a Joseph-centred analysis of the news in the past week
(three pills from the punditry diary)
Joseph Muscat marches on with his “Different Strokes” politics as the critics’ superficial warnings fall quickly on the wayside. It is not “Happy Days” yet though the cautious observer now has more material to analyse and more tangible facts to examine than the cornucopia of enthusiastic people-talk and corny imagery that had announced the new era of Labour politics.
the difference between Sant and Joseph on JPO
“What could have been” is called Sant Mark II. Joseph has chosen to take a wide berth from the negative vibes that made Alfred Sant’s style so irritatingly ineffective. Just take a quick look at the Sunday Times and notice how two of the three cartoons focused on JPO and his refusal to call it a day. It was not a raging Labour leader making the call but the “biased media” that supposedly favours all that is tinted in blue. They (the media) had waited for reports, declarations and the divulging of as much of the facts as possible in a political world. They seem to have reached a conclusion and with one voice called for the dentist cum journalist to do the decent thing.
Of course the calls for resignation are not couched in the same condescending terms as when addressing, for instance, the Labour delegates’ democratic choices but a call for resignation it was all the same. Interesting that Joseph has not taken up this baton (of urging JPO to resign). Interesting because one would not be wrong to assume that popular opinion has swung rather heavily towards the “JPO should resign” camp and there would have been some good political mileage to be had. Interesting because the principle behind the calls for resignation is a sound one too – the injecting of a culture of responsible politics is surely meant to be part of the Labour “revolution” and therefore Joseph’s moderate approach to this issue begs more than one question.
Joseph is unlucky of course. Had he chosen to form part of the baying hounds and called for the resignation, the circus could predictably have used this against him and pulled the “poodle” cliché back to the forefront. For the non-MLPN observer this is a sad consequence of the “interest based” partisan politics. The value of the debate is watered down by imputations of hidden interest and motive. That too is part of the current game – the question is will it also be challenged by the New Politics wind?
the difference between dialogue and alternative government
Then there is the drydocks issue. It’s not an easy one for any of the parties involved. The government has to face the problem – there can be no beating about the bush. The general opinion is that privatisation is a government business and therefore what better than government to handle it. In a political world of half-truths there could not be a stronger premiss. Joseph’s interpretation of “flimkien kollox possibli” is not easily dismissed. He clamoured for more dialogue and for a role for Labour at the planning table – a proposition that cannot be seen as completely unreasonable ab initio.
It’s when you get down to the nitty gritty of how this issue is interpreted that multiple questions arise. First, the government. Should it have spelt the privatisation issue in black and white in its manifesto? Did it cheat the people of their decision making role? The inevitability of the process seems to indicate otherwise. Between EU obligations and reasonable managing of the economy, the question of taking action on the state of affairs at the drydocks is inevitable – electoral promises or not. That the government should be the prime actor is also an unquestionable truth. One requires a leap of blind faith however in order to state that government is the only actor in a process of privatisation.
The wafer thin relative majority should rightly be quoted. Not to afford Labour a part of virtual chummy-chummy government but to remind government that it is there to serve the will of all the people and that its duty of consultation and dialogue is heightened at this particular juncture. As an elected government it will have to bear the consequence of any agreement – consequence on workers, consequence on the economy and consequences related to the prime area of land on which the drydocks lie. Joseph on the other hand needs to concentrate less on insisting on consulting and more on what he would put on the table, more concrete proposals. The public forum is already a consultation table of itself and had we had an MLP consultation document on the future of the drydocks – inclusive of concrete proposals – it would have been more difficult for government mouthpieces to dismiss it as an upstart’s insistence of a piece of the government pie.
It’s well and good to talk about working together for the common good. More of the tools and less of the conversation would be an ideal way to start. There’s nothing ridiculous in Labour claiming a role in the negotiations – particularly coming from a worker’s party (if anything of the worker spirit is left). Look at Alitalia and that particular privatisation/sale. I do not think the Prodi/Berlusconi government were alone at the planning table. Having said that most discussion on solutions was held publicly and not behind the closed doors – we surely do not want MLPN suddenly cosily cohabiting and selling off the public treasure (or liability with potential) without Joe Public getting a whiff of what is going on or a by your leave.
that elusive barrel of oil
And now the surcharge. Austin Gatt has been busy warning all and sundry of the imminent fuel supersurcharge increase. Labour critics have been wondering why none of the talk about the perilous international situation was mentioned before the election. Correct me if I am wrong but wasn’t Labour the party insisting that the utilities bill would be halved or something? The PN machine could afford to hush the problem because an inefficient, vote-hungry Labour promised to be a bigger one. It’s not like none of us were warning that the feel good factor is a big dope. Thing is that both MLPN wanted to get to power and both based their manifestos on this “We Can Do It” idea without warning their electorate that the price of oil was destined ro rise regardless who got to sit in government.
Joseph’s party asks PN not to consider surcharges as some form of financial accounting and to bear in mind the poor people who will suffer increases in prices. Sure. Bear in mind, dialogue. Meanwhile the price of oil barrels is projected to be $200 by the end of the year. That’s from the $142 it is at now when we are expecting a horrible raise in surcharge any moment. Once again the battle of false promises engendered by the traditional baseless MLPN exchanges is exposed.
PN is in government thanks to an error-free electoral manifesto. Pity that the error-free does not include full truth manifesto. It was error free and practically unassailable because it did not tell the elector about PfP, about privatisation, about the real dangers of the rising price of oil. Computer subsidies are no more because our “stable economy” cannot afford free gifts – and this in an age when a heavy investment in IT is necessary for the country’s future.
Joseph is head of the party in opposition. He is still tiptoeing around the big challenges and still selling the charismatic and “different strokes” message. The message from the intelligent snobbish voter quarter is – you ain’t even a quarter there yet Joseph. PN is doing what it can best do – reasonable, obvious governance. It may slip on issues like JPO and risks a howler by approaching drydocks privatisation the wrong way round. But until the real challenging dialogue is forcing it back onto its toes expect more of the knee-jerk MLPN style. Change or no change.