The ‘anything goes’ party

Published: October 7, 2010 at 6:44pm

This article was published in The Malta Independent on 15 May 2003, when the Labour Party was about to choose its new leader after Alfred Sant’s second failure at the polls. When it appeared, Anglu Farrugia asked the police to prosecute me. The prosecution process has taken seven years of court appearances, followed by a conviction for criminal defamation and a fine. The magistrate argued that I failed to prove the facts beyond reasonable doubt. But I couldn’t prove the facts beyond reasonable doubt because the only witness was the perpetrator. The magistrate might as well have said that I lied under oath now, and lied under oath aged 19 in 1984.


The run-up to the referendum and elections was feverish and intense, and with politics dominating the newspaper pages, radio debates, and conversations even at the grocery counter. Now that it’s all behind us, there’s something of a vacuum. We don’t know how to cope with this fresh, new space, which has been suddenly left free for us to think and speak about other things.

In desperation we cast about us for something political to work up a sweat about, for it really is hard to kick the habit and see beyond our bickering, Lilliputian politicians. It is in this light that we should see the desultory talk about the Labour leadership elections, and the various interviews with the two ‘also rans’. We feel obliged to discuss it, when really there is nothing to discuss.

There’s only one likely outcome, so all this talk is pointless. Alfred Sant will win, nothing will change in the Labour party, Malta will join the EU next year, the Labour Party will remain committed to its anti-membership stance and render itself increasingly irrelevant. There is no way that Alfred Sant can make himself electable, no matter how much he attempts to reinvent himself with new buzzwords.

Too much harm has been done, mainly by his own hand and the hand of his mate Manwel Cuschieri. It’s too late for him now, just as it became too late for Dom Mintoff and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici. For Dr Sant to get back into the national electoral race now would be, as I believe a French expression would have it in reference to attempts at rekindling expired love affairs, like reheating cabbage.

The only interesting aspect of this tedious charade is the fact that John Attard Montalto and Anglu Farrugia clearly consider themselves to be suitable leadership material, with their eventual goal being the office at Castille. I find this particularly curious, and fascinating in what it reveals about attitudes in the Labour party as to what is and what is not acceptable in political leaders.

The Labour Party appears to think only in the narrowest political terms of choosing the party leader, forgetting that this party leader is also a potential prime minister, and will be assessed as such by the electorate. There, I am afraid, these two fall at the first hurdle, but the ‘anything goes’ mentality that holds sway in the Labour Party prevents them, and for that matter others around them, from seeing that even the mere thought of them as prime minister is completely ludicrous.

A prime minister is not just a political decision-maker, but also a figurehead for the country. He must be blemish-free in all areas of his life.

Because there is no ‘weeding out’ process within the Labour party – or, as a friend has just put it, ‘they don’t have any quality control’ – that weeding out will be left in the hands of the electorate which, in giving a resounding ‘no’ to a man it considers wholly inappropriate as prime minister, will put aside his party along with him.

We have just seen it happen twice on the trot with Alfred Sant. We saw it happen with Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, and before him with Dom Mintoff. How many more such lessons does the Labour Party need? The first step in any reform process is the election of an admirable leader, one who will not be seen by the public as an incongruous prime minister.

So why can’t these two be taken seriously as contenders for the role of prime minister? Simple: it’s because, while ‘anything goes’ may be the case for MPs, especially in the Labour Party but increasingly so with the Nationalists, things are seen in a completely different light once leadership or high office enter the equation. Let’s take John Attard Montalto first.

Apparently, somebody called in to Super One radio to ask how on earth he hoped to be taken seriously asa potential leader, when the sight of him sauntering towards the Net TV cameras wearing a tracksuit and with his hair awry is sandblasted into our recent memory. That’s not a picture that will go away fast, but it’s not the point – nor is the fact that his campaign adverts followed the format of pin-ups in Jackie magazine circa 1976, when I last read it.

These things do not help to ratchet up credibility, but vanity can always be overlooked. No, the real problem is that John was married, famously and for close to 30 years, to Doreen, a tireless campaigner on his behalf. They were an established duo, and when John was asked by a magazine about what had originally attracted him to her, he was quoted as having said that it was her tiny mini-skirt.

This was an unfortunate quote for somebody who hopes to be prime minister some day, and even more unfortunate considering what was already happening at the time. Some years ago, he had a child by another woman, and both she and Doreen now play a significant role in his life. This is not secret. It is something he has discussed in an interview with this newspaper.

As things stand, it is nobody’s business how the three individuals work things out between them, but if he becomes Opposition leader, it will be. The personal and public lives of leaders of political parties are indivisible, and the fatal mistake inevitably made by leaders of the Labour Party is not to realise this. When people vote to make a man prime minister, they want to know exactly what they’re getting to represent them and their country, and this includes his family life.

You can’t tell the electorate, as Alfred Sant did, that they have no right to know about their potential prime minister’s family set-up. Of course they have a right to know – not only a right to know, but also the duty to find out before they give him their support. Dr Fenech Adami’s own record in this regard is admirable, and that is part of the reason why he has such a high credibility rating, especially among middle-aged women.

The worse our own personal lives become, with marriages collapsing one on top of the other all around us, the more we seek solidity and reassurance in those who lead us. Tony Blair knows this very well, which is why he is big on holding hands with Cherie and talking about Euan’s exams. If Tony Blair had a girlfriend and a love-child, he would not be in Downing Street.

John’s mistake is to take the fact that people carried on voting him into parliament, throughout these shenanigans, as a signal that there is nothing in his situation that should hold him back from the party leadership or, ultimately, the leadership of the country. That’s where he is very wrong.

People who have no difficult in accepting an MP – or perhaps even a cabinet minister – with this kind of three-way set-up, with a child born to the girlfriend and the wife still involved, however platonically, will almost certainly not accept it in a prime minister. The standards we set for our prime ministers are very much higher than those we expect of our MPs. That’s why potential prime ministers have to be like Caesar’s wife.

Whatever the messes we may make in our own lives, we don’t want to see our leaders doing the same – especially not the prime minister. A psychiatrist recently explained it to me in terms of the ‘parental’ role political leaders play in society. People may get drunk, cheat on their spouses, screw up a zillion times in whatever way you choose to mention, but they would be absolutely appalled if their parents did the same thing. They may have just left their lover’s bed, but if they walk in on their father doing the same, they would probably suffer a nervous crisis.

We take the same attitude with our political leaders. I think we can safetly say that if Dr Fenech Adami had a wife, a girlfriend, and a child with the latter, then like Tony Blair he would not be where he is today. Quite apart from the fact that he would never have made it through the Nationalist Party’s rigorous and unforgiving ‘quality control’, he would not be as well respected and admired.

Those who seek to separate the public from the private forget that even they, when assessing a person in terms of credibility, consider his private situation as well as his public image. The holistic approach is inevitable, because political leaders are not actors playing out roles in a television drama. They are real people, and their private lives have a bearing on their overall situation.

Though Alfred Sant made a great drama out of what he saw as attempts to damage him with talk of his own family situation, he missed the essential point: that is exactly why leaders should not have the sort of private life that gets talked about, because you cannot stop people from talking, and equally, you cannot stop them from feeling unhappy about the situation. It seems to me quite obvious that voters, whatever their private situation may be, are on the whole happier with a prime minister who is a family man in the conservative sense of the term.

All of this does not make John Attard Montalto any the less a nice person who is easy to chat to and to get along with. He and I grew up on the same Sliema street, though not contemporarously, and our parents lived across the road from each other for 40 years. When he showed me his little girl for the first time at a Valletta coffee shop, the expression on his face was so ecstatic that I couldn’t help but be touched. The situation was none of my business, and I couldn’t be bothered about it.

But it is extraordinarily naive of him to think that what goes for a backbencher also goes for a parety leader. Two days before the last election, he told this newspaper how, while married to Doreen, he fell madly in love with another woman, with whom he then had a child. He described how, at his father’s recent funeral, the two women took up the offertory together “as a sign of solidarity”.

It wasn’t the fact that they did this that I found so deeply extraordinary, so much as his need to tell everybody about it in a newspaper interview on the eve of a general election. I felt the traditional urge to make the sign of the cross in disbelief. This is not the behaviour of a potential prime minister. Sorry, John, but somebody had to say it, and it’s quite obvious that in the Labour Party, nobody will, because when it comes to their leaders, truly anything goes. Even if you make it to the leadership, John, the people will never allow you to become prime minister.

Anglu Farrugia is as deeply unsuitable, but for very different reasons. I haven’t a clue what his romantic life is like, though I imagine tat it is not as thrilling as John’s. He is hindered instead by his days as a police inspector in the dark and awful times of Lawrence Pullicino. Anglu Farrugia can always say now, as others have done before him throughout history, that he was just following orders.

The decent man he makes himself out to be, however, would have packed up his lunchbox and left or, if he feared starvation and joblessness, would have stayed on and kept himself inconspicuous and out of the more unpleasant areas of the workings of the regime through its ‘police’ force.

That Anglu Farrugia can have made it so far in his party is already evidence of the absolute absence of quality control in its systems. If he makes it to leader (which is well nigh impossible), then truly Labour hasn’t a hope in hell of reinventing itself in the garb of decency and respectability.

The first time I saw Anglu Farrugia, I was one of three 19-year-old girls he had had arrested on 11 trumped-up charges, including that of assaulting a very large police officer. He had us locked in dark and dirty cells for almost two days. He refused to contact our parents. He refused us access to a lawyer. He threatened me during interrogations. He lied to me. He told me that he had photographs of me attacking police officers, and I told him innocently that he must be mistaken, because I hadn’t attacked anyone, and the photographs must be of somebody who looks like me.

He had me dragged out of my cell in the small hours of the night, put in front of me a statement that he had written, and told me to sign it.

The statement was full of lies, a confession to crimes so absurd that, if I hadn’t been so frightened and worried, I would have laughed out loud in his face. He told me that he would only let me go if I signed it, so I did.

In those days, you didn’t cite chapter and verse of the law, because one man had already come out of there dead in the boot of a car, and others had been so badly beaten they had to be hospitalised.

Outside the then dreaded gates of the Floriana lock-up I found my father, who had been there day and night asking for me, ageing 10 years in the process. Somewhere in a cupboard, there is an 11-page judgement handed down by Magistrate David Scicluna, condemning in the harshest terms possible the actions of Anglu Farrugia and his colleagues, the methods they used to obtain my ‘confession’ (which Inspector Farrugia had invented and written himself) and declaring it invalid and worthless – this after I testified in great detail as to what had happened.

I mention this case because it is my own, and I can speak about it with absolute certainty as to the facts. There are newspaper cuttings and court documents that record it. There are probably others who underwent similar ordeals, and who are now looking at the posturing of the would-be Labour leader and thinking to themselves ‘Him as leader? Him as prime minister? Come off it! How low can this country possibly sink!”

A man cannot become prime minister when on public record there is a magisterial condemnation of him for the ill-treatment of a 19-year-old girl illegally kept in police custody, and for threatening her into signing a false ‘confession’, full of absurd lies, that he himself had written.

Forget it, Dr Farrugia, you’re history already. It may be a case of anything goes in today’s Labour Party, but on a nationwide scale, the situation is not quite the same.

This article was published in The Malta Independent on 15 May 2003.

23 Comments Comment

  1. hasn’t reported this landmark case yet. They’re caught between a rock and a hard place, because their natural instinct would be to side with you against Anglu Farrugia, but they don’t want to do that now, do they?

    Instead they’re reporting how Consuelo Herrera’s brother lashed out at the Commission for going into the private lives of the judiciary. How convenient.

    • maryanne says:

      This is from the report you quoted:

      “the judiciary had a tradition of entertaining people”

      “The Labour MP also recalled how the former pre-war Chief Justice Sir Arturo Mercieca had purchased a huge house close to the British Governor’s home, apparently in a bid to compete on the social circuit by hosting regular, lavish parties.”

      “My father had also bought a big house in St. Vincent Street in Sliema, and used to host regular dinner parties,” he added. “But why should the Commission ever have to delve into the social lives of the members of judiciary?” Herrera asked.”

      What is going to happen when Dr Herrera becomes a minister?

      [Daphne – He’ll make it mandatory for judges and magistrates to buy big houses and throw parties once a month. And he’ll do the same himself, and invite his drug-dealing clients over. Or maybe he’ll just keep them at arm’s length and see them at the office, as he does now – in the capacity of legal advice.]

  2. John Schembri says:

    “boot of a car” you meant ‘car booth’.

    [Daphne -Oddly enough, John, it’s car boot. I used to make the same mistake.]

  3. dudu says:

    Hi daphne, when I recently suggested that you write a book about your experiences of those years this is what I meant.

  4. Rover says:

    Anglu Farrugia is a remnant of a fascist police force that treated Maltese citzens in the most dreadful and inhuman ways. Every time we see a picture of that man, many of us relive awful memories of a disgusting era in the history of the police force. Those were the days of murder, beatings, frame-ups and forced confessions at police headquarters and he was a part of it.

    The thought that he might one day represent my country is beyond belief.

  5. woman from the south says:

    I was there at 12 protesting against the closure of our schools. We sat down in a line and I still remember the police, dragging the girls who refused to get up. Horrible, horrible memories.

    • Fridge says:

      And when Daphne was in court in 1984 following her arrest, a protest was held in Republic Street and was attended by a large number of people, many of them students.

      Some of the words on the posters they held up were:

      Jidher il-qorti kull min hu hati

      Djalogu irridu, mhux ligijiet tal-gungla

      Gustizzja ghal kulhadd

      Malta kolla tghid grazzi l-istudenti

  6. R Camilleri says:

    Daphne, why didn’t you use the judgement of Magistrate David Scicluna as proof of your story in this court case? That judgement would have proved beyond doubt that your story is the right one.

    [Daphne – I did.]

    • Mario Bean says:

      But still the biased magistrate (senior magistrate, if you please) ignored all this. And since when do our courts quote Cardinal Bagnasco? This is new to me even though I’m not quite conversant with legalities.

      Every person in Malta knows what used to happen 30 years ago, EXCEPT this honourable magistrate.

    • Court expert says:

      Mario Bean, you raise a valid point about Cardinal Bagnasco. Is the Cardinal a new authority on freedom of expression?

  7. ciccio2010 says:

    So according to the magistrate who handed down the judgement today, Anglu Farrugia can be the leader of the Labour Party and Malta’s future prime minister?

  8. Dem-ON says:

    Given the choice between Alfred Sant, Anglu and JAM as presented above, I would have had no problem supporting JAM for the leadership of the Labour Party.

    In so far as his remarks about the miniskirt and his extra-marital story, they would only have helped make of him another Silvio Berlusconi.

    As for having him as PM – that is another story.

  9. gianni says:

    Daphne, who were the other girls that were arrested that evening. Their statements can be of utmost importance.

    [Daphne – We were held separately.The point at issue here is not whether or not I was arrested, but the conditions in which I was kept. The person who was held in the cell next to mine did testify.]

    • M. says:

      The “prelat” mentioned in today’s judgement as having been assaulted/attacked/whatever by Daphne – a Patri Mudest – had, if I recall correctly, testified quite clearly back in 1984 that it was not Daphne who attacked him, but an old woman (“wahda xiha”).

  10. interested bystander says:

    “Somewhere in a cupboard, there is an 11-page judgement handed down by Magistrate David Scicluna, condemning in the harshest terms possible the actions of Anglu Farrugia and his colleagues”

    Please dig this out and let us read it.

  11. PR says:

    It is a shame, Daphne, that you have been convicted of criminal defamation and fined, for writing this article. It is a sad day for journalism and for freedom of the press (and of expression) in Malta.

    If it was your word against his, why did the magistrate conclude that your version was false? Put in the context of what took place during interrogations in those years, every impartial person would conclude that yours is the true version of what took place.

    Tell us – did Anglu Farrugia take the witness stand in this libel case, and did he deny interrogating you and writing your “confession”? I look forward to the appeal(s).

    [Daphne – Yes, he lied under oath. These people seem to take their oaths very lightly: track record so far – Jason Micallef, Consuelo Herrera, Anglu Farrugia.]

  12. The e2 80 98anything goes e2 80 99 party.. Amazing :)

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