Labour – A tragicomedy
In the course of this electoral campaign, Labour has put up a performance of tragicomedy that may reassure its hardcore supporters and leave others mildly bemused, but which makes the rest of us desperate in our anger that such behaviour is still possible.
Aside from Alfred Sant’s brief propulsion to power on the back of an opportunistic promise to remove VAT in 1996, the Labour Party last won a clear electoral majority in 1976 – a full 32 years ago. Even in the election before that, in 1971, Dom Mintoff only reached the premiership on the strength of literally a handful of votes. Whoever those people were, they set in train a 16-year period of destruction, corruption and violence that eventually brought Malta to its knees, wrecked the economy and caused widespread civil unrest, pushing the country backwards while free Europe surged forwards, and handicapping us for years to come.
Thirty-seven years later, the economic damage is undone, thanks to the exceptional efforts and ability of this government. While they are deserving of our criticism on several fronts – too churchy, not enough consideration given to the environment, a tendency to be indifferent to some people’s need for personal attention – they absolutely cannot be faulted on this one. And at the end of the day, it is what counts for most, because without a solid economy and high employment levels, there’s no time or money to be expended on the ancillaries.
For those of my generation, who were forced to live shrunken lives deprived of all opportunity, there can be no going back and nothing can make up for what we lost. It would be nice to have some kind of apology from the Labour Party for what they did to us, but we’ll never hear anything of the sort. Alfred Sant has no regrets. To him, the difficult lives we had no choice but to lead are just so much water under the bridge.
What is truly unforgivable is how he and the Labour Party, not satisfied with that mad, bad litany of serious misprints and malfunctions over 16 years, then tried to do the same to this generation of young people and all future generations to come. They fought hard to keep Malta out of Europe, and in so doing, to deny young people the EU citizenship that has set them free. Alfred Sant, like his Labour predecessors, knows only how to wreck and pillage. If Labour has the slightest bit of empathy for those whose lives it ruins or damages, then it doesn’t show it.
The Labour Party is not fit to govern. It has never been fit to govern. Yet it hasn’t asked itself why, except for the fluke electoral victory that ended in the government’s collapse just 22 months later, it hasn’t won a single election since 1976, and won the one before that by just a few votes. The party permits no auto-criticism, instead silencing dissent and eliminating internal opponents with the determination of Josef Stalin. It has much the same approach to external criticism, going after those who mock or criticise with the equivalent of an army of tanks, searching and destroying. Not even booing, hissing students are safe.
Labour’s internal monitoring and quality control systems are so weak, or non-existent, that the party has been hijacked by a serial loser who is an electoral liability and a dangerous prospect for Malta.
His was the first Maltese government to collapse since Independence. He couldn’t keep it together for longer than 22 months. He went on to lose two general elections and the single most important referendum in Maltese history. To top it all, he first claimed that he had won, and then insulted the entire population of Malta – those who voted No as well as those who voted Yes – by saying that he would ignore what they had to say. He’s still repeating the same thing today. He was booed so loudly at the university precisely because this is what he told the students: that he doesn’t acknowledge referendums, that he doesn’t care what they think.
Labour – no quality control
If the Labour Party had those quality control mechanisms in place, Alfred Sant would have been put out to grass in 1998. The party allowed him to hang on and hijack the show in the same way that he became leader in 1992, in a process shrouded in mystery and laden with accusations. Instead, he remains here today after 10 solid years of losses, still saying he has no regrets, still insisting that we all look to the future like lemmings heading for the cliff-edge while ignoring his shocking past.
Those who support the Labour Party insist that it’s “their turn now”. They speak, incredibly, as though power is something that is owed to a political party on a rota basis, without the party having to do anything to deserve it, or to show that it is fit to govern. If that were the case, then we might as well do away with elections altogether, and just allow the two main parties to take five- or 10-year turns at the wheel.
The Labour Party really has no understanding of what it means to govern. Like the less enlightened of its supporters, achieving the seat of government is an end in itself, rather than the means to the end of making Malta a better place to live. This is clear from everything the shadow cabinet says and does. We never hear them speak of their plans. We only hear them say Ha nkunu fil-gvern and La nkunu fil-gvern. What are they going to do then? They have no idea, and that’s why they have spent five weeks of the electoral campaign throwing mud and chucking insults about instead of telling us.
The Nationalist Party has changed beyond recognition over the decades. It is not the same party it was in 1971; it is not even recognisable. But Labour remains unchanged. Sometimes you hear people saying, “Oh, but all the thugs have been removed.” I want to laugh and cry when I hear this. Labour expects praise because it removed its thugs? It shouldn’t have had those thugs in the first place. I’ll praise Labour if it enters the modern age, and becomes a party that is fit to run the country, and not because 16 years ago it removed a bunch of thugs for the cynical purpose of image-making.
The Labour Party has singularly failed to adapt to changing times and changing circumstances. Its 60-year-old leader is still stuck in the early 1970s, repeating the discourse that would have been familiar to young people in 1968, but which is disengaged from contemporary reality. Everything the party does is inept, disorganised, inefficient, burdened by error and inadequacy. This is a political party which hopes to achieve government but which cannot put together even an electoral manifesto without a hundred mistakes which it then describes, futilely, as misprints and computer malfunctions.
If Labour wins this election, it will be by default. It is not a party which inspires confidence in its ability to govern. Any new votes it claims it is attracting are negative votes – the votes of the people who want to punish this government for not giving them X, Y or Z, the votes of people who don’t particularly want anything for themselves, but who want to deprive others of what they perceive to be an unfair access to favourable networks. Schadenfreude is a strong driving force, but sadly, it takes just months for the pleasurable effect to wear off, and for regret and dissatisfaction to set in. And that’s why the Maltese rushed in their thousands to vote Sant out of power just 22 months after they had voted him in on a wave of glory and red flags.
Labour needs to clean out its house
The Labour Party needs to clean out its house. If Alfred Sant wins this election, and because of the apathy, indifference and self-destructive spite of some he has a very good chance of doing so, it will be the worst thing that can possibly happen to Labour. The party will not be able to get rid of him then. It will not be able to set in train much-needed reform. It will not be able to begin the process by which it moves closer in structure, shape and modernity to the Nationalist Party. It will be finished. Winning this election will not be the renaissance of Labour, but its ultimate downfall. And many within the Labour Party know this, and resent being hoist by Alfred Sant’s petard.
Give us peace in our time
As for what will become of Malta, it doesn’t even bear contemplation. Sant’s last stint in power was so bad that the newspaper headlines speak for themselves. Practically every organisation in this country was up in arms. There was worry, concern, brow-beating, panic, wonderment at the craziness of it all. The economy ground to a halt. Unemployment soared. What was it all for? Some people wanted to pay back a few other people. Some people wanted to remove VAT. It wasn’t worth it.
And even now, it just isn’t worth it either. A quiet life is beyond price.
This article is published in The Malta Independent today.