In 2012, the singer from Brikkuni lamented: “I wish the government collapses. I don’t wish for the Opposition to govern.” Many did not share that ambivalence at the time. Today, for many, that has changed.
Both parties will always retain a core support of several thousands for whom their flag can do no wrong. But the mood of the less committed majority is perceptibly turning.
There’s an ‘end of days’ smell wafting out of Joseph Muscat’s Camelot. News of an umpteenth criminal inquiry into the conduct of its ministers and senior political commissars last week continues to pile the pressure.
Their attempts, often successful, to control outcomes by stuffing institutions with their cronies gave them a false sense of security. They can’t control everything, and disappointments abound. As does fear that someone, somewhere will face consequences for wrongdoing. When that happens, resentments that bigger fish emerge scot free force angry smaller fish to speak up.
After Muscat’s dreams of an EU job were shattered, it now looks like Edward Scicluna’s exit plan is in grave danger. The European Parliament may not be too keen on endorsing a new Commissioner undergoing a criminal inquiry for crimes punishable by years in prison. The assurance that no politician ever sees the inside of a jail is hardly likely to appease them.
But trapped inside the prison of Malta’s Cabinet, that for Scicluna was a form of ante-chamber for the final chapter of his, as he sees it, stellar career, the tacit complicity with the likes of Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi is going to seem less rewarding for him now.
As they watch each other, their visions blurred by regret and recrimination, ministers watch Mizzi through squinting eyes. He continues to mistake their self-interested silence about the greed and corruption he presided over for genuine sympathy and support.
On the back of that mistake, he is lobbying, by all accounts in all seriousness, for the leadership of the Labour Party.
Mizzi’s Cabinet colleagues understand one thing clearly. The prospect of him becoming Labour leader is not as ridiculous as it should sound. Labour Party delegates are not quite as subtle as they are. They do mistake their self-interested silence for support.
If the Nationalist Party has blazed only one trail in the last three years, it’s the one that says that clowns, alleged crooks and upstarts, disliked and mistrusted by all top men of a political party, outsiders with a transparent agenda of self-interest, can become party leaders.
The less committed majority of the electorate may not be spending much time studying the detailed dynamics of these ‘end of days’. But that does not mean they don’t perceive them.
A year ago Labour campaigned on the moronic mantra that we were living ‘the best of times’. The opiates of easy money and easy charm were still conditioning the reaction of people and a positively Panglossian slogan that should not have worked, did.
Malta’s infatuation with Labour is over. This seven-year itch could prove very serious indeed
Last week Muscat said everybody’s quality of life had improved. It was a more timid version of the “l-aqwa żmien” chant. But people choked on their coffee lined with a thin film of fine dust settled from the cloud over next door’s demolition project and specked with soot from the faster traffic on the highway outside that has just replaced the street they used to live on.
It isn’t even a case of winning some and losing others. Construction magnates who profited from Labour’s ‘policy’ of demolishing bricks and precasting concrete are experiencing a downturn, and after the rapid, dizzying rise of the last five years, the fall they face is steep and devastating.
They too feel resentments and recriminations. Their self-interested silence over corrupt deals that some among them profited from is proving unrewarding as they all now go down together.
Malta’s infatuation with Labour is over. This seven-year itch could prove very serious indeed.
This is why the Nationalist Party has the responsibility to ditch Adrian Delia and the tinpot regime that has taken over Malta’s Opposition like a paunched, moustachioed general of a banana republic.
It is not going to be easy. Even now it seems unlikely that the PN will manage to conduct and survive non-anaesthetised surgery on itself and carve out this tumour that has grown over its eyes and ears.
The manipulation of the voting base that is happening is undoubted but unspoken. Activists remain too embarrassed to admit that the party that has secured free and fair elections in Malta in 1987 cannot hold internal free and fair elections in 2019. Hiding that problem prevents them from addressing it.
Intimidation and bullying are systematic. Party stalwarts are habitually shouted down into silence, sometimes fear. Habitual drug abusers, gamblers, bullies and thugs form a posse of praetorian guards who growl from behind the gates of party headquarters, filtering out those for whom life is too short to have to brave down bullies merely for the unrewarding pleasure of volunteering in political life.
But even so, the admirable few who stood up to this mess and forced on Delia ‒ kicking and screaming ‒ a secret ballot on a confidence vote on his leadership have given the party an opportunity to save itself.
Look, people who tell the Nationalist Party that it must unite if it ever is going to win are not wrong.
Though unity is essential, it is by no means the only ingredient required. Your cake batter has to have the right consistency but your cake will still kill you if your smooth, velvety and emulsified batter is made with arsenic instead of flour.
Take an outsider’s view for a change. Imagine the Labour Party as united as it appears today but with Konrad Mizzi as party leader. His core supporters and party delegates may love him. But you can see his colleagues won’t work for him. And you can see that that transparent, greedy, leery look he has will never win the support of the country’s majority in an election. Mizzi doesn’t see it. His fans don’t see it. But you can.
And you can see that uniting around the wrong candidate is just the surefire formula for electoral disaster.
The PN must unite. But it must first replace its leader, rethink its approach to policy, flush out the methods of fear and bullying, re-engage with its traditional support base, recruit a revitalised front bench, re-gig its priorities, revitalise its core values, restructure its finances and start walking in the general direction that the people have a right to expect.
The reality is that the people who least perceive the crumbling of the foundations in the Labour Party edifice are the people now running the Nationalist Party. They are too busy obsessing about their own survival to remember their job is to secure that seemingly unlikeliest of outcomes: changing the lyrics on that 2012 Brikkuni song.
The Nationalist Party must change itself because the country needs it to. This week it may have a very last opportunity to live up to that need.
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