Being the unelected leader of Gibraltar’s main opposition party will not hinder his goal of revitalising the GSD, Keith Azopardi said, while acknowledging the “disadvantage” of not being able to hold the Gibraltar Government directly to account in Parliament.
Mr Azopardi is not an elected MP and has appointed Elliott Phillips to lead the party in Parliament. As a result, the Gibraltar Government and the Governor have indicated they will regard Mr Phillips as the Leader of the Opposition when formal precedence requires his presence at official functions.
That has prompted questions as to who is actually leading the GSD, but Mr Azopardi appears unfazed.
In an interview with the Chronicle, the new GSD leader said he would rather spend his time lobbying on behalf of members of the community in respect of issues that matter to them than attending formal functions.
“If what it means is that I’m going to get less invitations to a few cocktail parties, I probably would welcome it,” he said.
“I’m more interested in dealing with health, with housing, with educational opportunities.”
“I’m more interested in going to see someone’s house that may have a damp problem and trying to sort it out for them by lobbying the relevant authorities.”
“I’m not interested in whether the Governor sends me an invitation or doesn’t send me an invitation.”
Mr Azopardi, who became the new leader of the Gibraltar Social Democrats last week having secured more than 60% of total votes from across the party’s executive and its members, has described himself as the “de facto Leader of the Opposition” because he heads the main opposition party.
“Clearly I lead the GSD and clearly Elliott is subordinate in that sense,” he explained.
He said it is therefore “a bit of a nonsense” to tussle over whether Mr Phillips is or is not the Leader of the Opposition.
“I don’t want to play games on the issue, if the Government want to play games on the issue, if somebody else wants to play games on the issue I’m not interested, because what I think people are interested in is not who leads the party in Parliament, but whether we talk about the issues that matter to people.”
Mr Azopardi nonetheless conceded that not being in Parliament deprived him of the opportunity to hold the government directly to account in that forum.
“That is the only disadvantage that I see of not being in parliament,” he said.
During the leadership election he called on party members to choose the candidate who could go into the next election and debate with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
“From the voters’ perspective they need to see the two options side-by-side, and they do at election time, and then make a decision as to who should be the next government,” he said.
FULL STORY IN TODAY’S PRINT AND E-EDITIONS