Together Gibraltar Candidate Selection
By Mark Montegriffo
Together Gibraltar are in the process of selecting their candidates for this year's general election. The process, however, may be alien to some voters. Usually, in Gibraltar, candidates are screened through by the executive. It would've made little sense for a new party sloganeering on enhancing democracy and grassroots engagement to do things the old way. This small week and a half long process has implications, explicitly and implicitly, for our democracy, and the voting doesn't even finish until Wednesday night.
Last year in American politics, we saw unprecedented engagement in the mid term elections, largely as a rebuttal to President Trump. But it was also a fundamental paradigm shift in terms of party politics. Both parties have, for the longest time, basically resembled each other, much like Blair's Labour Party and the Conservatives from Thatcher to the 2010 coalition government. The Trump administration's corruption, racism and sexism provoked a reaction from the Democratic base that had been a long time coming. 2018 was dubbed ‘year of the women’ in reference to the record-breaking intake of women, particularly in the House of Representatives, many of whom defeated established veteran male politicians in primary voting. These women and people of colour energised voters on representation, healthcare, and racial, gender, and wealth inequality. It was a truly paradigm shifting election, and primaries were the route. The Democratic Party now looks different, and is beginning to act differently.
When your political institutions are comprised of homogenous groups, you’ll get results that, first and foremost, benefit or secure the power of that group. It is a natural compulsion of power to hold onto it, while limiting the access to power for others outside of the group. But it is a compulsion that is an enemy of democracy. The status quo is maintained, not because it suits everybody as a general rule, but because it suits those who do the maintaining of the status quo in their legislating and in their politics. Only when it suits the class with power will they advocate for a change in the status quo, a fact for which Prime Minister Boris Johnson provides proof.
If the status quo is that lawyers who are white and male are ‘gente de peso’, and therefore rated for political careers, then your political institutions will be comprised of those people. The lawyers will trade press release until kingdom come, and no substantive change will be initiated; just bigger plaques and (hopefully) better drinks at ceremonies on the Sunborn. There is no incentive to have open primaries to widen democratic engagement so that if you’re not invited into the party’s inner circle, you can get your voice heard fairly. There is no incentive to address the housing crisis, where families in the Moroccan community live in shacks in the upper town, while the elite class buy up apartment space that they mostly leave empty. There is no incentive to fix our economic system, where it is cheaper in relative terms to be a rich man than to be a middle- or working-class mother.
It may take a great amount of pressure and perhaps a stroke of luck, but the established parties should now realise the incentive of internal open primaries. In a jurisdiction with a parliament of two female MPs out of seventeen, Together Gibraltar has six female candidates out of the fourteen running campaigns in their primary. There are people of colour, and representation from members of the LGBT+ community. There’s a spread of representation from the working-class and middle-class. Already, the Together Gibraltar slate looks more like Gibraltar, and less like the staff of a corporate law firm. When a primary list represents Gibraltar’s diversity more than its actual parliament, it is time to raise real questions about the way our politics has been conducted, structurally as well as practically.
It has been a refrain of many female candidates from across the pond that “it’s hard to be what you can’t see”. The increase of female representation will only encourage more women to see political office as something that women can do, likewise with all other underrepresented groups. This is absolutely crucial in a place where these inequalities have not been confronted.
But that’s only half of it. Because our political institutions are self-reflecting, when the institutions start to look like all of us, there is more of a chance that they’ll start to act for all of us. Since the days of the Together Gibraltar movement with their public meetings and their messaging, it would have been easy to see this as a small and obvious step they would take. The consequences, however, have the potential of adding to the paradigm shift that we are seeing in our politics through debates on reproductive rights, housing, and other structural injustices that are now finally being challenged, front and centre. Enfranchising and bringing people into politics ought to be the soul of a democracy, and only that way will there be an opportunity for transformative change in our society and economy; moving it from looking and sounding like a corporate law firm, and more like the people of Gibraltar.