Mintoff was born in Bormla. He attended a seminary before enrolling at the University of Malta. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science and, later, as an architect and civil engineer (1937). That same year he received a Rhodes Scholarship and pursued his studies at Hertford College, Oxford, where he received a Masters in Science and Engineering in 1939. After a brief stint as an official of the Bormla Labour Party club, Mintoff was Labour’s Secretary General between 1935 and 1945 (resigning briefly to pursue his studies abroad). He was first elected to public office in 1945 to the Government Council. In the same year, Mintoff was elected Deputy Leader of the Party with a wide margin that placed him in an indisputable position as the successor, if not a challenger, to the Leader Paul Boffa. After Labour’s victory at the polls in 1947, Mintoff was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works and Reconstruction, overseeing large post-War public projects.
Mintoff’s strong position and ambition led to a series of Cabinet crises. A split in the Labour Party came about when Boffa, who was ready for compromise and moderation with the colonial authorities, resigned and formed the Malta Workers Party and Mintoff refounded the Labour Party as the “Malta Labour Party” of which he assumed leadership. The split resulted in the weakening of both parties and it was not until 1955 after remaining out of government for three consecutive legislatures, that the Labour Party was elected in office with Mintoff as Prime Minister. This government’s main political platform – integration with the UK – led to a deterioration of the Party’s relations with the Catholic Church, leading to interdiction by the Church. The Labour Party lost the subsequent two elections in 1962 and 1966 and boycotted the Independence celebrations in 1964.
For the 1981 elections, the opposition Nationalist Party, reinvigorated with a new leader, looked set for a serious challenge to Mintoff. In fact, in that election, the Partit Nazzjonalista managed an absolute majority of votes, but probably[weasel words] gerrymandered districts meant that it managed only 31 seats to the Labour Party’s 34. Mintoff said that he would not be ready to govern in such conditions and hinted that he would call for fresh elections within six months. However, this was not to be: Mintoff eventually accepted the President’s invitation to form a government. This led to a political crisis whose effects continued through much of the 1980s, as well as increasing political violence in the street such as the Black Monday incident.
Mintoff resigned as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party in 1984, while retaining his Parliamentary seat and remaining a government backbencher. He was succeeded by Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici. Mintoff was instrumental in convincing his parliamentary colleagues to support constitutional amendments ensuring a parliamentary majority for the party achieving an absolute majority of votes. A repeat of 1981 was thus avoided, and the Partit Nazzjonalista went on to win the 1987 elections. The Labour Party went into opposition for the first time in sixteen years. He successfully contested the 1987, 1992 and 1996 elections. However, there was a growing rift between Mintoff, seen as Old Labour, and Alfred Sant, the new Labour Leader. Things came to a head in 1998 when the Labour government was negotiating the lease of sealine to be developed in a yacht marina in Birgu. Mintoff eventually voted against the government’s motion which was defeated. The President, acting on Prime Minister Sant’s advice dissolved Parliament and elections were held. This was the first time, since the war, that Mintoff’s name was not on the ballot paper and the Malta Labour Party lost heavily.
Since retiring from parliamentary politics, Mintoff’s involvement in public life was only occasional. He made some appearances in the referendum campaign on Malta’s membership to the EU and, with Alfred Sant being replaced in 2008, some rapproachment with Labour was made. Mintoff was married to Moyra de Vere Bentinck from 1947 until her death in 1997. He met her during his studies in Oxford. The couple had two daughters, Anne and Yana. Mintoff was taken to hospital in July 2012. He was later discharged and spent his 96th birthday at home where he died on 20 August. He was given a state funeral by the Government of Malta on 25 August.
- August, 06, 1916
- Bormla, Malta
- August, 20, 2012
- Tarxien, Malta
- Santa Maria Addolorata Cemetery
- Southern Harbour, Malta