I think Ian Spiteri Bailey should scrap his MEP campaign slogan. As slogans go Spiteri Bailey - Fl-Ewropa Ghalik - Hidma, Impenn, Futur is a perfectly serviceable, ear-friendly one. But its three-word formula harks back to the classic Coke of Nationalist slogans Xoghol, Gustizzja, Libertà, and its many me-too versions. So the fizz has gone out of the original Eighties formula. Which is something which hasn't happened to Ian Spiteri Bailey.
The photos on his Website show a young, nearly afro-haired Ian Spiteri Bailey accompanied by an equally wild-haired future MP David Agius. They are addressing a gaggle of students. Back in the Eighties, student discussions weren't what they are today. Nowadays, student discussion fora are empty because of apathy, perhaps brought about by the sense of security after years of relative calm.
Things were different in the politically-charged Mintoff years when freedom of expression on campus was not encouraged. However, Ian felt he had to get involved to give a voice to the student body. And he did, being instrumental in the re-establishment of the Students Representative Council in the face of the Labour government's opposition, and becoming an active member of the Studenti Demokristjani Maltin.
The latter association is the usual launching pad for fledgling Nationalist candidates. Not so for Ian. A brief hiatus in his political career followed during which the young lawyer's only involvement in politics was on a local sphere, when he was elected to the Birkirkara council on behalf of the Nationalist Party. This brought him into daily contact with his constituents and their concerns.
He admits that many of their problems may have appeared to be mundane or trivial. The typical broken light bulb or pothole-in-pavement lament springs to mind. However such complaints made Ian realise that the man in the street needed an outlet or a channel of representation to voice his concerns. Hence, his continued interest in politics throughout the years when his aspirations for public office remained dormant.
Though out of the limelight, Ian retained his interest in a number of wide-ranging social issues. He got caught up in the labour law field, in which he specialises, almost by accident
When still a rookie lawyer taking on any work he could get his hands on, his spirited defence of an employee before a disciplinary tribunal caught the eye of Gejtu Vella, the future general secretary of the Union Haddiema Maghqudin. This eventually led to Ian Spiteri Bailey's becoming the UHM's legal adviser, a post he has held for eight years.
This role was not without its difficulties, notably the toughest lawsuit of Ian's career - that involving the Freeport's claim for damages from the UHM when the union had ordered industrial action at the port. Had the Freeport's claim been upheld, it would have meant economic disaster for the union.
At crunch time, Ian did not buckle down under the pressure of a challenge from what was effectively the PN government's most successful enterprise. If anything it strengthened his resolve to delve deeper into the world of employment and labour issues.
He obtained a master's degree in EU Labour and Social Policy Law, and in his own words "innamra mas-suggett". Ian felt that the various EU initiatives on employment, workers' rights, and health and safety at work were very relevant to the Maltese electorate, especially in view of Malta's EU membership. His decision to throw himself into the MEP election fray followed.
According to Ian Spiteri Bailey, an MEP's role is to champion the cause of Maltese citizens in the European context. "An MEP has to work in the ultimate interest of our country to obtain the most possible benefits from membership and to help ease the challenge that Malta has to face as a member state of the EU. By way of priority, an MEP should work to promote the interests of the electorate and thus the interests of all Maltese and Gozitans."
This aim having been voiced by all prospective MEP candidates, I wonder how Ian proposes to go about achieving it. He thinks that this can be done in a number of ways, "An MEP should consult local authorities, agencies, NGOs and special interest groups on particular issues which come up for discussion before the European Parliament so as to be in a well-informed position to defend the interests of the electorate." In this respect, Ian feels that he is treading familiar ground as he has worked with several NGOs and recognises their worth and contribution to society.
"For MEPs to be effective they should be able to integrate fully within the Parliamentary system as well as within the respective political group with which he is affiliated. The Nationalist Party is a member of the European People's Party - the largest group in the European Parliament. So I foresee that Nationalist MEPs would be able to make quite an impact with the support of this grouping. Finally, I think that an MEP has to use the art of persuasion, by lobbying, in the European Parliament. I believe that a practising lawyer would be an ideal candidate for this."
So there you have it - Ian Spiteri Bailey's MEP manifesto. Well qualified and well meaning - it should be a formula for success at the polls. However, political pundits will notice that Ian's career runs nearly parallel to that of David Agius. This kind of persona goes down very well with Nationalist faithful, but it seems that the votes of this sector are destined for other front-runners, mostly ex-IVA exponents. Not being a woman or a Gozitan might seem to militate against Ian in that he isn't representative of a particular interest group.
What then, is Ian Spiteri Bailey's unique selling point to the Maltese electorate? Quite simply it is that he is an all-rounder who has shown that he is willing to defend the rights of workers even in the face of strong pressure. And he has avoided the pitfall of name-calling and arrogance sometimes associated with the Nationalist Party. So not so much your typical PN candidate. If Ian Spiteri Bailey is looking for a new slogan, he might do worse than borrow Ninu Zammit's and add a new twist - "Maghna, Taghna, Bhalna - b'differenza."
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