A week ago a photograph appeared in the Gibraltar media. It showed the leader of Gibraltar’s Liberal Party, Dr Joseph Garcia, sitting down with the deputy leader of the UK’s Lib Dems, Simon Hughes. They say every picture tells a story and the real story here wasn’t they’d had a chat after the memorial service for the former Mayor of Southwark, Hilary Wines, which they did, but that the Gibraltar Liberal is a key member of that party internationally.
They say you are getting old when the policemen on the beat start to look young. Well I first met Dr Joseph Garcia many years ago and he was young and I wasn’t that old. Now I have entered “maturity” and Gibraltar’s Liberal Leader still looks and indeed is young. However looks can be deceiving and despite his youth over the years he has made a mark not only for his party within the Liberal International organisation but also amongst fellow Lib Dems in the UK.
I asked the Lib Dem Euro MP for Gibraltar, Graham Watson, for his estimation of the Rock’s Liberal leader. He told me: “Joseph is well known locally for his work for Liberalism in Gibraltar; but many on the Rock are unaware of his important contribution to wider Liberal efforts - in the UK Lib Dems, in the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party and worldwide through the Liberal International.”
Indeed they are not. Not only has Dr Joseph steered what was a small Gibraltar party in to a strong coalition partnership with the GSLP but in so doing he has seen his personal standing and that of the Liberals rise considerably on the Rock’s political barometer. His name always charts amongst those naming who they would prefer as a chief minister. He has maintained his party’s identity and integrity yet worked in a close partnership with that wily old fox of a politician Joe Bossano. I am sure his success in Gibraltar is studied by thinking Lib Dems in the UK on how to enter and sustain a coalition without loosing your credibility or selling your soul.
At the next Gibraltar general election, whenever that may be, he will co-lead the GSLP – Liberal coalition in to battle with probably Fabian Picardo at his side. Yet it wouldn’t matter if it was Picardo or Bossano because whoever fights for the GSLP will have as their partner the best connected politician in Gibraltar.
I have no doubt Joe Bossano has a little red book but the names in it are probably Old Labour warriors like him. In Dr Joseph’s little black book are the names and numbers of the British Deputy Prime Minister, Lib Dem cabinet colleagues and the top Liberals world-wide.
I don’t know if the chief minister has a little contact book – all I’ve heard is that he’s a dab hand at throwing the telephone directory at people who incur his wrath. I am sure Simon Hughes isn’t in it as he went out of his way to meet as many people on his visit to Gibraltar, but the chief minister wasn’t one of them. I wonder why? I also suspect, I may be wrong, the chief minister doesn’t have the private number of David Cameron or come to that of the UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague.
You can imagine the scene at Chez-Hague. The phone rings – Ffion get that for me will you – it’s who? – Peter? Peter who? – Caruana? – posh but foreign, he’s not Libyan is he? – Gibraltar – oh, Caruana, oh tell him I’m busy – very busy - I’m practicing judo with my male assistant!
(An edited version of the above appeared in Panorama on Monday March 7 2011)