Comment posted on Times Blogs

I’m off. Late (as usual). ETA – 10p.m. Meanwhile I left this comment on two Times blogs (to be safe) at around 3am last night. I left it on the Bocca one called “Eddy Eddy” and then left the same on Fr Borg’s latest post (I intended to add a note to moderator to remove the one on the Bocca blog but the comment shot away before I had any time). Anyways, thought I’d better publish it here just in case, like two previous comments on Bocca’s blog… it fails to appear.

***

“The situation is desperate not because there are only two parties to choose from, but because it’s Hobson’s choice: one party to choose from.” It’s worse than that Daphne. The theme of “disenfranchisement” departs just from that very position. If anything good comes out of this election it’s the realisation of the mess we are in. A “choice” of one party based on the “lesser evil” principle is worse than the proverbial Hobson’s choice – if that concept can exist. The whole principle behind voting in a parliamentary democracy lies in being able to vote for a party of choice. Between lack of viable options and the “wasted vote” effect of electoral reforms we are left with NO choice. Even if I align myself with the safety voters who go for PN (as many will), the message is loud and clear for all those who care about the future… a radical reform is needed and it is needed now.

Reform the parties and reform the system returning it to one of legitimacy, accountability and good governance for the good of our children. The current mechanism of yes-men-ocracy will not get us very far.

The short term aim of electing the safest government will not be an antidote to many problems for very long. What discussion are we willing to start about the real change that is needed? Who will be discussing the viability of coalitions, proportional representation and the re-enfranchisement of the people?

Definitely not a PN, MLP or for what it may matter a coalition government comfortable with a system that has once again served its ends and is comfortably ensconced for another five year term of ignoring the will of the people.

The future is not theirs to take but ours to make. It’s up to us all at the end of the day.

****

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9 responses to “Comment posted on Times Blogs

  1. While I agree with you that party reform is needed, I must also point out that reform is most desperately needed in Labour, which has navel-gazed for the last 40-odd years. I can’t understand how doing something that returns to power this unreformed Labour Party with its failed leader will force it to reform. It will have the opposite effect of ensuring that it stays the way it is.

    J’accuse comment: Party reform is needed everywhere. That is my point. That there is a lot of work to do on both sides does not mean that there is not more to do on the labour side. We need to rebuild the walls and retile the roof. We can’t just say that one needs doing more than the other. Otherwise the whole house remains in peril. The house being the nation in this hurriedly constructed metaphor.

  2. Daphne, how will returning the PN in government ensures that it will reform and and does not stay the way it is? Will it not have the opposite effect?

  3. David Friggieri

    And here’s the gist of the comment I left on Borg Cardona’s blog.

    Daphne argues that another good reason for voting PN is this: if Labour is hammered at the polls, the much-needed reform of the MLP is likely to take place. But surely this only works as an argument if a real revolution rips through Labour. Considering how many personal interests are involved, that’s quite unlikely. Which means that in 5 years time with Evarist Bartolo/Anglu Farrugia/Joe Muscat in the hot seat, Daphne will still be arguing that a vote for the PN is the only responsible way to vote (as she puts it).

    While we wait for the unlikely revolution to unfold, independent thinkers are right to question the status quo and to agitate for change. AD has played a crucial role in all this and deserves respect on that basis. It IS justified to refuse to choose between the religious right on one side and total cynicism on teh other.

  4. Dear J’accuse: wrote the following but don’t have a blog myself to put it on. Would appreciate it if you could carry it as a comment; if not, thanks anyway, nice blog. Regards, Rick

    The Green Voter’s Guide to Election ’08

    I have decided to vote in this year’s election mainly on the basis of which Party has the best and most credible environmental policy.

    There are many like me – mostly young, able to make up our own minds, with no party allegiance. We don’t like to be told what to do. And we form a key block of votes. We have the power to swing this election one way or the other.

    We’ll use that power well.

    I feel comfortable putting the environment at the centre of my choice. We live on a couple of tiny islands bursting at the seams with 400,000 people, constantly in eachother’s faces and spaces. The way we manage our land, our air, our sea, is key to our health, our sanity, and our economic well-being.

    Voting to ensure the best possible environmental outcome requires a cool and clinical comparison of what the different parties have to offer. That’s what I set out to do in this article.

    But before I begin there’s an important question that needs to be answered.
    Now that we’re EU members aren’t there environmental guarantees in place that should give us peace of mind whoever is in government?

    It’s true that EU membership gives us powerful new tools in the fight to improve the environment. Minimum standards that have to be met; funds that can be put to good use; and a new level of ‘appeal’ if you like, where we can seek redress when our government is letting us down.

    But is this enough? Do we just sit back and hope that whoever is in government will manage to achieve those minimum targets, with the possibility of heavy fines if it fails? What about our own priorities? Funds don’t come easily: they have to be applied and competed for by people with vision, energy and competence. As for the possibility of redress offered by the EU, it is very useful to be able to reverse a mistake made by government action several years after the fact; but how much better would it be to have a government that gets it right in the first place?

    EU membership didn’t stop the mounds of rubbish taking over the streets of Naples after decades of mismanagement. True, the EU helped shame the Italian authorities into at last dealing with the issue. But it’s not how we should aspire to do things.
    EU membership is very useful, even vital, if we’re to make environmental progress. But it can never be a substitute for a government with the right vision, commitment and competence.

    So. What do the parties have to offer?

    My heart pulls me towards the Green Party, AD. Promising start – ‘Our Environment’, perhaps not surprisingly, is Chapter 1 of their manifesto. The vision described in two paragraphs is one of an Alternattiva Environment Minister in a coalition government putting the environment at the centre of the national agenda. There follow six bulleted proposals: break-up of MEPA and parliamentary approval of its Boards; local referenda on all projects that require an EIA; respect for EU legislation and the spring hunting ban; repeal of last year’s extension of the development zone; public access to public land/shores; and an animal protection law.

    I turn the page for more, but the document moves on to other things. That’s it.
    I have several problems with this. First, and most glaringly, the lack of substance. I don’t necessarily have a problem with most of the six proposals, with the definite exception of the populist local referenda pledge. This could be very counterproductive for the environment – what happens when we need to get a new waste management facility through, or some other nationally needed development? This is the absurd elevation of NIMBYism to national policy.

    But if, for whatever reason, you have decided to limit yourself to 6 bullet points on the environment, are these the ones that are going to turn everything around? Is it enough to say ‘we’ll put the environment first’, without offering any real new idea of how you’ll set about it? There is a lack of imagination, a lack of vision, a smallness of thinking that is very disappointing to me. And I find it staggering that a Green Party in 2008 doesn’t mention the words ‘climate change’ or ‘sustainable development’ even once in its manifesto. On the other hand it refers to the ‘Coalition Government’ it wants to form 17 times in 16 pages.

    This will sound harsh, because its true they’ve been badly treated by the system; but it seems that AD’s long quest for power has made it lose sight of the original reason for its existence – the environment.

    Secondly, I have a tactical problem with what Alternattiva is saying here. I’m afraid I don’t share their confidence that they’ll manage to get enough votes in a single district to elect an MP. Not yet, not even close. I’m just as pissed off as anyone else at the bullying tone of everyone who keeps on shouting that a vote for AD is a wasted vote. But I’m voting with my head here – if they’re not going to get into at least a coalition government, then a vote for them doesn’t get me very far.

    For the sake of argument, however, lets imagine for a moment that they do elect an MP, that they’re invited to join a coalition, and that they exact their price of nominating the environment Minister. Would this really be a good outcome for the environment? Even if we accept that despite the poor manifesto there is some substance somewhere, an environment Minister is only as good as the cooperation he can extract from other Ministers – agriculture, transport, finance, industry, health, education, investment. In this case, and put very crudely, all these Ministers would know that a successful environmental record for the Government means kudos and votes for a political opponent at the next elections. And there’s no way they can be bullied into cooperating by a junior coalition partner.

    AN I won’t waste time with. Their opportunistic position on hunting and the fact that a major contractor is co-pilot is enough to turn me away. Let alone the rest of their programme.

    What about the Labour Party? If my heart pulled me towards AD, my head is full of anxious hope as I turn to Labour’s manifesto. Unlike AD this is a Party that in a couple of weeks time could hold the key to our environment’s future.

    The first impression is not encouraging. After a hefty chapter on the economy, the Party’s environmental policy is addressed as the 13th sub-heading of the second chapter, just after sports and culture. Seventeen bullet points in random order, with no overarching framework or narrative to hold them together, and pitched at a level of generality that tells you nothing. For example:
    ‘We will manage better our bays and sandy beaches’ – How? With what objectives? What targets? What tools?
    ‘We will give priority to agricultural land in the strategy for environmental management’ – Priority over what, land in its natural state? To what end? With what legal instruments?
    ‘We will incentivise the use of alternative energy, especially solar and wind energy’ – This has been on the agenda for years, and is now required by EU law. But how are you going to do it? What bright ideas are there to take this forward?

    Some of the bullet points would be welcome if implemented – investment in more scrubbing technology at the power stations, collection of separated waste, protection of valleys – but there is nothing here to indicate that there is any serious thinking behind all this.

    The environment is treated as one among many sectoral policies, as it was in the seventies and eighties. There is no conception that the environment is an overarching issue, and that environmental objectives need to be followed in every sector. The words ‘sustainable development’ barely feature in the entire document. Bullet point 17 does deal with climate change – they will start a process that will lead to a plan. That’s all right then.

    The Labour position on the surcharge I find reprehensible. For the first time ever we have recently started realising that energy comes at a cost, and we are slowly changing our behaviour accordingly. We’re still far away from paying the real cost of energy, but at least we’re moving closer to reality. And labour wants to reverse that process. They want to send the opposite message – that the free ride can continue. This is plain wrong, and it’s dangerous. The ride is not free – we just pay a much higher price in other ways.

    Oh, and by the way – two golf courses, one of them in Gozo.

    Nothing for us here, folks. Long, long way to go.

    What about the Nationalists? Here my feeling as I open the manifesto is basically one of scepticism. It’s true they delivered EU membership, introducing by the back door the environmental tools I mentioned earlier. But they simply haven’t done enough for the environment.

    It’s little comfort that they acknowledge this in their manifesto. Saying you didn’t do enough is a start – but what really interests me is what they are going to do about it given the chance.

    Environment is the stated overall priority, the first substantive chapter after a ‘who we are’ section. The narrative is a clever one. The first term of the Gonzi government prioritised the financial deficit; given a second term it would prioritise the ‘environmental deficit’ and put the environment at the centre of the political agenda. The Prime Minister has pledged to take personal control of the process, in the way he did with the public finances.

    On substance, it lists three priorities, with a section on each: the state of the national environment; energy, including renewable energy and climate change; and the strengthening of public environmental administration.

    It generally manages to tick all the main boxes: protection of the natural environment, sustainable use of resources, waste management strategy moved to next level, air, land and sea pollution to European levels, emission reductions, engagement of the private sector and of citizens in the fight against climate change, better dialogue with NGO’s, and better enforcement.

    While covering a broad range of issues, many of these points are made at a fairly general level. But there are some good concrete ideas too. Earmarked funds and massive investment in clean energy. Incentives for citizens to invest in renewable energy and sell the excess to the grid. A car registration tax based on the polluter pays principle. Local laws with binding targets to reduce fossil fuels and replace with renewables. A firm commitment to green public procurement. A new environmental mandate for the MCESD. A ‘countryside fund’ to buy back ODZ land and restore it to its natural state for public benefit.

    It’s the only one of the three manifestos that clearly acknowledges the grave threat to Malta’s future posed by climate change, and puts the fight against it at the heart of its policy.

    And this time round – no golf course.

    While it could of course be better, on substance I have to admit it is by far the strongest of the three programmes.

    But why should I believe them, when I feel they could have done so much more in the past? That’s the tough question. There’s one element that I have to take seriously: never before has a Prime Minister tied his own, personal credibility to his Government’s environmental performance.

    He says he’ll do it himself personally, and he knows that if he fails, he’s toast.

    Earlier I worried that an AD environment Minister, as junior coalition partner, would not be able to cajole his cabinet colleagues into a good environmental performance. Who is better placed to bully his Ministers than a PM?

    This particular PM did it on public spending. Maybe he can do it on the environment.

    So that’s my scorecard for the parties. AD is disappointingly weak on substance and strategically a dead-end for my vote. The Labour Party is stuck in an 80’s mindset, scarcely bothering even to pay lip service to the environment, and seriously retrograde in certain areas. And the Nationalists are talking the talk and staking their leader’s political survival on walking the walk.

    That’s my analysis. Make your own. Shut yourself in a room, far away from all the bluster and hype, put aside your emotions and calmly make up your own mind.
    We do have the power.

  5. A sensible person without hang-ups – what a relief. Rick’s analysis is EXACTLY how I reached my conclusions about all parties in this election, and not just on matters of the environment either. Rational thinking can only draw you to the same conclusion. To achieve a rational objective, you have to use rational means. Voting for AD and hoping for the best is irrational, if you have concrete, rational objectives. Unless, of course, your concrete, (ir)rational objective is a seat for AD in parliament as an end in itself, and hang the consequences.

    David and Rupert: both major parties need reform. It’s a matter of deciding which one is more desperately in need of it, and then acting accordingly. It’s also a matter of assessing the parties for signs of willingness to reform. The Labour Party shows absolutely none (it has kept the same leader through three electoral losses) and seems genuinely unable to understand what the contemporary world is all about. The Nationalist Party moves and morphs with the times, and is quick to pick up signals from the public: hence the PM taking over responsibility for the environment, with all the risks to his personal credibility that this entails, as pointed out by Rick. The Labour Party, on the other hand, doesn’t change. It just makes opportunistic gestures that lead to more confusion.

  6. Rick has reached his conclusion that the environment is better protected partly on the grounds that the PM inspires confidence and that he has done well in dealing with the financial deficit. His intention to takeover MEPA reform should inspire confidence because he will be toast if he does not deliver. However this would be credible if it was being said by someone who had not been in power for the last 4 and a half years. Gonzi was in office during this time, he oversaw the allocation of ministries, appointments of MEPA boards (direct appointments by the PM) even after 6 damning reports about a particular appointee had been made. He was the PM to okay the extension of the development zones despite public outcry. So he was in the know AND in a position to change things and he did not. Squeezing into green gear comes rather late in today.
    – As for AD’s environmental policies – they are not the ones contained in the 6 point priority list mentioned by Rick. They are extensive policy documents on alternative energy, climate change and fuels on the website. Some of the suggestions they had made have been taken up by the PM last week.

  7. The more I read, the more I’m convinced I should vote AD. How could this country be so gullible. After all environmental fiascos Gonzi is trying to buy people promising change, and supply a couple of light saving bulbs. OOOOps and some swallow the bait with the whole hook and vote for him. I don’t think that on the whole Maltese people are stupid, far from that, but politically this country is extremely immature.

    Regarding the change in Mepa, Gonzi is promising that he takes it into his hands. Apart from the obvious question: why not before?, has anyone noticed the stupid tactics of George Pullicino?
    How could a Minister for the environment redeem himself for letting contractors destroy our precious little island with tactics such as eating an organically grown apple (or whatever) with a smile, running with children at maghtab, planting trees etc. Does he realise that he is a politician and not a farmer, PE teacher or gardner.

    I honestly wish Maltese voters stop and think before they put their vote in the ballot box. Realize that they cannot be bought with a couple of trees and lightbulbs, which are after all bought through the taxes we law abiding citizens have paid.

  8. Victor Laiviera

    Strange that Daphne says that reform is most needed in Labour when, in fact, it is the only party that HAS reformed itself.

    The PN, on the other hand, is still, at heart, the same party of special interests that it has been ever since it’s birth. And what better indication of this can you have than seeing Parl Sec Tonio Fenech splurging tens of thousands of ewro from the Good Causes fund on commercial enterprises when there are so many genuine good causes in dire need of funds? And Lawrence Gonzi not only condoned this obscene misuse of public funds but declared openly that they have every intention of continuing to so so.

  9. @Robert

    Up to some time ago, I used to think that the undecided or those voting the smaller parties were the more intelligent ones who would not be taken for a ride by the larger parties. Now I’m starting to rethink that. I know undecided people who have now made up their minds because of Dr. Mangion’s “racist” comment. I would like to believe, like you, that the voters deciding the election are the more intelligent ones. Time will tell.

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