On The GBC Poll

By Mark Montegriffo

By Mark Montegriffo

The most lucid comment from last night’s Viewpoint review of the GBC poll results from this week came from Jonathan Sacramento: “Polls are imperfect”. While recent GBC polling has improved, this poll that raised the question of opposition leadership was problematic to a degree thus there was a limited amount of serious analysis.

We cannot say that the poll was in any away affirming to the GSD because, for starters, it was not about the GSD. It was about the personalities that have been rumoured to be popular potential leaders of the opposition, which itself is troubling because it is precisely the personality-based politics that is facing increased criticism. Though we cannot say either that the GSD is dead as the poll clearly shows that a GSD under Peter Montegriffo’s leadership can once again be a uniting force in opposition and, if he can bring the other strong names in the poll together in a team, he could quite quickly form a government in waiting.

With Hassan Nahon polling at higher than any of the ‘realistic’ GSD leaders, one has to accept her growing momentum and also the state of the GSD that has been largely impotent. Last time she enjoyed party machinery during an election, Hassan Nahon’s vote tally totalled at just below Daniel Feetham’s total as GSD opposition leader, which is astonishing given that it was her first general election and she had very little airtime by comparison to the GSD Party Leader. Since finding her voice as an independent however, she has had the remit to speak out on a broader range of issues and built herself as a credible opposition alternative to the other potential GSD leaders in the poll.

Taking this into account, the boost she has achieved in this poll is not as surprising as it first seems, and playing a part in this is precisely the fact that the others on the list represent the antithesis of the new, bold, progressive platform for unity that she has claimed to be offering. Distancing herself from the old guard of the GSD and communicating a new political direction for Gibraltar has continued to gather traction and interest that is not obviously present in politics generally at the moment. With her 18%, she can take a level of confidence in her recent performances, coming in effectively top of the list of names if we are to believe that Peter Montegriffo has no intention of returning to the fold.

So, leaving Montegriffo to one side, what are the survival options for the GSD extrapolating from this poll? Behind Hassan Nahon was the founder of the PDP, Gibraltar’s former third party, Keith Azopardi, who is the only potential GSD leader except for Montegriffo that made it to double digits. Although Montegriffo has been out of the party political frontline for nearly two decades, Azopardi’s last election appearance was in 2011 with the PDP against two strong parties, the GSD in government and the GSLP/Liberals in opposition. Whenever a third party has stood against two established parties with a reasonably decent line-up, it has failed. With the GSD in the state it is in and the GSLP/Libs eventually facing its natural end of governability at some stage, it seems like now is the best possible time for a new party to really capitalise.

Azopardi, however, would have to lead a party that is used to challenging for government. It can be argued that one of the major reasons for the division that has been perceived in the GSD in recent times can be traced back to his withdrawal from the GSD in order to form the PDP a decade ago. Had the PDP not split the vote in 2011, Gibraltar might still be governed by the GSD, or at least have a stronger GSD opposition. It speaks volumes for the decline of opposition politics in Gibraltar when one of the figures that contributed to the party’s division is a favourite to play the starring role as lead emergency paramedic.

Ultimately, the imperfect poll is, all things being equal, effectively portraying a two horse race between a GSD led by Keith Azopardi and a new party lead by Marlene Hassan Nahon. The prior representing a turn back to the GSD before the Labour Party integrated (minus Caruana et al) and the latter representing a break with the old altogether along with a pair of hands free of the baggage that returning politicians inevitably must carry. This is the real challenge for the future of Gibraltar’s opposition and time will tell who manages to capture the imagination.

Either way, the problems that both will face are broadly similar. The GSD, under any leadership, must contend with a crisis in candidacy now that they will likely at best have three of the current MPs on the ballot list, seven candidates away from a full slate. Equally, it is unclear as yet who Hassan Nahon’s movement brings on side for a general election line-up. She would have to bring in nine. To her advantage, Azopardi will have to fend off criticism for standing as leader of a party that he intended on defeating during elections and failed.

All is to play for but one thing is almost certain: the next credible leader of the opposition can place themselves as a potential Chief Minister and leader of a governing party when the political pendulum swings away from the GSLP/Liberals and it is time for change...once again.