People don’t want visions. They want the real thing.

Published: October 1, 2011 at 7:36pm

A vision for the future as run by these people is actually a nightmare

This was my column in The Malta Independent last Thursday.

After a lifetime of supporting the Labour Party and boasting about a grandmother who was mad keen for Mintoff, Joseph Muscat has come late to the understanding that messages of hope and stability sell better than messages of upheaval and confusion.

He doesn’t understand why, though.

If he did, he wouldn’t be a lifelong member of the Labour Party or boast about Mintoff. But he does understand that those messages sell, and he needs to sell Labour.

He doesn’t understand, either, that messages without policies are a bit of a nonstarter.

Nationalist Party leaders didn’t just stand about with a microphone talking about hope. They backed that up with a whole raft of policies on education, employment and most especially the European Union, while Muscat got it terribly wrong by rooting for Sant’s partnership and Switzerland in the Mediterranean.

And what’s more, the Nationalists had and have a track record to prove it.

But Muscat’s track record is bad – ‘EU membership will destroy Malta’, anyone? – his party’s is much worse, and they haven’t any policies to speak of.

So instead we get a Labour Communications Office press release telling us that during the annual general meeting of Labour’s Birgu Committee, no less, the party leader said:

“Families want to be offered a vision of hope and stability from their government.”

Muscat got that wrong, too, and I’m not just talking about the grammar. BY their government, Kurt. Offered BY. And in any case that sentence should more properly read ‘People want hope and stability from their government.’

What people want from their government is not the “offer of a vision” of hope and stability, but hope and stability themselves.

He’d do well, too, to remember that the electorate is not made up of “families” but of individuals, the majority of whom are not raising children, either because those children have grown up and even taken full advantage of his lack of success in persuading us to vote against EU membership, leaving Malta altogether, or because they never had any in the first place.

The press release quoted Muscat as saying that the incoming Labour government in 2013 will have three priorities, and they are the economy, energy and education.

That he should be reduced to stating the obvious in that the economy will be his government’s priority will be beyond belief to those who have not experienced Labour governments first-hand, even as recently as 1996-1998.

Then, Sant managed to undo in 22 months much of what had been achieved in the preceding nine years. So no, it is not absurd for the leader of the Labour Party to specify that he will make the economy his priority. The three Labour prime ministers who preceded him in our lifetime did anything but.

Ditto with education, but then the inclusion of energy in this list of three priorities, after the economy and before education, reveals that nothing much has changed since Labour was in government between 1971 and 1987 and from 1996 to 1998. Then, its defining characteristic was its sheer inability to see the wood for trees, wrecking the economy and causing social chaos in its pursuit of what to normal politicians would have been a sideline objective, except that normal politicians would not have gone into battle over CET or church schools or whether merchants should be allowed to import canned tuna, and if so, how much.

A government which makes something like energy its priority, unless it is the government of a state where oil-wells fuel the economy, will be doomed to failure because the management of energy grows out of other issues and is linked to them.

It cannot be tackled in a vacuum or separately to everything else. Sant made this mistake with VAT, Mintoff made it with almost everything he did, and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici made it with the church schools and the law courts.

So we have had promises already that a Labour government will lower the price of electricity and water (just like Alfred Sant removed VAT and Mintoff gave us cheap rice), but at what overall cost?

We shall soon find out.


My fellow columnist, Josanne Cassar, asked whether mass meetings still mean anything in today’s world. Yes, they do, because people enjoy them.

When people stop enjoying mass meetings, mass meetings will stop. That’s the way it works.

More than that, people need them. When electoral campaigning reaches fever pitch and tension runs high, they serve as a pressure valve. Those are times when people actually need – not just want – to be with others in the same spirit. The fact that some consider mass meetings to be infra dig and excruciatingly embarrassing is no reason to stop them.

With that kind of reasoning, we should ban red Ferraris with seagull-wing doors, so that members of the Labour Business Forum cannot buy them and loan them out for Super One videos featuring the leader of the Opposition and a clown dressed as a 1930s priest.

Ms Cassar, like others who make the dangerous mistake of substituting opinion for fact, largely due to wishful thinking (‘That man is looking at me therefore he must fancy me’) wrote that the Nationalist Party is “in panic mode as it sees interest in the party slipping away every day”.

A political party cannot panic because it is not a human being, and secondly, polls published so far indicate the contrary: that the Nationalist Party has been gaining support since June and not losing it.

Ms Cassar saw the Independence Day mass meeting, where turn-out was low as it is year after year, as a sign that nobody loves the Nationalists any more. Lots of people might well not love the Nationalists any more, but looking at the crowd on Independence Day is no way to gauge support.

Turn-out on Independence Day is always much lower than it is for electoral mass meetings – and this even in election years, let alone 18 months ahead of time. The reason is election fever. On Independence Day, there isn’t any.

“Forget surveys and polls, it is the mass meetings which have always been the true tangible measure of the extent of a party’s support at any given time,” Ms Cassar wrote.

Rubbish, and I say that with confidence as somebody who knows her onions. It’s the other way round, but common sense should be enough to tell you that.

The political party which uses the size of a mass meeting as a substitute for sophisticated polling in gauging support ends up like Jason Micallef, then Labour’s secretary-general, humiliated on prime-time television with a post-election explanation from his opposite number of how many new electors there were and how they voted.

The largest mass meeting ever in the history of the Nationalist Party was in Mosta in 1996. It was jaw-dropping. The party lost that election.

The size of that meeting might have contributed to the extent of the loss by encouraging people to relax and not bother voting for the Nationalist Party, to cut them down to size while still safe in the knowledge that Labour wouldn’t get in – strange reasoning but we’re seeing a repeat of it now.

The smallest PN election mass meeting I ever went to was in Haz-Zebbug in 1998. The Nationalist Party won that election by a landslide.

In 2003 and 2008, the Labour Party’s election-campaign mass meetings were absolutely massive, so huge that I believe that in 2008, the enormous one held at St Andrew’s Parade Ground actually contributed to Labour’s defeat by galvanising support for the Nationalist Party.

Possibly the worst thing the Labour Party could have done on the eve of that general election was transmit live on Super One television a crowd of tens of thousands wearing red, waving Labour flags and shouting about a Labour victory. I know at least two people who suffered an anxiety attack when they watched it, after saying for weeks that they weren’t going to vote.

Wishful thinking and the primitive observation of crowds, as a substitute for clinical surveys and keen knowledge of the facts, have no place in political commentary.

There are enough people doing that on the internet comments-boards without columnists joining in as well.

16 Comments Comment

  1. il-Ginger says:

    “I know at least two people who suffered an anxiety attack when they watched it, after saying for weeks that they weren’t going to vote.”

    A friend of mine wasn’t going to vote, because he claimed that there was nothing in it for him – after that, he quickly changed his mind.

    We live close to Luxol (a 15 minute walk) and I still remember how the streets were quiet and a minute later, some big Labour guy would scream into the microphone followed by a ear-deafing roar of the crowds.

    Yeah, if they wanted to scare the floating voters in Pembroke into voting for PN they were successful.

  2. Edward Caruana Galizia says:

    I m always confused by this “vision” that the PL talk about. Vision of what exactly?

    Those videos you uploaded here show families enjoying lots of food, getting presents, wearing lovely clothes and waving EU flags. Is this the “vision” that the PL talks about? If so, someone needs to get their eyes tested.

    Or maybe be told that the “visions” they are having are in fact reality already and none of this reality is thanks to the PL, which would have dragged us right down the Communist route even when the rest of Europe was throwing that out the window.

    Like I said before: those videos are a great advert for what the PN has given us all these years, showing us what we have, and what the PL denied us when they were in government.

  3. Harry Purdie says:

    ‘but at what overall cost?’ We’ll all be down the toilet.

  4. Alex says:

    Josanne Cassar’s articles are about as impartial as L-Orizzont’s. Her bias is clearly towards the MLP….ahem, sorry PL.

  5. spa says:

    I think the biggest ever PN mass meeting was the one on the Fosos celebrating the 1998 electoral victory.

    [Daphne – We’re talking pre not post.]

  6. Albert Farrugia says:

    It’s either the PN wants us to believe the election is round the corner, or else the election is really round the corner…the tone of this article is interesting.

  7. heidi1015 says:

    For all it’a worth, I agree wholeheartedly with your argument on mass meetings and that is why I do not let myself be impressed with the pictures in the papers on TV of the various mass meetings that take place before every election.

    I also believe that the partisan papers do a great disservice to their own parties when they ‘photoshop’ the pictures of mass meetings to make it appear that the crowd was much larger than it actually was.

    This only serves to ignite the fire in their opponents, as you truly said in the article above.

  8. Qahbu says:

    By her reasoning the crowds that flock to the two Waterfronts on the weekend, the crowds at Notte Bianca, the traffic jams in Victoria, Gozo on weekends are all signs that the economy is doing very well, thank you very much.

    But then the statistics confirm all of this. It’s just Josanne (never miss a chance to hit at the Nats) Cassar, Super One and the PL live in denial.

  9. Qahbu says:

    Where did Joseph, Michelle and the twins spend part of their summer break? With the paupers at Ta’ Cenc.

  10. Toni says:

    The uploaded videos of what in actual fact is our present daily toil in life will truly turn into ‘visions’ should Dr. Muscat sit in the corner office on the first floor at Castille. We will all end up having visions of our recent past and longing for it to return.

  11. Joe Micallef says:

    I am not so sure that people do not follow a vision, but I am almost certain that people will not follow any vision.

    For example it was easy for people to follow the “EU membership” vision because it was “tangible” but harder to follow the poorer “Utility bills irrespective of oil price” vision becasue most people know that they need to pay for what they consume.

    With regards to the latter type of “vision” the PL played its last card back in 1996 when it promised to remove VAT. People followed that vision becasue it appealed to a cultural trait but they soon had a rough reality check with the introduction of CET. I am hoping that the Maltese will not be fooled twice! Am I asking too much?

    Moroeover their is such a strark difference of magnitude between PN and PL visions, if one may call them so.

  12. Pecksniff says:

    My son is happily living and working in Euroland. My advice to him is to remain there.

  13. Jozef says:

    When Labour speak, it has to be about some category or other, so by default who’s going to take the decisions for these in separate terms if not their lot?

    When the Nationalists speak, it’s a given that categories are not fixed quantities but active parts of an organic whole.

    When Labour name priorities, they romanticise them into objectives.

    When the Nationalists mention priorities, they use them to outline the means to an end.

    Quite simple really.

  14. Andrea says:

    Helmut Schmidt, former West German Chancellor, once said:
    “People who have a vision should go and see a doctor.”

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