The premiership of Robert Abela solemnly set sail to the ring of a quote by his father: “He is his own man”. The risk of looking otherwise all the time was foremost on the Abelas’ minds. The signals Abela gave were mixed though. After his first sunrise as a party leader, he was at his predecessor’s home posing for Joseph Muscat’s instagram account. The catchword for the party constituency that chose him was ‘continuity’.
That was easily decipherable code for the Labour Party having nothing to regret, nothing to apologise for.
Let’s be fair to the man. It was not all continuity. There was some timid flirtation with change when Chris Cardona and Konrad Mizzi were left out of the cabinet.
Abela would soon discover that simultaneously pleasing his party’s critics and his party’s core supporters would be an impossible feat. Even for him. The problem with supporters of the Labour Party is that they’re not merely after the good health of the political party they support and the country they live in. Politics in this country is fuelled by Schadenfreude. It is the humiliation of the Nationalists that your garden variety Labour supporter must feed on.
Even the mere thought of a call from the opposing party being heeded by their own is anathema. Abela anticipated this. He hoped last January he could get away with allowing Cardona to stay on as party deputy leader and together with Mizzi to remain a Labour MP.
When the mud they were sinking in had reached their eyes he needed to push them out of the party altogether.
While Abela kept them in the party, he lost the cautious respect of people who wanted to give him a chance. By acting at all, he angered Labour Party supporters who now see him as weak in the face of street protesters, indistinguishable in the eyes of the undiscerning One TV viewer from the Big Nationalist Conspiracy.
It’s hard to find an accurate translation of the specific meaning of “ma npaxxuhomx” when it is used in the local political context. It literally means one should not act in a way that gives pleasure to the enemy. That does not merely mean ‘let us not harm ourselves in a way that gives our enemy advantage’. It means rather that ‘we should let our wounds fester, because if we were to dress them, we’d be pleasing the enemy into thinking they inflicted them on us’.
It is the humiliation of the Nationalists that your garden variety Labour supporter must feed on
The Nationalist Party has been having quite a bit of this in the last two years or so. Party supporters understand as much as anyone the pathological inadequacy of Adrian Delia.
They perceive it more than most because nostalgia for the half century that preceded him comes easy to them. But many would not admit their dim views of the present party boss aloud. They would chide people who do, because they would be pleasing Labour – tpaxxihom – by even acknowledging that their opposition’s captain cannot tell his left political shoe from his right.
This knowing loyalty committed to an agreed fiction that is adopted as an official party truth divorces supporters from objective reality by an ever-wider wedge.
Consider the four years that went by between the discovery of Mizzi’s Panama secrets and his removal from the Labour Party. Over that long period of time, Labour supporters went on a journey with their idols through a fantasy world of witch-bloggers, power-hungry PN-flag waving liars and treasonous protesters. And through that universe beset by dangers and evil-doers, their famousest of hobbits Joseph, Konrad, Keith and Chris, wobbled across the scorched landscape, dodging dangers and marching heroically and tragically towards socialist bliss.
The point is that these Labour Party supporters did not spend four years giving Mizzi the benefit of the doubt, which is bonkers enough.
They spent four years sympathising with him, convincing themselves he was being targeted with slander because he was about as capable at being a government minister as Muscat promised he would be.
The shock of his removal from the Labour Party this June comes from what they think is an unmitigated injustice. They shudder at the sight of Abela turning on Mizzi like Boromir lunging at one of the hobbits.
Abela doesn’t merely need the courage to oust his predecessor’s corrupt clan. He needs to convince their supporters, whom he fully expects to inherit wholesale as his own supporters that reality is nowhere near what they imagined it to be for the last seven years of their lives.
Reality is what the hated bloggers dead or alive, the international news organisations put to work under David Casa’s whip, the baby-eating Jason Azzopardi and the marauding barbarians shouting “ġustizzja” in the streets of Valletta said it was.
You know when it will really get tough? When it’s time for them to face the reality of the god of the false religion they’ve been practising since Alfred Sant called it a day; when it’s time for Abela to become his own man and tell Muscat’s supporters they had been following a crook, hopping to the tune of a pied piper leading them to oblivion.
That bar may prove so high that not even Abela’s muscles might manage to stretch up high enough to reach it.