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New-Old Labour’s past imperfect

Accused by Labour’s groupies (a rapid-ly diminishing bunch, it’s my impression) of living in the past and being too old to rock ’n’ roll (erudite rock references: use the Comments online to show off) I find myself vindicated by none other than Labour’s own leader.

Whether it’s because he’s lost control of the factions within his party, if he ever had it, or whether he’s suffering from terminal lack of confidence in his ability to take the core of the party with him or, for that matter, whether he’s been convinced the impression of extreme youth that he’s been trying to exude needs balancing by a bunch of grey (or dyed) heads is immaterial. It may be that he’s realised the younger element that he’d gathered about him is not fit for purpose, being a bunch of callow youths who know little other than amateurish, and sometimes wrong, bumbling on social networks.

Whatever the reason, it’s a fact that, on the evidence of Labour’s annual general meeting, held last week, the Old Guard is back and with a vengeance. Choice excerpts were transmitted on Bondiplus in the intervals between Lou Bondì trying to get a word in edgeways while his guest, former then not then newly-converted Labourite and now deputy leader thereof, no less, Toni Abela, flitted desperately around the awkward questions and answered them with non sequitur, though inane, questions of his own.

The tone of triumphalism, two long years from the elections, was palpable, despite voice-in-the-wilderness warnings from the more sober among them, such as MEP Louis Grech. And, strangely, the triumphalism was twinned with a hankering for past glories (Glories? Are these people profoundly blind to their own past?) that would have been amusing were it not downright scary.

We had people like the newly rediscovered economic guru Karmenu Vella adopting the very same sneer that his hero Dom Mintoff used to adopt while uttering inexactitudes of parliamentary proportions about – of all things – the state of the roads. I’ve just spent a few days back on my bike, since the rain has stopped, and I’ve been on some excellent roads, where neither the Pope nor the Queen have ventured. There’s more to be done – way more – but the ultra-petty, downright cheap, manner Mr Vella chose to adopt bodes very ill for the way he’ll clearly be trying to dazzle us with sound bites and flash when he cobbles together Labour’s road map for the country.

It was, I would have thought, beneath him, but nothing seems to be beneath someone who idolises Mr Mintoff, as the whole party is being asked to do, presumably to bury Alfred Sant’s characterisation of him as a traitor, the same way Dr Sant’s distancing of the party from its inglorious past is being reversed with quasi-Orwellian strategies.

Incidentally, like Reno Calleja, Mr Vella seems to have just loved the 1970s: since he’s a jolly boating type, you can’t really blame him, I suppose.

And then we had the rabble-rousing, with the rabble being roused and no two ways about it. George Vella resorted to taunts of “fascists”, which Dr Abela on Bondiplus just smiled off, forgetting that back in the 1970s, today’s Speaker, Michael Frendo, was prosecuted when we used the word in a headline in L-Istudent, the student newspaper. Two weights and two measures were never a problem for Labour, of course.

More of the same came from Anġlu Farrugia, though here the rabble might have been mystified more than roused by his erudite references to David Copperfield (though he meant the magician not the Dickensian character) and to the Empire Station, quite apart from the Sun King making an appearance every so often. Never mind, he got a few laughs, so I suppose that’s all right then – if, as he hopes, he becomes Deputy Prime Minister, the laugh will be on us, though I don’t find the deputy leader of the party in opposition calling the Prime Minister a graduate in lying particularly amusing.

We had more of the same, of course, with speaker after speaker hankering after the peace and tranquillity of the 1970s (Dr Abela) recalling with pride the way workers’ rights were protected (Charles Mangion, who, clearly, has no recollection of the way non-GWU unions were treated) and describing the economy in such glowing terms that you’d think the three-day weeks, the rampant recruitment to non-jobs and labour battalions and the lame-duck enterprises were figments of our national imagination (Mr Vella, who will be concocting Labour’s plans for the country, Heaven help us).

They went on and on, of course, but the most amusing moment was when someone, I fail to recall who, had the astounding nerve to say that Labour had promoted education, when what they had done was dismember the University and the educational system in general with a savagery that was breathtaking.

For that alone, but for much more, Old Labour, which is now simply Labour (again), can’t be forgiven and no amount of old fogey nostalgia tearfully spouted by people like Dr Abela and Mr Calleja, with images of horny-handed oldies toiling to provide their simpering offspring with a simple, yet somehow better (yeah, right, I’m sure they want to go back to that) life is going to change that stark fact.

No wonder the “trust-o-meter” scrolling under Dr Abela’s smiling face was showing Labour as being way, way down the scale. How can you trust people who won’t come to terms with their own past but opportunistically invoke it to drum up support and divert people from noticing that their leader is great at speeches (well, let’s say he is, anyway) but not so brilliant at actually giving concrete ideas of what he’s going to do if he gets elected?

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