We will be the voice of the people in opposition, says Azopardi

We will be the voice of the people in opposition, says Azopardi


It is good to be back in the House. The last time I was here was 16 years ago on the opposite benches next to Sir Peter Caruana. It has not been an easy return. There have been detours, highs and lows along the way but I was hopeful of making a renewed contribution and I am grateful to GSD members – firstly – for having put their trust in me in 2017 and the electorate at large for having returned me to Parliament, said Opposition leader Keith Azopardi in parliament yesterday. 

He went on: I am indebted to the hard work of all my predecessors to make the GSD what it is today.

To a very large extent and while I have been GSD Leader for the last two years, I see my main role as starting now as it is only now that I am on an equal footing with everyone else. It is only now that I am in this House and can properly voice my views and be heard with the opportunities this role now gives me. Before now it was a bit like driving a car from the back seat. My real work therefore begins now.

As I take the baton of this role and look across to the other side I am reminded that I started in politics all those years ago – in 1991 – with Fabian, Joseph and Damon among others. We were, then, young people concerned about our future. That political generation matured and emerged. We are on opposite sides of the House. We may disagree on many issues but I am also sure that there are plenty of issues that unite us on which we can work together for the common interest of all our people.

A big shadow was cast over the last election we just celebrated – the dark shadow of BREXIT uncertainty which was played by the incumbent Government for all its worth during the campaign.

There are lessons for all of us in this election. We entirely respect the result of the election. The GSLP/Liberals were re-elected. But they were re-elected without the enthusiasm that had accompanied some of their previous wins. This was a muted win which scarcely concealed the underlying disenchantment in many quarters of their style of Government, their policies and their mistakes.

It is a lesson too for us in Opposition. Many people wanted change. Despite the Government playing the BREXIT fear card to its fullest extent 46% of people voted for Opposition parties. But of course, a split in opposition votes only favoured the incumbent. It is for us to persuade the many people who already want change and the others who will come round to that view during the next four years to hold fast and not split their votes if they want change to be achieved.

On the Opposition benches it is our collective responsibility to all those people who wanted change to ensure that we present a solid alternative at the next election.

To do that we must capture the imagination once again and reflect on how we do Opposition politics. The GSD will do that that in coming years with a talented and diverse team of individuals inside and outside Parliament.

I have been on all sides of election results in the past – on winning and losing sides. Like in general life it is often how you behave and what you draw from a defeat that marks you as a person and helps you transition as a Party.

So it is important to learn lessons in victory and in defeat. But in doing so it is important to resist the temptation of trashing everything we stand for or that we did during the campaign.

I lay a marker here and now that we will relentlessly pursue the Government on issues of fairness and transparency and wastage of public monies. They should not expect that we will tolerate silently their excesses or failures to give answers or account to people. If they fail on housing or jobs or the health service they are not going to get a free ride from the GSD that I lead and they will not get a free ride from me.

I am absolutely determined to deliver that strong alternative and no one should doubt the single-minded unified sense of purpose of this GSD team to ensure we emerge much stronger by the next election. We will and do have stamina.

In offering a clear and strong alternative to Government over the next four years I also want to set out the principles that will influence our approach.

We will offer a positive vision for the Gibraltar that we treasure.

We will work with the Government – if they properly include us – on issues of public interest and where we have common ground.

We will not hide from voicing our disagreement loudly where we think it is important to do so.

Our politics will reflect the core values of the GSD modernized for our times. It will be a mainstream, centrist and progressive vision of social democracy. Protecting civil rights; fostering equality; enhancing conditions for working people; economically liberal and ensuring fairness, transparency, opportunity and value for money.

We will work hard for the good of our people. We will represent all of our people and not just the people who voted for us. We will hold Ministers to account and scrutinize Government decisions. We will be critical and constructive in equal measure. Gibraltar will not find us wanting in our commitment. We will be bold in setting out our vision for the future.

The talented team that we have in Parliament will be the immediate public face of the GSD Opposition. But we will combine that with the new energy and enthusiasm of other younger people who will play a public role in politics in the future. I believe our Parliamentary team has the strength and ability which will mark it as the clear alternative to Government.

While BREXIT cast a shadow over the election I do not minimize its importance to our future. It is crucial we navigate the consequences of BREXIT successfully. The die is not yet cast as to whether we leave the EU with or without a deal. I said during the campaign that we consider that the Government lost an opportunity to negotiate a better set of temporary arrangements with the EU. Even so and despite our misgivings we prefer those deficient MOUs to no deal. If we leave with no deal [now or in the future] the Government’s continuous protestations that they are BREXIT ready will be put to the test. We have not been involved in those preparations to any meaningful extent. If there are fissures in preparation the Government can expect us to shine a bright light on these as it would be our duty to do.

Whether we leave with or without a transitional deal the next question would be whether and if so what kind of permanent deal with the EU could be struck by the UK and indeed Gibraltar to replace existing arrangements. Here we are on sensitive ground not least because of the possibility [indeed some say likelihood] that Spain may exercise its pressure over our inclusion in permanent arrangements. Again we will monitor that emerging scenario carefully. We believe a good permanent agreement can be entered into with the EU.

We are happy to work with Government if they seek our help on navigating BREXIT. This is not a moment for political pride or arrogance. This is a challenge of seminal importance to Gibraltar and a time for political leaders to show their ability to work together in the national interest as necessary.

The GSD I lead will be strong on sovereignty and on the recognition of our international rights as a people.

So I also want to express our willingness to attend the United Nations with the Chief Minister as part of a joint Gibraltar delegation. Again it is a matter for him but I make clear that we are willing to show a common front at international fora where Gibraltar’s interests are being discussed. Like was the case in the 1960s we are happy

to face these international issues together. We may deeply disagree with the Government on domestic issues but it is safe to say we should be able to share a common view on the fundamental aspirations of our people.

I have made no secret of the fact that I believe passionately in parliamentary reform. This will improve democratic accountability, the quality of decisions reached and the pool of talent of people influencing those decisions. We will therefore be pressing the Government on this agenda so that deep reforms are put in place to improve our democratic system. We are now one of the few places in the democratic world that is hampered by such a rudimentary system. We need to breathe life into our parliamentary system by radical reform and perhaps also electoral reform.

In overall terms our approach will be energetic, modern, positive, constructive but yes also robust and critical where necessary. Gibraltar demands the vigour of tough Opposition and we will deliver that in fulfilment of our constitutional duty and the people that we serve. We will be the voice of the people in Opposition.