The sound of tom-toms

Published: March 7, 2008 at 7:05am

The mass meetings are on Super One and Net as I write this – two tribes, except that one tribe is grimly massing for war and the other tribe is having a giant party. And no, it’s not just the poor quality of the filming on Super One and all those red pennants that make me think the crowd looks tensed up for battle.

I’d actually forgotten – unbelievably – that there are mass meetings on the final day of the campaign, and so last Sunday I watched the rather deflated exercise on the Granaries and thought, oh well. Meanwhile, on Super One, Alfred Sant’s rag-tag army was gearing up for war, with Sant himself making Hitlerian-type speeches from the stage, with all the modernity of a 1930s demagogue. It wasn’t a happy sight, either – not at all.

Today was different on the Granaries, though not at the old military parade ground. I set great store by the final meetings, because they are the culmination of the entire five weeks of campaigning, and sum up the spirit of the campaign. So this evening I have different thoughts. The atmosphere on the Granaries is joyful – not the joy of power or the joy of victory or even the joy of spiting others. No, it’s the joy of positive thinking. This time, it’s the crowd at the former parade ground that seems uncertain.

Labour mass meetings of the past few years have invariably been negative, but this one is doubly so. I’m not surprised the crowd feel and look that way, forced as they are to listen to angry speaker after angry speaker, all of them with grim expressions, never a smile, never a word of hope or faith, but only the promise that soon il-gvern ikun taghna u naghmlu festa.

Alfred Sant tries to smile

Alfred Sant did try to smile. He must have registered my description of the lot of them as cross vultures and a deathly funeral procession, and so on the stage his stiff face did a little bit of cracking but it just didn’t look convincing. He and his sidekick Jason have the appearance of a couple of shady cheats who are trying to sell me something I don’t want or need, that has no guarantee and will break down after a couple of days. All they need is a checked suit and bow-tie and the picture is complete.

Bzonn ta’ bidla

Labour being the slick and professional outfit that it is, the stage backdrop at the mass meeting was perfectly chosen: BZONN TA’ BIDLA written in HUGE letters just behind the main speaker, a certain Alfred Sant. I’m sure that a thousand people were telling their televisions that they couldn’t agree more.

For the final week of Labour’s ‘campaign’, the slogan Bidu Gdid has become Bzonn ta’ Bidla. Yes, that’s right. Get him out of the way immediately, and then perhaps things will start happening.

Over on Net, Lawrence Gonzi was in fighting form. What a relief – he’s been looking a little beaten down over the past few days. Faced by thousands upon thousands of young people he was in his element. On the whole, young people don’t relate to Alfred Sant – he’s like a stiff old grandfather who’s lost touch with the new generation. And quite frankly, if I were 18 I would be dead embarrassed to be associated with a creepy guy in a wig who never smiles, never laughs, can’t get his act together, stomps around in a funereal procession with a pretty-boy and a couple of extras from a New York Italian gangster film, and did his utmost to keep me out of the European Union. It’s funny how Squawking Sant has no regrets about any of this.

Listening to Gonzi was cathartic for me. ‘Hekk, hekk, say it, tell him!’ I yelled from the comfort of my sofa, being too wiped out to hike over to Floriana. Then I flicked over to Super One and booed and hissed to my heart’s delight, making rude noises with my lips for good measure and throwing in a couple of reverse salutes for fun. I would have thrown rotten tomatoes, too, but then I would have been the one to clean up the mess, so I didn’t. And you should have heard how many times I said ***k off too. And ***hole. And w**ker. And worse. If that ‘tobby’ with the camera from Super One were there, he would have had a field-day, and so would Miss Miriam Dalli, head of Super One News, who is currently providing entertainment for the nation (you sow the wind, Miss Dalli, and you reap the whirlwind).

Antennae in lipstick

One of my sisters painted antennae in lipstick around Squawking Sant’s head on the television screen, a process made simpler by the fact that once he takes up a position, he doesn’t move – ‘to make watching him more amusing,’ she said, ‘otherwise I just have to fight the urge to slap the television.’ I told her she should have just switched him off. But here’s the thing, you see: watching him is creepily addictive.

What does Squawking Sant have to offer us? Nothing. Ask him why we should vote Labour and he has no answer. That’s why the T-shirt with the slogan ‘Nivvota Labour? Inz**bab!’ has been such a knock-out best-seller. It sums up the popular sentiment perfectly. I have to hand it to the Maltese language: it’s very expressive at times.

Korruzzjoni Lampanti Sant

Back over on Net, Gonzi was asking why on earth we should choose to leave the country in the hands of somebody who doesn’t even have the guts to face an audience of students, and who runs out to send in his tanks (my choice of words) when they boo him for being a prat.

Gonzi’s messages of hope contrasted heavily with Korruzzjoni Lampanti Sant’s messages of gloom and doom. Unbelievably, he was using his very last hours of campaigning to continue ranting and raving about Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando – something DNA Mangion had already done before him (with the requisite death-mask expression) and the mention of ‘miscellaneous fees’ in a health services report that is readily available on the government website.

Vote Labour because a Nationalist MP’s tenant applied to the MEPA to develop a field? Is that the best you can do? Inz**bab. I’m sorry to be crass, but no polite words fit this particular bill. How did we end up with an Opposition party that’s little more than a giant freak show? This man’s idea of campaigning is to shout negative messages, rant on about a field in Mistra, and wave old-hat documents around, while obsessing about korruzzjoni lampanti. You should know all there is to know about corruption, Mr President Of The MLP in 1984.

The latest update on Please-Jail-Me Harry

This report came from before it was taken off line due to the blanket ban on political reporting.

“The Finance Ministry said this afternoon that contrary to what was claimed yesterday by Alternattiva Demokratika leader Harry Vassallo, according to the Registry of Companies the company Abelweld Ltd still existed and Dr Vassallo was shown as being its majority shareholder, director, company secretary and the person legally responsible for the company.”

“It was not the case, therefore, that Dr Vassallo no longer represented the company, as he claimed yesterday. Therefore, the ministry said, when Dr Vassallo informed the VAT Department that he was no longer responsible, he was misleading the department.”

“The ministry said that a presidential pardon could not be given to Dr Vassallo because he was refusing to fill in the 37 VAT returns covering the period for which the courts found him to be legally responsible and guilty. Dr Vassallo, however, was still in time to regularise his position by filling in the VAT forms for the years at issue so that his plea for a pardon could be considered.”

“The ministry also published the report of the VAT Commissioner on the case. In his report the VAT commissioner said Dr Vassallo registered the company for VAT purposes on September 29, 1994. The company did not submit VAT returns between August 1, 1999 and July 31, 2005. It sent one return in 1999 but failed to file the other 37 due to date. After several warnings, legal action was instituted by the police. The police sued Dr Vassallo as the person responsible under the law and he was arraigned on November 2002, convicted and fined Lm100 and Lm6 for every day that he failed to settle the fine.”

“Since Dr Vassallo did not follow the court’s orders, fresh legal action was instituted in November 2005. Dr Vassallo was again found guilty and fined a total of Lm3,954 covering the period January 2003 to October 2004. Dr Vassallo was arraigned again in May 2005 on similar charges, convicted once more and again fined Lm100. Since he did not submit the returns, Dr Vassallo was again arraigned in September 2006 and fined Lm2,100.”

“In January 2006 Dr Vassallo requested a presidential pardon but since the returns were still not submitted, the request was denied. The commissioner said Dr Vassallo was still a major shareholder of the company Abelweid Limited as well as director and legal representative.”

They’re promising a 20,000 landslide victory for Labour

Yes, and they’re also promising to strike oil when they’re in government. The leader of the Opposition, who lays eggs and clucks in his spare time, said when asked under one of his wigwams whether Malta would find oil: ‘Ghaliex le? Konvint.’ Then he promised to ask for the resignation of Joe Mizzi, the silly sod who was Minister Without Portfolio in Sant’s last cabinet and who is earmarked as Minister for Oil this time round, if oil is not struck.

The story has been spun for Labour supporters that a 20,000 landslide victory is on the cards. The last time I remember a story so stupid and irresponsible was in 1996, when it was put about that the Nationalists were expecting a landslide victory by 16,000 votes. Well, we all know what happened then.

In raising supporters’ expectations so high, Labour’s leaders are setting themselves up for a big fall should they lose. There is no way they can win by a landslide, but they do have a good chance of winning by default, and in that case, nobody is going to say ‘Look, you promised us 20,000 and we only won by 2,000’. A win is a win is a win, and nobody will be doing any nitpicking.

If Labour loses, it’s different. Promising supporters a win is a big risk. Promising a landslide victory is an even greater gamble. The higher expectations are pushed, the sorer the losers are, and then those who made reckless promises are blamed and whipped for it. It would have been wiser for the Labour leaders to say nothing, or to keep expectations safely lower. Ah, but that’s too much to expect. The Labour leader is a chicken, but those around him have chicken-brains if they haven’t worked this one out.

Playing for high stakes

They’re playing for very, very high stakes indeed – their political lives. Squawking Sant has not a hope in hell of sitting tight through yet another electoral loss. His deputies will go down with him, even though the bawling Lion of Change is already elbowing his way in. If Labour chooses him as leader, then Labour is truly insane. It has long needed a leader who appeals to the middle classes – sane, safe, no class hatred seeping out of every pore, no vicious language or vile behaviour, no posturing instead of policies. The Lion of Change will be just a throw-back to Dom Mintoff, but without the brains. The man can buy himself all the swimming-pools in the world but he’ll never have any style, and his mental horizons remain limited to santi tal-Madonna fil-but, fireworks, the Stella Maris festa, yodelling at mass meetings, screeching inanities, and hunting in Romania.

It struck me over the course of this campaign that though the single biggest issue is the economy, the underlying issue is class hatred and suspicion of The Other. I have never felt so much class hatred over the last few general elections as I have in this campaign. What’s most interesting is that the class hatred is one way only: those who have a chip on their shoulder about their origins hating those who they think are privileged, well-connected, well-born, blessed with this, that or the other.

I had thought all this was dead and buried with Mintoff’s days, but apparently it’s not. The Labour leaders have tapped into it, and have played it for all it’s worth throughout the campaign. Incitement of class hatred is what underpins all those remarks about xi haga hazina fid-DNA, George Vella’s hysterical rabble-rousing speech about students who come from privileged backgrounds, Alfred Sant’s constant winding up of people to get them to think that they are the have-nots and that the haves have run off with more than their fair share, and all the rest of it.

What perplexes me most is that the kind of class hatred that Dom Mintoff engendered still survives today, even though everyone is so much better off and education and good career opportunities are accessible to all who want them. Mintoff created a monster that just won’t go away. Parked outside the Labour meeting at Luxol last Sunday there were hundreds of really expensive cars, including giant SUVs which cost almost as much as a small flat. And yet the people who drove them to the old military parade ground to listen to an incompetent and hate-driven has-been rabble-rouse and incite hatred still feel they’re not the real McCoy. They still feel they’re outside the game, that they’re not quite good enough, that the way to get to the top is by shoving aside those who they think were born privileged and trampling on their heads to show them who’s the boss.

No matter how much money they earn, and even if they earn 10 times as much as the tal-pepe person down the road, they will always feel they are not quite good enough, and Korruzzjoni Lampanti Sant and that absolutely horrible George Vella encourage them in this.

Lawrence Gonzi wonders out loud why Labour is always preaching negativity, jealousy and discouragement, why it tells its supporters that they are not good enough. Here’s the answer why: because as soon as people shed their innate inferiority complex or their bitter hang-ups they no longer want to be associated with a bunch of inadequate losers. There are some exceptions, yes – smart, chip-free people who support Labour – but truly, they are the exceptions who prove the rule, the swallows that don’t make the summer.

8 Comments Comment

  1. Tony Formosa says:

    All yr election notes have been brilliant. Just to say WELL DONE.

  2. Francis Zammit says:

    I hope now that ‘tal-lejber’, li qalbhom qed tahraqhom ghal Harry Vassallo, would not mind sharing their first preference votes with AD. That would be considered as REAL SOLIDARITY!

  3. Zammit says:

    Daphne, kindly allow me to thank you for your interesting comments during the electoral campaign which has just ended.
    I urge you to consider keeping this blog open even after the election.
    Well done!

  4. matthew says:

    Two things about Harry Vassallo are clearly evident at this point:

    1) Being leader of AD, unsurprisingly, is not the best way in the world to earn a living.

    2) Harry Vassallo`s financial management skills while doing a poorly paid job have been pretty abysmal.

    Clearly, he is not perfect. He is neither a saint or a martyr. He is not right all the time.

    However, he has purposefully, genuinely, undeniably chosen to dedicate his life to making Malta a better place to live in at his personal professional and financial cost. That he could make more money writing crap letters in his profession as a lawyer is obvious.

    Daphne, I have a great deal of respect for your courage and honesty but the people who conjured up the timing of the “Don`t vote for Harry – he is going to criminal and he is going to jail” story are just as nasty, cynical, despicable as Alfred Sant was towards Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando.

    Both Pullicino Orlando and Vassallo are thoroughly decent people who did not deserve this kind of “he didn`t tick that box in his TV licence application!!!” attention on the very eve of a general election.

    Deep down, in ways you can`t admit or will not even explore until after the elections, I am sure that you know that.

  5. Tonio Mallia says:

    Swithching to Super One I saw the LION OF CHANGE
    that consumate singer, fireworks expert and hunter at his best

    He finished his roaring speech with the following exact words.

    ” Madwarna hawn din id-dalma, imma nhar it-tnejn li gej ha titla fuqna XEMX HAMRA HANINA LABURISTA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ‘

    Thank God he didn’t break out into a LION’s rendition of the Tramps’ ” Xemx wisq sabiha , lilek inhobb”

  6. Harry Vassallo tried to play a dirty game…but ended up losing it! As the Maltese saying goes: il-buzzieqa nfaqghet f’wiccu.

  7. ESSO says:

    The phrase l-iljuni tal-bidla has provided much amusement. Here’s another version of that famous battle cry, starting with the rise that Xemx Hamra Hanina

    If only Malta had a real sense of humour, this campaign could have been fun for everyone.

  8. Albert Galea says:

    The police did not go to arrest him, but to talk to him about a break-in near one of his empty properties.

    Poor old Harry Vassallo orchestrated the whole thing to get some political mileage, did you not read the Police Commissioner’s report yesterday on the Times of Malta website:

    Police Commissioner explains how Vassallo was informed about the arrest warrants

    The Police Commissioner in a statement this afternoon said a sergeant at Sliema police station informed AD leader Harry Vassallo about the arrest warrants issued against him when he went to his office to make inquiries about a burglary.
    The Commissioner explained that on October 15, 2007 the police received two arrest warrants issued by the Courts on September 27, 2007 against Dr Vassallo over unpaid fines which had been converted into a prison term.
    On October 18, 2007 the two warrants were sent to the Sliema police for execution.
    They were handed to the sergeant at Sliema police station on November 12 but were not executed.
    Since this sergeant was no longer posted at Sliema, on February 7 the warrants were handed to another sergeant.
    On March 1 this sergeant was involved in investigations into a burglary in Sliema. Since Dr Vassallo’s family had vacant property close to where the burglary took place, the sergeant, as was the norm, felt he needed to speak to Dr Vassallo to establish whether there was access from the Vassallo property to the property where the burglary took place.
    After having phoned Dr Vassallo, the sergeant on Wednesday called on Dr Vassallo at his office..
    Once he was going there, the sergeant felt he should also speak to Dr Vassallo about the arrest warrants.
    According to the sergeant and the constable who accompanied him, they spoke to Dr Vassallo about their investigations into the burglary as well as the warrants. They asked Dr Vassallo to regularise his position instead of them having to proceed with the arrest as authorised by the court.
    The meeting had been a very cordial one and matters stopped there, the police said.
    Both the sergeant and the police constable categorically denied having communicated with a journalist or anybody else about the case. They also volunteered to make a sworn statement about the case,
    The Commissioner said he was asking the chairman of the Police Board, Judge Franco Depasquale, to hold an inquiry into the case.

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