Labour Party (PL). The Labour Party is Malta’s centre-left party and, since 2013, its governing party.
Maltese Labour emerged from the union movement in 1921 (the year of the first legislative elections in Malta). The party has always enjoyed a close relationship with the General Workers Union. While it maintained a presence in parliament, it did not win a single party government until 1945, when universal suffrage was introduced, however. Labour did, enjoy a close working relationship with the former pro-British Constitutional Party and acted as a junior coalition partner on several occasions.
The party suffered a serious split in the immediate post-war period, but returned to power in 1955 under notorious strongman Dom Mintoff.
Mintoff originally supported ‘integration’ into the United Kingdom, which would have given Malta a similar status to present-day Scotland (legally part of the UK, electing MPs to the House of Commons, but with heavy devolution) but eventually came to be a supporter of independence.
Mintoff was a fiery leader, who played world powers off against each other in an attempt to maintain neutrality and to gain goodies for Malta. He courted Gaddafi’s Libya, and communist China, allowed the Soviet Union to store naval fuel and negotiated economic aid from Italy.
His governments created an advanced welfare state, expanded the public sector and were also relatively socially progressive. Under Mintoff, gender equality, decriminalisation of homosexuality and adultery, and civil marriage all entered law. He often had run-ins with the Church. Between 1961 and 1964 the party was censured by the Catholic Church and voting for the party became a mortal sin. Labour voters were refused last rites and burial on sacred grounds. This allowed the Nationalists to win elections during this period.
Even after the end of the interdiction Mintoff would pick fights with the Church, as he aimed to take control of schools and hospitals away from it.
Mintoff’s opponents branded him an authoritarian, who gerrymandered, bullied opponents (party members were alleged to physically bully voters at polling stations) and used patronage to maintain power.
Mintoff resigned in 1984, but maintained a powerful hold over his party on the backbenches. During the short-lived Sant government of 1996-1998, Mintoff voted against the government on an issue of confidence and brought down his own party’s government (which had a majority of 1).
Sant’s government was much more moderate than Mintoff’s had been, with more free market stances and continuing the previous Nationalist Party government’s privatisations. The party did, however, put the country’s EU accession talks on ice.
The party’s current leader, and the Prime Minister of Malta, is Joseph Muscat. At age 40 Muscat is the second youngest leader in the EU (after Italy’s Matteo Renzi). Muscat is a former journalist turned MEP, and was not a MP until four months after his election as Labour leader. Muscat’s 2013 election manifesto focused on getting more women into work, building a new power station (to reduce electricity prices) and cutting taxes and reducing government waste.
While the party was previously Eurosceptic it has since come to terms with EU and Eurozone membership and lacks Eurosceptic positions.
The party’s MEPs maintain a relatively disloyal position to the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament, voting with them only 93.9% of the time.