vote is taken - is also being studied.

There are two schools of thought on the matter. Some would like to see these debates on the party's media and others would rather restrict the contest to the delegates and the members. This second idea would see the candidates field questions by party members and delegates, possibly in MLP clubs, where they would debate their policies and explain how they see the party in the future.

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