This article appeared on The Malta Independent on Sunday (01.06.08)
This week saw a cloud of controversy cover the Labour leadership bid while a huge monsoon cloud covered the Duchy of Luxembourg. We alternated moments of stifling heat with incredible wet downpours overnight. A bit like the leadership race… but in a darker climate. So let’s see what happened.
“The Jaws of Victory”. Boy hasn’t this phrase been overplayed like some tacky Eurovision song. Labour snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and then commissioned a report to explain the whys and hows of such a phenomenal performance. It then broke new ground by releasing that very report to the general public – something its peers down the road in Pietà would never dream of doing. I had written that it would be advisable that such report should be available before the choice of leader is made and I am still convinced that this is the best way to go about a proper reform. The report itself was a pleasant (for the neutral reader of course – not for the suffering labourite) package of surprise after surprise. The frank description of most of the shortcomings of Labour could not have been predicted by any self-respecting pundit. It fell short of laying the blame squarely at the feet of the outgoing leader but read between the lines and you will see that nobody – and I mean nobody has come out unscathed.
Having said that, the report was never meant to be about people and only people. The mechanisms of a party were under scrutiny – and such scrutiny was incontrovertibly omnipresent. True, it may read of a list of grievances at time – or as Georg Sapiano condescendingly put it “a scrap book” of sorts – but for the first time a party’s shortcomings (alleged or otherwise) were laid bare for all to see. There is much more than laundry business going on though. The drafters pointed out deficiencies that go beyond the structural. One cannot but back the need of Labour (or any party) to be less defensive and more open to input from what the drafters called “intellectuals”. A Daniel at last – someone, somewhere is finally pointing out to Labour that it is not about “stil managerjali” or “gripe upon gripe”. Prospective leaders will ignore that idea at their peril.
Some blunders highlighted in the report were mind boggling. Foremost among these is the total absence of seriousness insofar as polls were concerned. For a party that has claimed to run on a managerial style for so long this was the pits. Later on during the week we would hear both Mangion and Falzon state that they were told that they would only have access to the polls if something went bad – surely at some point someone should have told them that it was not bad… it was terrible. A “neutral” observer would note that the party has been structured to run as an organ that has absolutely no interest for being a viable alternative but rather is almost sadistically satisfied with its role as eternal opposition so long as there are enough roles for all the boys within its structures. From the delegate to the Secretary General to the members of obscure committees dishing out permissions to speak the important thing is to be a “qaddej tal-partit” and know how bear the long running sufferance of “telfa, wara telfa“. Even if you set aside this obnoxious habit of thinking of politics in terms of some Champions League final – the total lack of direction when it comes to real alternatives of governance start to yell at you from the depths of the report.
The quibs and quarrels of the leadership race are temporal. The report will have a short term purpose in this respect, that of allowing leadership contenders to come up with practical solutions. Once the leadership issue is resolved though, it would be a very, very dumb move to shelve the report and allow it to gather dust. New labour needs to begin from somewhere – relying on the charisma(?) of a new leader might not be enough. It might actually be the final nail in the coffin.
A leadership bid is never going to be easy. Put five contestants into the arena and conditions are bound to turn nasty. Add to this the spicy ingredient of the party apparatchiks hanging on to the system for their dear life and you’ve got a very explosive concoction. As if that were not more than enough, the publication of the report seems to have acted as a very efficient catalyst and brought all the elements to light while we stand by and wait for the final eruption. A week in politics? Looks like we are aging pretty fast here.
Nul points to Alfred Mifsud. Not a leadership contender but an insider and a pundit. He started off pretty well coming up with the metaphor of the potential new dawn versus the possible era of darkness. As he sat at Bondiplus with the look of an undertaker presaging the dangers of an oncoming doom if the right choice were not made the man slipped and slipped again by insisting that Labour should put a lid on its near history. For heaven’s sake – isn’t that just what this whole exercise is not about? Learning from past errors is not exactly easy if you are eager to erase the history in which such errors are deeply embedded.
One man to come out with all guns a-blazing is Michael Falzon. Here was the real lion of change roaring against the absolute injustice of the report which he believed was purposely written to irreparably damage his leadership bid. There is much to be said in Falzon’s favour and his interpretations of parts of the report cannot be easily dismissed. His battle against the old elements of the party system is a refreshing breath of fresh air in any case – here was another candidate showing the credentials to bury the ideas of Sant’s structures. The danger for Falzon is that he has allowed his bid to be derailed by this very obstacle. This raises two problems. Firstly the fact that the majority of labour delegates seem to position themselves on the Old Labour side of the fence – not very good news for Falzon – who might end up criticising the very persons who he hopes will vote for him. Secondly Falzon now seems to be dedicating his time to battle the old front while not giving the positive aspects of his campaign much prominence. Six points from J’accuse.
Evarist Bartolo’s was a quiet week in comparison. His finest hour was a suggestion to amend the electoral laws for more clarity as to who has the right to vote. That such a discussion is long overdue is no secret. The rights of voters cannot remain at the mercy of the MLPN legal department. The infamous list of foreign voters (of which I form part) could easily have been decimated had the parties resumed their practice of challenging voters before the courts. Disenfranchising a numerous swipe of the electorate because one or the other party is unhappy with their performance is not exactly the right way to go. Like much of the electoral laws this will require revisiting – with democratic participation and representation firmly in mind. Three points from J’accuse here.
Of course the star of the show remains Joseph Muscat. The Martin Schultz blunder will haunt him for the rest of his candidature. What was Schultz thinking? What was Joseph thinking? Reactions to the endorsement were just as comical as the original invitation. Granted, Schultz had no business telling the Maltese who was best man for Labour leader. On the other hand the “indhil barrani” phenomenon raised its ugly head once again and we ignored the possibility of just registering the endorsement as a faux pas – that’s that. No. The other candidates had to protest with the PES (which sent in a ridiculous defence). Muscat had to reign in his other myriad endorsements while Coleiro showed us that she was a true Maltese by getting endorsements from the ghosts of government past – so they are ok aren’t they? The Old Labour mechanisms clicked into working with the efficiency of a blind and drunk civil servant. Soon they were attempting to dictate who could speak, where they could speak and what they could speak about. As if that where not enough they came up with the brilliant idea of telling Peppi Azzopardi how his program should run. And this from the opposition benches!! Nul points to Muscat and Coleiro.
The people at Triq Herbert Ganado must be thanking their lucky stars. With an opposition like this they will be in government when men, not just probes, land on Mars. The polls in favour of Gonzi’s team must be shooting up faster than a Mars bound probe. Speaking of polls. The TMIS survey could not have been clearer. The leadership candidate who enjoys the trust of the largest part of the electorate was and still is George Abela. Which is why the delegates will probably not choose him. The metaphor shooting oneself in the foot is barely enough to explain this monumental blunder that will probably be committed on June 5th or 6th. Labour has not yet stopped thinking in terms of the good of the party and cannot even begin to know what it means to think in terms of the good of the nation. Prepare for more “wasted votes” sagas come next elections as more and more electors fail to find a party they can trust. Nul points to the delegates. Like Morena, George Abela has been block voted out of a contest in which he never really was a competitor.
Alien vs Predator
One issue that came up in the report is the question of cliques. Labour risks falling apart because of internal strife caused by cliques. The early reactions to this issue include attempts at gagging differences within the party – with the comical results outlined above. The risk is that such measures do not only affect cliques but also factions – which is another story altogether. Factions are a healthy reality in many parties. They are a group of people pushing a particular political agenda for the party. Unlike cliques, faction members do not work purely out of self interest but in order to promote a set of policies or ideals. It is the clash of ideas between factions that can help a party grow. Killing of factions in order to eliminate cliques is like throwing away the wheat with the chaff. A clique is unhealthy because a clique strives to maintain power in the hands of a few – for the sake of power and only power. Whether it is two parties concocting agreements to keep out third entrants or a group of people striving to keep a stranglehold on a party, not much good can result.
Something(s) Completely Different
The big news this week remains the continuous climb of the price of oil. Just as consumer goods threaten to become more costly Bill Gates announced the contents of Windows 7 (early 2010). A big revolution lies ahead – the mouse is all but declared dead in favour of touch screen interaction. Which means throw away your old pc and buy a new one. If you can find money for it in between the constant rise of the cost of living. The World Bank is in the process of revising the poverty line – the revision will take into account changes since the last calculation in the early nineties. FIFA and the megalomaniac Blatter have voted for a 6+5 rule. They intend to force a team to play at least 6 homegrown players on the field. Expect a titanic battle with the European Commission. If Blatter wins expect Chelsea and Inter to dismantle and huge carcades to celebrate this event around the world. Don’t you dare call me a wet blanket!