Dom Mintoff: a political bully

The film Dear Dom has elicited contrasting reactions. It reflects the whims of the man. Initially being way ahead of his contemporaries, he ended up detached from the effects of the changes which he pursued.

He rightly wanted Malta to exit the soonest from its Middle Ages. The temporal powers of the Church run by an archbishop-prince and the colonial rulers were his first targets. Deliberately he opted to bully his way through. The bulldozer was Dom Mintoff’’s preferred operational tool and strategy. Initially used against the colonisers and the Church it was subsequently used by Mr Mintoff against his own people.

His oratory as well as his negotiating skills were central throughout his political career. He radically reformed and expanded the welfare state created by his predecessor as Prime Minister and Labour leader, Sir Paul Boffa, whom he toppled after accusing him of not being capable of standing up to the colonial masters.

Mr Mintoff’s strategy of seeking to improve the nation’s standard of living through integration with the UK stood in stark contrast to that of his nemesis George Borg Olivier who opted for independence as the tool to improve Malta’s living conditions. Mr Mintoff’s strategy to achieve integration failed and eventually he turned to Plan B: to follow the road leading to independence, patiently developed by Dr Borg Olivier. He couldn’t stand that, as playing second fiddle was not his game.

Dr Borg Olivier was patient. Mr Mintoff was not. Independence for Dr Borg Olivier was a gradual process starting with the essentials of self-government and slowly building up the county’s infrastructure: a prerequisite for its social and economic development. That was too slow for Mr Mintoff’s temperament. His attitude was one seeking absolute control at day one. His pace was much faster than Dr Borg Olivier could ever get accustomed to. This was reflected in Mr Mintoff’s style of negotiations, in his demands and in the stormy foreign relations which developed as a result of his approach.

Mr Mintoff’s followers embarked on many a violent spree. One may trace the justification of violence as a political tool in the debate and declarations leading to the Independence Round Table Conference, in particular in what are known as Labour’s six political points (is-sitt punti). Lino Spiteri interviewed in Dear Dom, qualifies this reference to violence as a necessary tool in the rebellion against the colonial powers. While that was indeed one of its earliest manifestations, unfortunately it eventually became a tool for all seasons, when Mr Mintoff lost control of the hangers-on which surrounded him, including the notorious members of his Cabinets, those who had their own “bully boys”.

Violence shamed Mr Mintoff and the Labour Party many a time, most notably when The Times was burnt down on Black Monday, October 15, 1979. In 1984 even his handpicked successor was embarrassed when supporters (labelled as the aristocracy of the working class) went berserk at the Archbishop’s Curia and destroyed all they could see.

Mr Mintoff was not capable of standing up to the criminal behaviour which slowly developed around him until it engulfed him and his party. This was recently described by former Air Malta chairman Albert Mizzi in an interview carried in The Sunday Times on March 25. Mr Mizzi stated: “I remember one time when someone mentioned something to him about corruption. He turned to me and said, is it true? I replied: ‘That what’s people are saying’. His response was: ‘What can I do if that person has helped me to build up the party? Can I take action against him?’ You see, this is small Malta.” That is Mr Mintoff at the mercy of his sycophants: those who helped him build his party and then proceeded to squeeze it dry until the pips squealed.

Bullying of opponents was an essential characteristic of Mr Mintoff’s method of government. Obviously those who benefited from his methods and actions think otherwise.

They consider it as a minor and insignificant blip. Those at the receiving end tend however to recognise it as an essential element of the man’s method. Positive politics is less relevant if the implementation method adopted is unacceptable. As a result Labour’s achievements under his leadership related to the welfare state and the general upgrading of the rights of working men and women will be forever overshadowed.

Coercive methods were characteristic of the man who sought to achieve his targets by hook or by crook. The shareholders of the National Bank of Malta, their heirs and all those who stood in his way are living testimony to Mr Mintoff’s methods. He bullied his way through all opposition: in his party, in Parliament, in civil society, in industrial relations and in the economy. His bullying of intellectuals bequeathed an inheritance of mediocrity to his Labour Party.

When the historical dust will have settled there will be one issue which sticks out in defining the man. It will not be the welfare state but his political bullying which shaped his party for a generation.

published in The Times of Malta, May 5, 2012

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8 comments on “Dom Mintoff: a political bully

  1. I so agree with you Mr. Cacopardo. In the 60’s I lost my father at 58 years of age through being bullied by the then newly formed Labour Party. My father was a foreman with the Water Works and if you remember those were the days of newly elected government and vindictive transfers of jobs. My father never put a foot wrong but two of his key workmen were transferred. Somehow he got it in his head that it was his turn then, it played on his mind, he had a nervous breakdown, trombosis and he was dead within a year. Alas, my family stayed very faithful to Dom; I went away to England and of course I had time to reflect about what was going on. I never even came back to Malta for a long while because I felt so bitter about it all. I know some people still adulate Dom and fundamentally he had good intentions, but he became a dictator and left in power he would have been another Ghaddafi. I am glad this film (I have not seen it and do not intend to either) came about because it has given sensible people a second chance to live down the supposed legend that he was, and like you said, fundamentally, a lot of the old brigade and new one at that still parade his dogma. God help us all.
    Mary Fisher @ melita0701@aol.com

  2. This article is a replica of the film Dear Dom. Being a bulldozer and being a bully is not the same thing. Mintoff bullied only those who bullied him in the first place e.g the British Government, the Catholic Church with most of its political allies, those people who would not budge for change but wanted to leave the citizens in darkness and poverty, and, last but not least, the PN who, from the very first day of him taking power after a decade of long-standing suffering, physical and mental, for all his followers, decided to buy off 2 democratically elected Labour MPs to bring down the newly elected government. This continued all along the legislature and the ones after that.
    As to the incidents, let us not forget the obstacles the forces of the dark made so as to topple the government e.g the politically-motivated doctors’ strike, the MUTs continuous, forceful, opposition to change; the same with MUBE, those who rule by the ‘blue-eyed boy’ system, etc. A small mouse is terrified of people and goes out mostly at night. However, if cornered, he will jump to your face to save its life. We tend to make huge mountains out of physical violence, but forget the subtle, cunning, hypocritical and, very often, long-standing results of spite and hate of psychological violence, of which the anti-MLP persons are so famous. Being pro-PN and anti-MLP is ok if the balance is in favour of the ‘pro.’ If the balance, as more of ten than not, shifts to the ‘anti,’ then this is negative and very detrimental to the country. And this is what EFA started and Gonzi continued – a negative attitude to our political scene.

  3. The article about Dom Mintoff is factual and impartial. Well done Perit Cacopardo.
    Nobody can deny that Dom Mintoff did a lot of good and came on the scene when Malta and the Maltese needed him. There had been too much servile bowing to our colonial masters and the then overbearing church authorities. It was Mintoff who improved the social services system; who strengthened the infrastructure which at the time was almost inexistent. Much of that has now been sold off to outsiders and party friends.
    Dom’s methods were certainly faulty, unjust, demeaning. As Perit Cacopardo points out Mintoff finished bullying his own people. He was surrounded by a number of bully Ministers whom he could not control (or actually did not wish to control). For many years people suffered at the hands of those who sought self-improvement through a policy of terror.
    More recently we have had other political leaders who, in their own subtle manner, may have played foul and mismanaged not just their administration but also the tenets of our very own Constitution. For a start they failed to provide citizens with a sound judicial system; failed to control the serious rape of the environment; kept looking on as our national potable water is stolen by speculators even though a serious Water Crises has already started; used national finances to shut up the grumblings both of ex-Ministers and backbenchers….So many other serious mistakes were and still are committed today. Sadly our supposed leaders put party interests before national priorities. I don’t believe that Dom Mintoff ever did that!
    Some day, hopefully, history will reveal the murky depths which we Maltese are living today. It is true that bullying and terror nowadays are quite inexistent – but meritocracy and justice are equally lacking. Consequently people are suffering. Hopefully those responsible for this state of affairs will have to answer for it one day. Meanwhile the national debt keeps rising, rising, rising…..

  4. This article has disappeared from the Times online, at last I can’t see it. Anyone knows what happened to it? Censored?

  5. Who knows? They wouldn’t take any chances of having their new printing press razed to the ground.

  6. A very well balanced and non partisan article. Well done Perit.
    I too tried to look it up on the Times on line blog! Strange. Very strange! This may lead one to think that this was done following pressure from the PL. The previous post seems to have arrived at conclusion. I am aware that the disappearance of such article from the Times on line blog even drew the attention of a renowned PN blogger who usually writes in another English paper. She even asked if this article was withdrawn by “Cacopardo himself”. Now in the circumstances this can lead one to think that it was GonziPN who had a finger in the pie in the disappearance of your article. Why? Such a well balance article does not help GonziPN with the electorate!!

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