I can bet that practically no-one remembers what the headlines were this time last week. Nor can anyone recall any feature or researched articles appearing in the newspapers. As for Malta’s hosting the prime ministers of EU countries – well, all we can think of is their popping over for a couple of pastizzi with the Prime Minister and the subsequent social media storm.
That’s right – the mega-nontroversy that eclipsed all other news last weekend revolved round pastizzi and the totally misplaced comments of the PN Council president Ann Fenech.
Pastizzigate is a trivial, twitterstorm affair, but it still reveals a lot about protagonists on the local political scene. First, the Prime Minister. Once again he’s emerged as a politician with an eye for a good media opportunity with minimal effort. Whether these sorties are staged or not, they still manage to put him in the spotlight as a confident, nonchalant politician at ease with his European peers.
It may have been this air of casual confidence which attracted the irritated reaction of Fenech. Betraying a complete lack of self-awareness and about the ways in which her message would be perceived, she opined that taking visiting politicians to eat pastizzi was “common and crude”. In doing so she revealed that she was not in sync with the public, which no longer prizes pomp and ceremony and actually resents politicians being elevated or distant from the masses.
Fenech’s faux pas was rendered even worse by her attempt at damage limitation and a visit to the same outlet she had derided as common and crude. The thing about these twitterstorms and social media outrage is that they have a very short lifespan. Once they reach peak outrage, they peter out and are forgotten. By fanning the dying embers of this particular viral outrage, Fenech gave it life once more.
It’s no biggie in the grand scheme of things but it reveals an embarrassing ineptness with the medium. This is the case with the whole party. The PN is all over the place with its many exponents shooting their mouth off about a multitude of messages and reacting to events, rather than setting the agenda. If a minor affair such as this can send the whole party off-kilter, it does not augur well for greater controversies.
The PN is all over the place with its many exponents shooting their mouth off about a multitude of messages and reacting to events, rather than setting the agenda
Neither does the fact that the public can go overboard about a throwaway remark while not being able to sustain the same degree of outrage at some of the truly obscene decisions being taken by the government. While witty hashtags, memes and online outrage may be amusing and attention-grabbing, they cannot replace sustained activism and opposition to questionable government practices.
■ And while we’re talking about suspicious decisions, just last week, we learnt that Sai Mizzi’s €13,000-a-month posting will be extended. Barring the fact that she is Minister Konrad Mizzi’s wife, there is little to indicate why she is exclusively competent for the post. There is even less evidence of any attempt at overseeing or ensuring any performance objective. It seems that no appraisal forms are available to journalists or to the public.
This would not be tolerated in any other democratic country. In France, the electoral prospects of presidential contender François Fillon have been seriously dented after his wife was accused of receiving some €500,000 for a fictitious job as his parliamentary aide.
The cases are similar, with both involving political spouses put on the public payroll at considerable expense with no discernible benefit to the country. And yet, Fillon’s reputation is severely damaged as the public is shunning him. Back here, Mizzi is still safely ensconced as a Labour favourite despite having scored the undesirable hat-trick of having a secret Panama company, having a wife generously employed by the State and presiding over approximately the same number of power outages as we had 30 years ago.
Now, this is something that should be firing up Labour supporters. This is an issue that highlights the divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. This is where we see the lucky few being given positions of trust while others struggle to make ends meet.
We shouldn’t be satisfied with hashtags. #NousnesommespasSaiMizzi# is not enough.