This has not been Joseph Muscat’s best week, though it is impossible to know to what extent he is in trouble. Even his more loyal supporters are changing their tune.
It is not that he is in any danger of losing his grip on power. His planning over the past several years has taken into account all possible scenarios and it is as difficult to contemplate a world without him now as at any time before the US arrested his friend Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad and revealed his colourful past. But Muscat knows better than anyone that covering all his bases means taking into account a world without him as prime minister.
The pieces of the puzzle are coming together. The overarching narrative is taking shape. It is nothing that Daphne Caruana Galizia had not worked out for herself, and hinted at broadly in several of her writings. Taken as a body of work, her blog is a prescient thesis. She saw, before any of us realised what was happening, that Malta was being privately colonised.
And many have not yet realised how far it has come. The local trappings of power, and the charisma and popularity of our political leaders continue to give the misleading impression that Malta is still in control of its own affairs.
People speak of election results as an expression of popular will. But if voting is just a choice between the empty vessels that rule by interests other than the people’s, elections are mere beauty contests, not the democratic expressions they are touted to be.
When the British occupied India they had little interest in changing its customs and merely took control of those aspects that served their economic interests. Old titled Maharajas kept their palaces and their prestige and were allowed to govern and extract from their own lands what did not prejudice the economic interests of the real power behind their thrones.
That colonising power had no ideological foundation. There was no liberation or acculturation in the minds of the East India Company and later the India Office. This was a commercial enterprise supported by a State structure designed to prop up business and protect it. State interest and private interest were conflated. And private structures were set up to serve those interests: logistics and transportation, extraction, security and policing, all the while protecting the puppet kings and securing the extension of their authority.
People would be prepared to change their view of a leader who has allowed himself to be fooled
The commercial colonisation of India is, I argue, a good historical analogy for what is happening to pockets of Europe, including Malta.
Pilatus Bank, and Henley and Partners are profit-oriented interests driven by their owners. Ali Sadr, Christian Kaelin and others are motivated and driven by the wealth their business generates for them. And there will be others, as more light needs to be shed on the networks of influence currently operating in Malta.
In a world where profit is king, the bottom line legitimises everything else: if it makes money, then it must be right.
We therefore ignore the possibility that these individual commercial interests could be strands woven within a far greater, more complex and less obvious set of interests.
And like Maharajas under the British Raj, the political infrastructures of these European pockets – including Malta – subsist to support these less obvious interests.
Let’s take the example of the Caribbean islands, where Henley and Partners tried and tested its model. In its engagement with local political leaders – a process which Kaelin describes in altruistic terms of generosity, charity even – Henley and Partners have secured the privatisation of the ultimate function of the State.
It is one thing to sell an airport or a harbour; to privatise the post office, or even partner with private interests to enforce the law. It is altogether another thing to transfer to private ownership the abstract concept of citizenship, the essence of the State and the basis of a public community. And yet this is what they achieved.
In order to secure the sustainability of this initiative, the matter of whether citizenship should be sold cannot remain controversial. Political unanimity is required, and where this is not secured, continuity must be ensured by other means.
This is why Henley and Partners go beyond the actions of your average contractor in participating covertly but determinedly in the political reality of the countries in which they operate.
I am aware that before the 2017 elections, Henley and Partners attempted several times to secure meetings with the PN which, I am informed, were consistently declined.
Those attempts would have been intended to cover all bases. Their failure would have required alternatives to be found.
In this light the apparent immanence of the incumbent political regime looks a bit shakier. For as long as Joseph Muscat is a viable supporter of the commercial interests that are served by his authority, the wedding invitations will not stop flowing in. But the people who were smart enough to ensure he’d be there to let them operate their business, are smart enough to have planned for back-up if he somehow stumbles.
No one will be more acutely aware of that than he, knowing as he does what sort of influence these people wield and what sort of resources they command.
It is uncomfortable for him that this conversation is even being had. Although hundreds of thousands live in a Facebook bubble where alternative facts manufactured by the Labour Party’s engines are the only facts to be acknowledged, the same hundreds of thousands are no longer ignoring the noise trying to break into that bubble.
I do not expect this to lead to concrete change any time soon. No one should be getting too excited. But the idea that Muscat got himself entangled with bigger fish is gaining ground.
It is very hard for people to admit they have been fooled. Even if it is ever proven beyond any doubt that the sort of manipulative techniques used by Cambridge Analytica elsewhere were also applied here, few are going to admit, even to themselves, that without these sort of methods their vote would have gone elsewhere.
But more people would be prepared to change their view of a leader who has allowed himself to be fooled. More people would stop to think why their leader traded his freedom to exercise their will for the obligation to serve somebody else’s.
More people will feel increasingly annoyed at the realisation that the needs of plutocrats have trumped the interests of people who actually live here.
More people will be asking Muscat the uncomfortable question: who is the real boss?