Just before the last election, the Labour Party promised that if re-elected the best was yet to come. It certainly delivered… for Labour. The party never had it so good and, yes, the man responsible for that is Joseph Muscat, who has been at the helm since exactly 10 years ago today.
His electoral success has been astounding and the latest survey by Maltatoday still puts him at the very top with 52.6 per cent approval, leaving the Opposition leader way behind. After decades in the doldrums, Dr Muscat brought the Labour Party to a level not dreamt of by his last successful predecessor, Dom Mintoff.
Dr Muscat learnt from his party’s past mistakes and went a step further. Rather than alienating the Nationalist Party’s support base, he reached out to them with astounding success.
Naturally, Dr Muscat had some factors in his favour when he took over Labour. He exploited the internal strife within the ageing PN in government, even rewarding the most troublesome people when in office. But the most significant issue that set his style was his position on the divorce referendum. His stand in favour of divorce placed him on the right side of Nationalist voters while his party ostensibly stood aloof to appease the most conservative elements in its rank and file. The PN was shattered after that referendum.
Dr Muscat played this same game with his civil rights agenda, targeting the gay community, appealing to the liberal Nationalist voter. Ironically, his whole strategy has been to appease the Nationalist voter and they are still grateful for what he has done. He concurrently did all the necessary bridge-building with the private sector, not that it was ever alienated by Labour, but the PN had been their natural home. All that is now history. They are happy with Labour’s economic policy, especially the building industry and big developers. It looks easier to do business now, at the expense of the country’s heritage, rural and urban.
To achieve all this, Dr Muscat had to abandon the socialism of old. He pays lip service to the working class but nothing much more. His target is the “new middle class” he wants to create, whatever that means, unless it is the nouveau riche that boomed under his guidance.
Having upset and distorted the old class-based division between the Labour and Nationalist parties, Dr Muscat has radically changed the political landscape and the biggest loser has been the PN.
Former Nationalist leader Simon Busuttil tried to draw a distinction, emphasising good governance as his platform but that did not sell. His successor sometimes veers to the left. It is really an instinctive thing for Adrian Delia to do, given that the extreme capitalism Labour introduced is leaving quite a few by the wayside.
The biggest and most preoccupying factor in this new political world is public sensitivity to good governance and corruption. The endless series of scandals has had no impact on the electorate or on Dr Muscat. People seem to accept political patronage and are more than prepared to close an eye, or two, to the degenerate state that politics, governance and power itself have been reduced to.
That corrupt state of mind in the country, like the successes, are Dr Muscat’s own doing.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial