A New Hope?
Not many people would have expected much from this year's budget that deviated from the usual procedure. The standard expectation is that the Government will declare a growing surplus that is almost beyond belief, a higher national average wage per annum, and a financial situation far better than 'the previous administration'. All's well, Gibraltar's never been more prosperous, and so on.
But the public are at the very least suspicious of the contents of the balance sheets...or perhaps an even bigger concern, what is not included in the balance sheets. The 'indirect' transferring of monies into government-owned companies, the £300m housing estates loan - there was hardly an expectation that a transparent answer would be given this year to any of the relevant controversies, especially when there's a lack of a public accounts committee or an extra budget season.
What we arguably did not expect was the Opposition (except for Lawrence Llamas MP) declaring that they were voting against the bill, in total contradiction to their most celebrated leader Sir Peter Caruana who voted in favour of the bill in spite of his reservations of the content of it so as "not to deprive Government of their funding and civil servants of their pay". Ironically, it was the Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon who identified this nuanced and mature approach in her speech, not the current GSD leader. What transpired as her speech progressed shocked the House and may soon shock Gibraltar into finding a home to challenge what she called the "stagnant political scene".
She reminded the House that "people all over the world are crying out for a new kind of leadership. One that reflects the real hopes and aspirations of the people, built on the values of generosity and closeness, on honesty and on a bold, optimistic approach to politics", reminiscent of the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders or Emmanuel Macron.
The Independent MP was critical, not just of the approach of the Government and Opposition benches, but of the modern political status quo as a whole which she sees as something in drastic need of re-calibration: "This is a time for courage, not cowardice; a time to step forward and show face, not to hide behind fake profiles [foreshadowing the alleged use of another member of the public's Facebook profile by the Leader of the Opposition]; a time for leaders, not mouthpiece activists; a time for stability, not disarray; a time for solutions, not problems; a time for criticism, not ridicule; a time for constructive proposing, not destructive opposing; a time for hoping for a better future, not a craving for chaos in order to reach one’s personal goals; a time for conviction, not indecision; a time for leading, not in-fighting; it is, Mr Speaker, a time for something new...Politicians that work for their citizens, not for partisan visions, egos or agendas".
Referencing the 'Punch and Judy' clashes in parliament as described by the Speaker of the House, Hassan Nahon claims to rise above it, leading one to posit that perhaps the antagonistic and often personal spats in the House are symptomatic of a failing political elite. "This is the real toxic behaviour we suffer from, and I have moved away from this for good. My job is to propose and to be useful for the Gibraltarian electorate, and that is what allows me to stay relevant – even if I am on my own...I work for them now, not for any of you".
The reveals might be obvious to some but it does not detract from the intrigue that this speech is bound to cause. "I feel that this new direction is just beyond the horizon...I am ready for the next challenge in my political career, to offer Gibraltar new options, new ideas and new directions".
In a time where politics is seen as the usual old arguments at every session of parliament or every exchange of a press release, this speech should prove to be almost impossible to ignore as the first half of this Government's second term starts drawing to a close.