More than 50 years ago, Roman Polanski made a film of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He gave a very specific gait to Donalbain, the minor role of murdered King Duncan’s younger son. In the play, the younger son flees to Ireland when his father is murdered and he’s heard from no more. His elder brother, Malcolm, returns from England to unseat the usurper who murdered their father. The play’s official happy ending is Malcolm’s crowning as king.

But, for Polanski, the story does not end there. Donalbain shows up at the end of the film, seen in silhouette, waddling up the same lane where Macbeth first met the weird sisters and the tragedy first started.

Polanski thinks there’s no happy ending in politics. Tragedy just starts all over again.

If there’s one lesson to be learnt from the mid-term elections we’ve had, it is that there is no such thing as invincible. The considerations the majority of voters make when deciding to retain or withhold support to the party or candidate they voted for in the previous elections may confound analysis.

Some of us thought Joseph Muscat’s government should not have survived the Panama Papers. Instead, in 2017, it won a bigger majority. Some of us, perhaps fewer, thought Robert Abela’s party should not have survived the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the resignation in disgrace of Muscat, but, in 2022, they won again.

Explain that. And explain why voters would change their mind now.

It would be narratively convenient to think the majority has had a Damascus experience, that they have finally made sense of it all and regretted supporting the Labour Party over the last decade. It would be poetically elegant to imagine that the scales fell from their eyes in time to see Muscat charged in court.

A majority is but a mathematical expression. There is no change in a hive’s attitude because there is no hive. Individual people have individual reasons to withhold their support or, in some cases, even to switch it. A few of those individuals, perhaps, have indeed come to some latter-day macro-political realisation. But it’s unlikely that anyone who did not till now care about systemic corruption and the coercive capture of our institutions by its perpetrators would have suddenly seen the light.

Some of those individuals had very specific reasons to withhold their support. You can pick those reasons up indirectly from the post-election rumblings of the Labour Party activists. “We need to treat our people better,” they say. Or, “it’s a shame that we take better care of Nationalists than of our guys”. Abela ventilates the smouldering mood. “Call me directly,” he urges recalcitrant voters. “Whatever civil servants have not given you, I’ll fix for you.”

Drop Abela from that description and, if you’re old enough to remember 2008, identical complaining could be heard among frustrated PN activists. “We need to treat our people better,” they said. Or, “it’s a shame we take better care of Labour supporters than of our guys”.

You get other similarities. The image of a united party, cohesive to the point of fanaticism, falls apart. In the years after 2008, John Dalli and Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando were bruised by evidence of wrongdoing. They compensated for their disgrace by turning on their party, which, they expected, as if by right, to cover for them.

The cracks in the Labour Party now run deeper

Muscat is getting his acolytes to serve exactly the same purpose, having Neville Gafà and Emmanuel Cuschieri and Jason Micallef chewing on the flesh around Abela’s shins, recruiting Labour Party supporters to the belief that the misfortunes of the party are not due to corruption but due to the party’s failure to defend it enough.

There’s another comparison that Dalli of 2008 vintage might fit in if you managed to keep his alleged corruption in a bag. A party veteran, a failed leadership candidate, a man who feels excluded before his time, nags at the party leadership, holding in his orbit satellites of disaffected politicians who also feel left in the cold. That’s Evarist Bartolo today, gifting his party uninvited and very public advice. It’s Cyrus Engerer. It’s still too raw for Chris Fearne to take up that role. Give him time.

The cracks in the Labour Party now run deeper. We’re getting ministers briefing against each other. We’re getting detailed leaks of the recriminations at the Labour Party leadership meetings like the live coverage we used to get when Adrian Delia was presiding at opposition HQ. We’re getting “Labour Party sources” describing ministers and party officials as “incompetent”, “distracted”, “disloyal”.

We’re getting an increasingly panicky Labour Party leader. That’s a major contrast with the impossibly poised Lawrence Gonzi who bore the slings and arrows flung at him by the traitors in his party’s midst with the dignity of a Christian fed to the lions. But the Nationalist Party’s internal divisions tested and defeated the dignity and poise of some of Gonzi’s colleagues and successors.

Abela’s “leadership” is now questioned by his colleagues who are putting on the sort of display that used to so amuse them in the opposition.

Two weeks ago, the Labour Party thought of itself as a perpetually victorious machine. Its supporters and detractors are equally stunned by the fickleness of voter behaviour. And just as flummoxed on what to do about it.

The Nationalist Party has found a new-found vigour, energised by a reversal of fortunes it looks just as surprised with as Labour.

Is that how it works? Does winning and losing just happen to political parties without regard to their effort or even their merits? It all feels crushed under futility and inevitability: that the fortunes and misfortunes of political parties have nothing to do with the quality of their policies or even the circumstances in which they function.

It feels like parties need do no more than wait their turn to win because that is as inevitable as it is that the time will come when they lose.

Thinking that, is Bernard Grech’s mistake to make. His test now will be to seize the wave that has come by him, and ride it like he meant it, win it like he planned it. The events of the last few days have taught him that the loyalty of activists and even of his closest colleagues is not entirely dependent on his abilities and how those abilities contribute to his successes of failures. But his abilities or lack of them are not indifferent to the final outcome either.

To win, he must look like he planned it. He needs to go get it like he believed it. And he needs to make the best of this opportunity before Donalbain limps up the hill again and it ends, as any political adventure always must, in tears.

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