Last night’s debate on NET TV was like some kind of freak show

Published: August 25, 2017 at 12:14pm

It was terrible. I have no words – the leadership contenders lined up with all the verve and sparkle of four undertakers at their sixth funeral of the weekend, dying to go home and put their feet up. One of them actually looked like he should have been in the coffin himself but is being kept alive on an intravenous drip of delusional belief that it is possible to fight a general election and become prime minister at 80.

And to make matters worse, all four wore spectacles, so you looked at the screen and what you saw was a battery of facial hardware. Now I wear reading-glasses too, but rest assured that if I’m going on camera to talk to an audience, then I’m going to remove them – not out of vanity, but because anything worn on your face is a psychological barrier between you and your audience.

If it means you can’t see your notes, then memorise them beforehand, and if you can’t go on camera without notes, then you’ve got a problem anyway and are unfit for purpose. I don’t see anyone on an interview show anywhere but Malta carrying a bunch of notes and referring to them.

The way people in Malta think that spectacles are actually part of their face is an endless source of fascination to me, because I can’t stand them on my face and only wear mine when I’ve absolutely got to. You’re allowed to take them off, you know, chaps. Then we might actually get to see what your face is like and might relate to you better.

It’s practically impossible to become prime minister in a pair of spectacles, anyway. Think about it. How many heads of government in the present or recent history can you think of who permanently wore specs? Ah yes, John Major. Enough said. There was a brief blip there with Mario Monti, but despite being head of government he wasn’t an elected politician, so there you go. Other than that, I’m wracking my brain. Maybe the rest of you can help.

Eddie Fenech Adami and Dom Mintoff managed it, but they were in a completely different era, before laser operations and lenses. Nowadays you can forget it. Even Joseph Muscat started out in specs but then lost them somewhere along the way, having either had laser surgery to correct his eyesight or discovered lenses. Can you imagine him pulling off half of what he pulls off while wearing a pair of specs? Well, exactly.

He knows that you can’t look directly into people’s eyes – the A1 requirement for winning them over to you – or look directly into the camera when you’re wearing glasses. Besides which, glasses may look great in the boardroom, lecture-room or at a cocktail party, but on a party leader, they are a problem.

When you line up a lot of people in specs, I’m sorry to have to say it, and I say it as somebody who wears them myself, but the overall effect is terrible. You might be looking at the line-up, and at other line-ups of Nationalist Party candidates, and thinking how uninspiring the overall effect is, how they look like their spent their youth singing Kumbaya with a priest-leader, and you don’t quite know why. I’ll tell you why: it’s the masses of specs.

The standard of the debate was coma-inducing. They all lacked conviction, which means they are never going to be able to convince others, bar the usual obsessed political fans who will flock after a green-eyed Martian if they have to. Two of them made the mistake of thinking that it’s a good idea to show their audience how vulnerable they are to obsession with one journalist (guess which one). That level of obsession makes them look weak, frightened and – I’m sorry to have to say it – psychologically problematic.

I tried to understand exactly what they were supposed to be talking about and how it was supposed to inspire us with their leadership qualities, and I thought how Labour – even with all its sleaze and corruption – now has a clear run for the next decade.

How on earth did anyone think this would be a good idea? I think it’s because nobody in the Nationalist Party understands visual impact. They’re not creative or imaginative people. They don’t think visually. They’re not communicators, so they don’t understand that the language of communication is not just words and information. I could have told them for free that if you line up four nerdy types in a row for the first big televised thing in months, that is how you are going to brand your party and its image: four nerdy types in a row, one of whom is a septuagenarian, all wearing specs, fixating on one journalist and talking bollocks. And two of them carrying more baggage than an Indian porter.

What last night’s prolonged performance actually did was shine a brutal spotlight on the true extent of the catastrophe that will unfold directly from the Nationalist Party’s leadership election next month. Like thousands of others, I watched the pathetic spectacle on television and all I could think was, “For God’s sake, is this the best they can do?”

When you put forward Frank Portelli, Adrian Delia, Alex Perici Calascione and Chris Said as the best your party can come up with as leader and potential prime minister, you might as well shut up shop because the obvious question everybody will be asking (and they are) is: how bad is the situation, that it has come to this?

Any political party that puts forward somebody like this as a potential prime minister, in all seriousness, has signed its own death warrant in the public eye.