It’s been a bad week for politicians bleeding to death in public places. Last Sunday two nasty-looking men turned their whips on the mayor of Tarxien and flogged him to ribbons. Not one of several hundred onlookers lifted a finger to help him. He ended up a bloodied pulp right there on the main street of his own village.
The following day, the Opposition committed hara-kiri outside Parliament, in full public view. Not only did people not rush in to help them, the sacrifice took place to a chorus of jeers and insults.
I’m told that the boos all but drowned out the elaborate sound system set up in St George’s Square. And that’s not counting the Facebook and the various other instruments of lynching.
I have no problem with homosexual parenthood, adoptive or otherwise. But I do realise that the issue is far from straightforward. It is not by chance that both legislation and public opinion are so varied across different European countries (it helps to be parochial in this case) on this one.
It is therefore not fair to portray the Opposition as some kind of homophobic dinosaur. But that’s hardly the point here. What I found striking was the way the whole matter was mishandled.
First, the choreography. Simon Busuttil was foolish to keep us guessing until the last minute and then to hold a press conference a few metres away from a gathering street party. There were a hundred times as many people on the square on Monday night as there were at the presidential damp squib two weeks ago. It was a kind of local gay-rights Tahrir. Fine time and venue to make public announcements on fine-line reservations (‘more studies required’, but seriously) and abstentions.
Second, the political implications. If Mario de Marco’s body language was anything to go by, it wasn’t exactly a ritual suicide by unanimous decision. The last time I saw such dark clouds cross a politician’s face was when George Vella sat next to a ‘victorious’ Alfred Sant at the press conference that followed the EU referendum.
I doubt the abstention was Busuttil’s wish, whatever he might say. Word is that the hard-liners (no prizes for guessing the names) left him with no other option. Which is not much of a consolation. On the contrary, it shows that there are problems within the Nationalist Party that are far from resolved.
A year ago, I wrote in this column that the party’s disastrous performance in the general election should properly have led to bloodletting and rolling heads. We are now seeing the results of the contrived peace. The Nationalist Party is hobbled by its internal and irreconcilable differences.
Joseph Muscat can now go on to talk about the Enlightenment and Mandela and Martin Luther King and whatnot, without sounding too daft. He can also convincingly put forward a claim to a considerable chunk of the ‘European values’ ground formerly occupied by the pro-EU Nationalist Party. I’d bet every cent I have that at least three-fourths of those who booed themselves hoarse last Monday voted for EU membership in 2003.
Third, the catastrophic misreading of public opinion. The Opposition made the mistake of telling the time by looking at a stopped clock. We’ve been told ad nauseam that 80 per cent of Maltese are against homosexual parenthood.
Let’s say the survey figures are accurate (which I doubt). What that means is that, when pressed to do so by a faceless someone at the other end of a phone line, most Maltese people will take a position against parenthood by hypothetical homosexuals.
What it doesn’t mean is that they would normally bother to do so, or that they would think ill of the nice lesbian couple living next door whose children join their friends to wait for the school van every morning. I’m saying that surveys of this type aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, let alone an abstention on an important Parliamentary vote by an entire Opposition.
But there’s a more fundamental point. It is a prime example of rubbish thinking to say that the Maltese are a conservative people. It’s a collective mirage made up of a thousand cliches as well as false notions of a small island left behind to its Mediterranean timelessness by a fast-moving world.
I doubt the abstention was Simon Busuttil’s wish, whatever he might say
Only as a rule the Maltese are anything but conservative. There are a few pockets of fuddy-duddies here and there but they tend to be reactionary more than anything else. Nor is the superficial rhetoric of nostalgia anything to go by. Simply put, the population is by and large too practical-minded to entertain conservative thought and action in any sustained or sophisticated way.
It may sound bonkers to say this of a country in which divorce was legalised in 2011. But the introduction of divorce only served to regularise something that already existed. We had even found a means, in due course perfected to a fine art, by which it was possible to remarry in Church no less. The point is that the absence of divorce never stopped anyone from living as they pleased.
The standard Maltese way of dealing with a tree that bears no fruit is to uproot it and plant a new one. It simply doesn’t work to try to convince a gardener that a tree may have ornamental or sentimental value, or that a garden is not just about production. And should the opportunity to ‘re-develop’ come up, the whole garden with all its productive new trees will be bulldozed out of history entirely, dry eyes all round.
It is clear that homosexual parenthood exists and is here to stay. It is quite useless to say that homosexual relationships are sterile by nature. If nature had had its way, I should right now be unable to see my computer screen. But here I am wearing a contraption on my nose and able to type away quite happily. Which is nice.
The standard Maltese way of dealing with real living homosexual parents and would-be parents is to live and let live. When all else fails, the magic word ‘insomma’ can be relied on to dispel any grand conceptual misgivings.
It seems to me that one of the secrets of Muscat’s success is that he is himself eminently practical-minded. That makes him perfectly suited for the job as Prime Minister of the Maltese, survey or no survey.