In launching Together Gibraltar yesterday, Independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon insisted: “This is a movement, it’s not a party.”
In a packed room in the group’s new offices on Main Street, she explained that the aim of the initiative was to provide a platform for community participation and political engagement.
Together Gibraltar wants to defuse the “aggression” in local politics that is “slowing down the progress of this community”. It will deliver, she insisted, “a revolution in politics in Gibraltar”, one that cuts through the existing “perverse partisan dichotomy”. The word party, Hassan Nahon said, was too “authoritarian” for her liking and conjured up images of “a grey-suited barristocracy”.
There was a discernible sense of collective endeavour in 230 Main Street yesterday afternoon, youthful in spirit and, to a great extent, in age too.
You could easily draw parallels with some of the grassroots movements that have developed into viable political forces in other countries. Podemos springs to mind.
It would also be easy, however, to dismiss the whole thing as student politics, but that would be unfair. Whether you are convinced by the concept of a movement or not, Hassan Nahon is passionate about effecting change and broadening political discussion in Gibraltar. That is a goal that must be respected.
But in the long term, can it be effective? Without a solid plan to put people in Parliament, what are the movement’s goals? At present, Together Gibraltar has a voice in Parliament in the form of Hassan Nahon. Without that parliamentary seat, would it not be just another pressure group?
Yesterday Hassan Nahon was asked repeatedly whether there were plans for a Together Gibraltar line-up at the next general election. She would not commit one way or another.
It ultimately depends on what the members decide, she said. It was embryonic. There may be a transition to a more formal party structure and candidates, but it was too soon to say. She would only lead if that is what people wanted, Hassan Nahon added. She side-stepped a question as to whether she would stand as an independent if no one chose to join her.
It was all somewhat vague. The problem is, most people would expect more clarity and firm policies from a fledgling political project.
Some of Together Gibraltar’s specific ideas – its progressive views on cannabis, for example – may alienate some voters. But in broad terms, few will argue with the group’s core principles, which include promoting unity, participation, democracy and transparency. It is pretty much what any self-respecting party would put on the first page of its constitution. Hassan Nahon’s view that party politics in Gibraltar is often toxic will resonate widely too.
Only time will tell whether these green shoots can be nurtured into something offering a viable parliamentary alternative to what is currently on offer.
One thing is clear though: Marlene Hassan Nahon knows how to rattle a political cage.
She has proved persistent in asking awkward questions in and out of Parliament. She does not take sides, meting out praise and criticism to both sides of the House as necessary. People like that.
She also has a thick skin. At the last session of Parliament, she barely flinched as Joe Bossano laid into her over a question on employment. “She doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about,” Bossano said, accusing her of displaying “an unprecedented level of ignorance” for asking questions he insisted either had no substance or had already been answered.
When a political heavyweight like Bossano tears into you like that, you know you are doing something right. It is much worse to be ignored. But Bossano also had a point. Sometimes, Hassan Nahon’s questions are off mark, perhaps a symptom that, until now, she has largely been a one woman show. If her movement gains traction, she may have more time and expert support to help sharpen her questions.
The sentiment that drives Hassan Nahon is a genuine concern for this community, and that cannot be faked. If she and her core supporters succeed in rallying more people to their cause, they may yet be able to fashion something tangible out of this nebulous movement concept.
If not, in the run-up to the next election, Hassan Nahon will have to ponder where her future lies.