Sunday, 17 May 2009

Angels and Demons

17th May 2009
The Malta Independent on Sunday

This is no critical appraisal of the film sequel to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code with versatile Tom Hanks starring, opening this weekend in international box offices after a major promotion campaign.

It is the impression that comes to mind after the first political billboards sprang up last weekend as the campaign for the European Parliament elections gets under way.

The PN found nothing positive to say about themselves and instead launched a negative campaign against Labour on the pretext that if their opponent is projected in bad light, than the PN, warts and all, must be a safer bet. But their message is more than a bit stretched. Arguing that former leaders Mintoff, Mifsud Bonnici and Sant are still bedfellows who produced Muscat as their offspring while the 12 candidates fielded by Labour are all from the same fabric as the ex-leaders is extremely economic with the truth. How would one expect to be credible maintaining that Louis Grech, Edward Scicluna and Marlene Mizzi break bread regularly with Mintoff, Mifsud Bonnici and Sant?

This message is now hackneyed to the extreme and the PN seem to have run out of ideas if they cannot come up with something fresher and more positive. A group of eight gentlemen in white shirts and monochrome ties flanked by two smiling ladies in trouser suits provide little persuasion that they will be working to bring investment, employment and economic growth. Assertion is no proof.

Much more persuasive is the booklet that Simon Busuttil slipped in my letter box as part of his bid to get re-elected as MEP, probably before moving on to something bigger. Without even stating the obvious, that he is running on a PN ticket, Busuttil focuses on his achievements during his first term as MEP.

This is how it should be. Unfortunately we have rendered the MEP elections as some sort of vote of confidence in our main political parties. This has nothing to do with reality. Even if Labour were to carry all five seats it would not make any difference to local political realities. Government would still be in government and the opposition would still be in opposition and the next general elections would still be due in 2013.

We have had a pattern between 2003 and 2008 where Labour would win MEP and local elections but then failed where it mattered in the general election of 2008. In a way the PN tend to acknowledge their imperfections and allow space for their followers to vent their anger in these subsidiary elections only to regroup in the elections which preserve their long tenure of executive power at national level.

As far as I am concerned the MEP elections are a non event in so far as the local political scene is concerned and what matters is more the individual competences and abilities of the candidates rather than the party platform on which the person is running. Coming to the end of the first term experience of our MEP’s we have seen that we had some, from both parties, who performed well and made a difference to local realities, whilst others, again from both parties, who were totally out of their breadth in the Brussels bureaucracy.

Labour’s campaign billboard seems less focussed on the European Parliament elections and instead seems focussed on the local elections. Tackling such themes as high utility bills and the generally falling standard of living, Labour’s billboards pin these faults squarely on the Gonzi administration, that distressed as it is with an grave economic recession which snapped suddenly last autumn, is unable to deliver on many of the promises it made in the run up to the general elections earlier in the year.

As this will be the first electoral test under the new leadership of Joseph Muscat, for Labour these elections have a particular meaning beyond their intrinsic value. It is the first opportunity for Muscat to show that his leadership is working. A clean and emphatic win in the MEP and local elections would permit Muscat to impose his character and vision on the Party with more authority, overcoming the internal resistance which is still resisting change.

Governments take undue credit when the economic tempo is vibrant spreading the feel good factor even though this is sourced from causes well beyond their control. Especially with a small open economy like ours our economic fortunes are influenced much more by what is happening in our main export markets rather than by what the government is doing domestically. It is therefore rough justice that when the economic tempo worsens, even if for reasons well outside their control, governments can hardly complain if they get punished by the electorate who even if unfairly, blame governments for the unpleasantness of the dire consequences of a deep international recession.

All in all my vote will be mostly influenced by the need for the country to have a strong opposition which can be moulded into a true alternative come next general elections. My vote rather than on the particular issues, will be meant to strengthen the leadership of Joseph Muscat at this fragile time when he is trying to impose his youthful determination on an old animal which refuses to bring itself in contact with reality. Within that context I will vote on the perceived merit of the individual candidates to make a good job of the Brussels bureaucracy and to deliver true service at granular level within their local community.

For me there are no angels and demons on our political scene. There is a government which has got too much used to executive power and an opposition that is still trying to become a real alternative.

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