Caveat emptor, in politics as in the marketplace

Published: September 13, 2011 at 9:59am

The government post 2013: you can buy it, but you can't return it before the five years are up.

This was my column in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 11 September.

Does the Labour Party really have any need to get its act together (difficult) and come up with some policies on something other than suicide (the latest from Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, now firmly back in the fold and resigned to divorce)?

I would think not.

Its supporters are gagging to have their team in the Auberge de Castille – which is how they see it – and would vote Labour even if the party were led by a shop clerk whipped from behind his counter and turned into the Labour Moses, which is getting pretty close.

They would vote quite literally for anything as long as it is branded Labour, as we found to our astonishment in 1992, when almost half the electorate voted for the return of crackpot KMB as prime minister, after five years of what seemed like heaven following 16 years of Labour hell and all-round deprivation.

They’re not interested in policies. They’re interested in Team Labour winning the cup.

Go to any Labour supporter’s Facebook wall and you’ll see exactly what I mean. There’s lots of bitching about gONzipN and absolutely no discussion about what Labour will or will not do.

It’s fascinating.

They’re prepared to drop this show but have absolutely no curiosity as to what the next show will be like.

They’re prepared to take Labour on trust as a five-year government, yet they are the sort of people who will not buy even a saucepan without driving the salesman nuts with pernickety questions about price, quality, guarantee, whether they can return it and so on.

I see them in shops all the time, examining even a €5 potential purchase as though they are buying an Aston Martin and parting with a lifetime’s savings.

I think it’s so strange.

I’m the other way round. I will buy things without bothering to check them, but will examine every nuance of policy – and more so, the people who will implement that policy – when it comes to choosing a government.

Even the thought of voting Labour makes me laugh when I look at the people involved – ancient fossil from my childhood, Karmenu Vella, writing policy, for crying out loud – and what makes it all so much worse is that these policies Vella is meant to be writing seem to have got him in a tangle. He has yet to come up with anything we can get our teeth into.

But Labour doesn’t feel the need to write policy ahead of an election. Its supporters will vote for it no matter what, and the pseudo-liberals who can’t see a totalitarian heading their way even if he’s wearing day-glo pink are determined to hang themselves and the rest of the country by not voting at all or by voting ‘for Joseph’.

It’s all so much a dim echo of 1996 that I am almost inclined to yawn with tedium. “Don’t worry, we’ll be OK. This will be good for the country,” a couple of my acquaintances said back then, thinking they were so hip and avant-garde in having voted for the new Prime Minister Sant.

Twenty-two months later they were letting off sirens on the Sliema front while festooned with balloons.

But there you go.

The Labour Party, impaled on this catastrophic absence of policies and ideas, seeks to turn a setback to its advantage by pretending that it’s all a deliberate ploy. Like Baldrick and Blackadder, it has cunningly devised a plan by which it puts about the notion that its wealth of thrilling policies are held back from the public so that its political rivals don’t steal a march on it or twist those policies out of recognition.

And here’s the amusing bit: its supporters, though they have been told nothing of those policies, presumably because there is nothing to tell, are at the same time made to feel in on the plot.

They feel they are part of the conspiracy to hide Karmenu Vella’s brilliant schemes for post-2013 Malta from the evil, scheming Nationalists.

“Hahahaha,” they say on the internet. “You’ll have to wait until Labour is in government to find out what Joseph has planned for Malta, because we’re not telling you.”


Well, even if they wanted to tell – say, under water-boarding circumstances or facing torture by a hundred reruns of Ir-Rok Opra Gensna – they couldn’t, because they don’t know. What’s worse is that they don’t care.

Their feudal serf mentality is so complete that they trust their political master implicitly and will not ask him what his policies are, still less question or challenge them when one or two are finally wrung out of him.

I find this deeply disturbing.

How can you not care what a political party plans to do when it is in government? How can you take a political party purely on trust, and then end up with something like CET and the resulting chaos?

This comment on the internet, in response to somebody who questioned Labour’s lack of policies as late as 18 months before hitting the seat of government, is descriptive of the prevalent mentality:

“Mr J. Borg
You and others like you seem to be VERY eager to know what the PL will be presenting in it’s electoral manifesto……..but you must have to wait!!!!!!”

‘You must have to wait’. Indeed. Mr Borg seems unable to understand that he has to wait too, and that it’s a problem. His comment makes it apparent that he feels himself in on the conspiracy to hide things from the Nationalists, but his sense of self-esteem is so poor that he is not angry about the fact that he, too, is kept in the dark and that he is insulted by being expected to vote for an unknown quantity.

Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, no longer applies in the consumer world where we are protected by laws against the falsehoods of merchants, but it continues to apply in general elections.

We buy the next government, and then we are stymied for five years.

12 Comments Comment

  1. Disinterested Bystander says:

    There is a donkey in the field behind our house, and every now and then, day or night, at random, he starts braying like his life depends on it.

    Stick a red rosette on him and he might make it to cabinet minister under Joseph. God help us.

  2. Grezz says:

    Maaa, that picture really sums it up: a tacky line-up, if there ever was one.

  3. Silverbug says:

    “They would vote quite literally for anything as long as it is branded Labour, as we found to our astonishment in 1992, when almost half the electorate voted for the return of crackpot KMB as prime minister, after five years of what seemed like heaven following 16 years of Labour hell and all-round deprivation.”

    Is there something wrong in this statement? in 1992 the swing was of almost 20,000 f I am not mistaken, huge by our standards. But I could be missing something.

    [Daphne – In 1992, around 45% of the electorate voted for the return of KMB as prime minister. Yes, 45%.]

  4. el bandido guapo says:

    “They’re not interested in policies. They’re interested in Team Labour winning the cup. ”

    Interesting. Exactly my thoughts, but not only of Labourites, but of anyone who has committed him or herself to being a “Laburist” or “Nazzjonalist”.

    Such people seem to equate support for a political party with support for a football team.

    Unfortunately, the analogy is totally incorrect.

    In football, one supports the team, the players. The supporters are not directly involved in what happens on the field. In reality, whatever the team does, does not affect the supporters one jot.

    In politics, the political party or government is NOT the team. It is the COACH, giving guidance to the team, which is the POPULACE, which is completely involved in making the country work, and which will solely bear the consequences of the coach’s decisions, very directly.

    Sadly very few people seem to realise this.

    And some people will support the coach no matter how good or bad the guidance is. But only in politics.

  5. rupert says:

    A propos Baldrick and Blackadder: in one episode Blackadder contrives to get Baldrick elected as MP in order to rescue Prince George from bankruptcy.

    Prince George asks Baldrick what their campaign will focus on, whereupon Baldrick replies that he will focus on issues not personalities, because their candidate doesn’t have a personality.

    Labour seem set on doing the reverse by focusing on GonziPN because they have no policies.

    On second thoughts they are even worse; they cannot even focus on their own personalities since they are not at all appealing.

  6. Lomax says:

    Great observations. Pity so few people realise that changing one’s government is not like changing one’s shampoo.

  7. Pat Zahra says:

    ‘How can you not care what a political party plans to do when it is in government? How can you take a political party purely on trust, and then end up with something like CET and the resulting chaos?’

    This is why they don’t care:

    Ghax issa ibni, meta jitilghu taghna m’hemmx ghalfejn thabbel rasek biex issib xoghol. Immurlek jien ghand il-Ministru u jsiblek x’imkien hu. U harja f’wicc min huwa kkwalifikat ahjar minnek ghax il-post tiehdu int.

    Meta nitilghu m’hemmx fier jew mhux fier. Niehdu dak li rridu ghax ahna hadd ma jista’ ghalina.

    X’jimpurtana mill-ekonomija, jew x’tghidilha, meta l-Ministru taghna jqassmilna l-gid, jaghlaq ghajn wahda u jaghmlilna l-pjaciri?

    Meta jitilghu taghna inkunu qisna rbahna l-lotterija. Fhimt?

  8. Lorna saliba says:

    That is so true, Daphne, but having said all that, the PN are not doing anything to rekindle support.

    On the contrary, they pursued their 500 euro a week parliamentary increase while the nation is bone shaken by the recession in going through a period where cash has become a very scarce commodity and everybody seems to be feeling the pinch of the massive overnight utility increases.

    I agree that Labour is not an alternative but die hard Nationalists are feeling betrayed and cheated and know full-well that it is only those within the inner circles that are reaping the benefits, if any.

    While the rest of the common folk are struggling to remain afloat and while businesses are having to face an uphill struggle to compete and make ends meet. And while the saying goes……”better the devil you know”…people don’t want a devil, thy want firm leadership not uncertainty about costs which were brought about by years of relentless inefficiencies and overstaffing at Enemalta!

  9. GiovDeMartino says:

    What is the problem with Lorna Saliba? Is it the 500 euro increase or that the common citizen is feeling the pinch?

    The common citizen can afford new cars, holidays, meals out, trips to the beautician, hairdresser and bars, cigarettes and much else. No, Lorna, the PN have given us democracy and prosperity.

  10. Ghoxrin Punt says:

    I do not believe it is a matter of ‘better the devil you know’. This could have been a valid argument had the Labour leadership changed only recently and had they therefore not had sufficient time to get their message across.

    I think it should be clear to all that the ‘devils we do not know’ are only interested in being elected in government in order to be able to have something to add to their personal CVs.

    Unfortunately until such time that they prove otherwise, with the first step being the disclosure of their policies, thereby allowing a serious economic debate to commence, there will be no hobson’s choice of the devil we know and the one we don’t. We know them both and the choice is obvious, warts and all.

  11. Jozef says:

    Are they admitting their policies don’t have the resilience to resist any criticism?

    Is this their mindset?

    Do they really expect us to consider such gall as a legitimate position taken by a party aspiring to represent all of us when in government?

    Apart from the fact that the opposition has a role to play, an obligation to contribute to the evolution of political dialogue and well being of society. Something, it seems, completely alien to these individuals.

    Why do they insist on being the antistate? What a waste.

    How do they intend dealing with the stakeholders? Haven’t they learnt that this is what makes investors run?

    We’ve already been through it, witnessed the tantrums and picked up the pieces.

    Someone has to, I suppose.

  12. Lorna saliba says:

    Mr. DeMartino, Peace and prosperity are qualities which should be equal across the social board, not limited to the inner circles and to those with most influence.

    While most of the interventions seem to be radically biased, I for one see things for what they are and not chose to bury my head in the sand instead of indulging in constructive criticism.

    Is it a fact or not that for the last two years we have had an astronomic increase in the price of utilities, making our cost of production rise exponentially?

    A cost which was completely unforseen by local enterprise and which has driven several businesses out of competition. The price of gas during this last year, for instance, has risen by over 120%.

    If you are feeling propserous, I wish you well but this was hardly the time for a parliamentary honoraria increase while so many are struggling to stay afloat and during a period when cash flow has been systematically reduced from the price of utilities alone.

    Regrettably, while you are feeling so prosperous, one has to take into account that business employ people and the first to bite the bullet are employees. Government induced inflation has had a direct impact on the economy these mostly due to years of persistent inefficnecies at Enemalta and the WSC.

    Just because you see a lot of people buying cars, taking holidays, and going to the beautician does not necessarily mean that our standard of living is on the improve.

    It simply means that domestic debt is also on the rise and this is being fuelled by low interest rates which are goverened by the ECB ( as opposed to the CBM prior to the Euro entry). These low interests will come to haunt us in the no so distant future.

    Whilst I agree that Labour is definitely not an option, I am so disappointed by the fanaticism you write in pretending that all is so smooth and sunny.

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