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  1. Newstatesman Gibraltar
27 October 2015

Labour must work with Gibraltar – This Rock is not for turning

As Gibraltar prepares for an exciting general election with clear and definable differences between the main parties such as co-education, energy facilities and transparency of public finances; she must vote on the party She feels is more likely to represent them on the 'grandest stage of them all' – the talks between Gibraltar, Spain and Britain. Mark Montegriffo offers his view.

By Mark E Montegriffo

With the recent developments in the UK and Jeremy Corbyn’s rise as Labour leader, there has been a political movement that has captured the minds of the young and disillusioned; a movement that has taken my university campus in Manchester by storm. Coincidentally, people recall his comments on the Daily Politics where alluded to leasing back Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands. This has been met by criticism from both autonomous nations,. It represented a false notion that postcolonialism and Gibraltarians’ and Falkland Islanders’ particular self-determination wishes were contradictory. This has led to a small but vocal alienation of the British left among Gibraltarian/British patriots.

But with a new revival of the Left in Europe, including Podemos in Spain which promises to end the populist scapegoating of Gibraltar in Spanish politics and respect Gibraltar’s position in the talks, we should embrace this surge and clear up any misconceptions that might compromise the Rock’s position. The point should be made that our right to this self-determining voice and a path for deciding Gibraltar’s future that is set by the inhabiting citizens does not, and should not, contradict left-wing politics.

“We absolutely as the Labour Party uphold the right of the people of Gibraltar to self-determination, because there is a natural hunger, a thirst on the part of human kind to be able to take decisions about how we live and how we run society and how we deal with problems that we face and how we fulfil our aspirations for a better future. It is what has motivated people throughout human history and the Labour Party and the Labour movement has been at the forefront, both in the fight against colonialism and in the modern age to support people who are trying to resolve their differences not by guns but by argument.”

These were pronouncements made by the Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn at the UK Labour Party Conference this autumn. Some may dismiss that as empty rhetoric that could have easily been uttered by a Conservative MP, others as an example of Gibraltar’s just cause and support. However, it is not always been the case that the Labour Party, when in Number 10 or otherwise, hold on to these left-wing ideals that are so obvious to many people living in Gibraltar. In last year’s pre-European election piece by Dominique Searle, the irony of this is explained in a valid and detailed manner, which goes beyond the New Labour joint-sovereignty debacle. There has never been an unabashedly right-wing Government in Gibraltar. While the reasons for this are a combination of factors, the result is that to survive as a political party, you must portray yourself as, at the very least, centre-left.

There is no reason why Gibraltar should not see the affinity with left-wing civil movements in Europe, including the most recent ongoing grass roots Labour movement, and seek to make Gibraltar’s position known unequivocally rather than submit to off-the-cuff statements that do not fully apply the principle of self-determination to the unique nature of Gibraltar’s justified political ambition. The Gibraltarian identity, to a large part, arose from the roots of civilian trade unionism and political rights for the ‘colonised’ to eventually have autonomous sovereignty over Gibraltar in what ever self-determined form it chooses. This postcolonial struggle was one of many in the world, but it is unique in various ways; as you can read in my piece on the AACR.

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Perhaps this is why there has, even at vital times, been a fundamental contradiction to the way the Left has read the issues of parts of the Commonwealth, most notably Gibraltar and the Falklands. But this does not mean that there is no progress to be made with the left.

The core values that relate to and justify Gibraltar’s position are based in the Left rather than in what has become the posturing and sound-biting Right, who could have easily taken the New Labour route under Blair and attempt to by-pass Gibraltar’s voice in diplomatic talks if they wanted to purvey a ‘good European image’ as Blair did (indeed, the quote on Blair and Europe goes: ‘he came in as a tiger…and out as a doormat’). It is just up to Gibraltar to be pro-active and persistent. These two Ps brought about the fall of the joint-sovereignty proposals and they can now bring a renewed hope in improving the relationship between Gibraltar and the Labour Party.