In several comments responding to my last article 'The vain and the infantile' I was taken to task by some readers for criticising just about everyone but somehow staying clear from Joseph Muscat.
While I remain indebted to those who choose to follow and engage with my blog—whether they agree with me or not—I do find this “complaint” rather odd, as in my previous entry, 'Fiscal conservatives and a dormant opposition' I chose to offer readers a critique of the PM’s political approach to the economy in view of his interview with Il Foglio.
Admittedly I do stay away from personalising matters and rather than criticise them I prefer to critique Dr Busuttil’s or Dr Muscat’s politics. More so I remind my readers that this blog was never intended to be the voice of a politician, but that of an academic who, having published his thoughts on Maltese politics together with Kenneth Wain in 'Democracy Without Confession' (Allied, 2013), and having sustained several conversations with other academics in the media, was invited to contribute to this blog.
So here I would like to react to some of the questions posed on Joseph Muscat’s leadership by offering some thoughts on what I would regard as the political gambles that current political leaders take.
When it comes to political gambling, there is always a known element of risk. However, the choices are conscious, just as the critique of such choices could take various forms. If we take the Konrad Mizzi case, the PM’s decision was a gamble that has stuck with him and seems to affect everything he does. So why doesn't he simply fire him?
If we take the Konrad Mizzi case, the PM’s decision was a gamble that has stuck with him and seems to affect everything he does. So why doesn't he simply fire him?
One explanation is external influence. This has two complexions. The first comes from the Opposition, implying that there is more to the story than meets the eye and somehow the PM is forced to keep Mizzi. The second is favoured by the Labour camp, where apart from those who simply trust the PM, others settle for such a gamble as a necessary risk that would pay off at some point.
A second explanation is pragmatic, where one could argue that the PM is taking a practical perspective, perhaps to keep the peace, perhaps to avoid splits in his party. So rather than tie his action to a sense of justice or retribution, the PM chose to go the managerial way and “contain” Mizzi because he sees him as an asset of sorts.
Not unlike his generation of politicians, in which I would dare include the leader of the opposition, Joseph Muscat is a politician who seeks to give primacy to economic efficiency and effective governance over and above everything else.
In Europe we have seen a crop of relatively young politicians who take similar gambles that seem to make no ideological sense but appear to come from managerial textbooks.
Both Blair’s and Cameron’s choices of ministers were never without controversy. They kept on ministers with a backdrop that was even more colourful than Panama. Likewise they often operated on impulse against all odds and advice. Often it worked but then they ran out of luck. While Blair’s gambling found its end in the Gulf War, Cameron’s ended with the EU referendum.
Another example is Matteo Renzi. Like Blair and Cameron, Renzi shares Muscat’s approach to politics. From what is being said and written about Renzi’s forthcoming constitutional referendum, this may well be his biggest gamble that will either make or destroy his political name.
Only history could tell how these gambles work in the long term. My view is that these politicians are too focused on issues of managing a political horizon that is compromised with an economic structure that they effectively do not want to challenge.
In terms of governance, the biggest problems with managerialism is that it creates tension between the functioning of the State (normally run by a neutral Civil Service) and those politicians who, in acting like managers, seriously compromise the State’s setup, thus leaving governance open to new forms of potential abuse.
In Malta this is reflected in the inordinate power held by Prime Ministers who often act as the Head of State, when in effect that should be the President. Likewise, since Independence the power of politicians gradually came to overpower the function of the Civil Service, resulting in a system that is still compromised by patronage and lobbies.
In my various posts in this blog, I have reiterated this critique of managerialism in the hope of shedding some light on the gambles that more recent Prime Ministers have taken — examples which keep coming up in the bickering between the PL and PN when they accuse each other of bad governance.
Does this mean we are stuck and that we are witnessing what some philosophers see as the end of politics? It all depends on how the public mood and the parties themselves would emerge in the next two years. At this stage I see Maltese politics as being stuck between a rock and a hard place where contradictions abound.
However, I do believe that if the leaders of both parties are willing to reason things out, they could well resolve the current impasse, which in my opinion is increasing polarisation. If matters degenerate it won’t be the 1960s or the 1980s, but it would be a nasty climate which could further distort the way we are developing our democracy over the coming years.
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