Christian tradition gave the Good Thief a name, St Dismas. The Catholic Church celebrates his feast tomorrow week, on the eve of the general election. We became a post-Christian country some time ago but perhaps historians will mark this year as the watershed moment.

No, it won’t be because Joe Debono Grech, the former Labour minister, likened this government to Dismas, openly acknowledging that Labour is corrupt while claiming that ordinary people get something out of it – for which he was publicly applauded by a cabinet minister.

It will be because the Church let pass that gross distortion of its own scripture and social teaching. Dismas is the ‘good’ thief because he publicly repented. He didn’t crow about his exploits.

As for sharing some bread crusts while you raid public coffers and live the high life, the Gospel has different parables about that, none positive. If the scriptural teaching on justice and solidarity is going to be politicised, for cheap barbs, then the Church should loudly clarify what its social teaching on the common good is.

At least, the Church has a vibrant Justice and Peace Commission with a real vision of the common good and national unity. (Alas, it has a faint voice that the Church leaders don’t amplify.) The main political parties don’t have a vision. Just look at their respective programmes.

They have plenty of piecemeal initiatives. Some of them good. Others are worthy of a local council election, not a national one. Most are waffle. The Nationalist Party’s proposals for new economic sectors do show a grasp of the cutting edge of the new economy while Labour gawks at what’s already old hat.

A vision, however, is based on having a sense of constraints, what’s going on around you, what you want to prevent as well as where you’d like to go. It’s based on the trade-offs you’re willing to make.

A strategy without a plan is just a dream. And what we get are dreams.

Did I say plan? Labour’s programme boasts of introducing “planned planning” (ippjanar bil-ħsieb). Understandable, given how they’ve planned so far.

“Planned planning” means a skyline policy and “discussions” on having firm boundaries on ODZ. The political party that proclaims it’s the future is promising what we had – at least, had much more of – a decade ago.

Did I say constraints? Labour’s foreign policy section begins by proclaiming (pledge 975): “We believe our country’s small size shouldn’t be limiting.” What? Not at all? You mean we can be Godzilla if we could only rid ourselves of that neo-colonial inferiority complex?

Of course, we’ve all heard of punching above your weight. But that means knowing your weight. We’ve heard of the strengths of small size but that means knowing the weaknesses.

Did I say trade-offs? Labour asserts that Malta is still a bridge of peace in the Mediterranean. Really? While we’re a hub of gun-running to Libya?

A strategy without a plan is just a dream. And what we get are dreams- Ranier Fsadni

At least, Labour mentions the Arab world. If the PN programme says anything about it, I must have missed it. It makes no difference. In both programmes, the real world is only mentioned as a magical forest of economic opportunities – a hunter gatherer’s paradise – or a marketplace where our diplomats go to get the best deals for, as Labour puts it, “the families of Malta and Gozo”.

That is, apparently, what the EU and the UN are for. If you have no internationalist vision of a world of states and global institutions, and what kind of world and regional governance suits Malta best, what else do you need them for, except for funds and opt-outs?

The PN does have a clearer sense of global economic giants and their impact on Malta. Its programme has several proposals on how Malta can become a strategic commercial partner. But this is as much of a blind spot. It limits the understanding of the digital age to a corporatist one.

It’s a corporatist understanding of our possibilities. The PN promises a “new social pact”, by guaranteeing adequate wages. But the world beckoning us from the near future calls for a new pact that covers guarantees against a political and cultural takeover by big tech; the promotion of open-source production across a range of domains; a pact that permits schools to develop distinctly different identities; and a pact guaranteeing patients far more dignity and personalised care than they have now.

Of course, each of these pacts is a moonshot. It requires a recognition of the current limitations, trade-offs and a political determination to tackle vested interests.

The PN steers clear from controversy but, at least, alludes to parts of the bigger picture. Labour gets delirious on its own rhetoric, minor details and deflections from the real issues.

Pledge 904 literally promises a national strategy “against corruption and integrity”. Yes, you read that right. Even better: that strategy will be produced by an inter-ministerial effort, that is, the very same people guilty, according to the auditor general, of gross maladministration and probable corruption.

Pledge 287 promises to develop a mobile app that will tell ramblers which land is public. That way, the next time you stare down the barrel of a hunter’s gun, and your life flashes by, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing it was a life well-lived on the right side of zoning history.

The future is not a government that develops mobile apps or one that interferes in whether schools give homework. Nor is it one where a government’s awareness of public-private partnerships dwarfs its awareness of other partnerships.

Then again, maybe this isn’t that kind of general election. Maybe the critical choice boils down to discerning who can clean up the filth and who can’t afford to.


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