OK, so the government didn’t collapse last week after all because Labour’s no-confidence motion just didn’t get enough traction. Close but no cigar, as they say.
The disappointment was palpable in Labour quarters and I’m told that the look on some of their faces, Joseph Muscat’s notably, was a bit like the sky was on Tuesday. Black and thundery, for those who don’t remember.
The fact that he’s still Leader of the Opposition probably irritates Dr Muscat slightly, though he’s put a brave enough face on it, spinning the defeat of his deputy’s motion (wily, that, not putting his own name to it, you might say, though I certainly shouldn’t) into a dirge about how GonziPN had lost its majority and how it was clinging to the seat of power.
The latter point is being made on a number of billboards, with a shot of Lawrence Gonzi holding onto an office chair for all he’s worth, which isn’t much according to Labour’s Lil’Elves. It doesn’t seem to have dawned on the PR people at the Crystal Palace (where work on the Triumphal Balcony has stopped) that such is the breathlessness with which Dr Muscat is gasping for the chance to put his posterior on the Prime Minister’s chair that this sort of poster campaign can backfire rather quickly.
I mean, look at the gusts of laughter that greeted George Vella’s (Freudian?) slip when he referred to Dr Muscat as the Prime Minister, for all that he tried to retrieve it by putting “practically the Prime Minister” in as soon as he could, though it was too late. It occurs to me that I can take the opportunity for a spate of PRs the way I used to do when Alfred Sant had this habit of introducing his weekly column with a word starting with those two letters.
Let’s see: Will “Dr Muscat was preparing pronouncements while preening proudly pretending to be practically Prime Minister” do? Not bad, even though I say so myself.
Actually, the man’s demeanour over the last few months has quite clearly become that of someone who considers that he has the gravitas and general credentials to be the Head Honcho. His public appearances have taken on the appearance of a major policy statement with the twin mikes and matching auto-cues in perspex, the blue tinge to everything and the stately flags at the back, for all that they’re sometimes in the wrong order and that’s saying nothing about the stirring phrases he adopts every time his speechwriters think they’re necessary.
Some underdog, this, he might say he is that variety of pooch but his body language is the complete opposite.
The way he’s treated, too, seems to be not a million miles away from indicating that people, at least those who feel themselves to be his people, think it’s all over bar the shouting. Dr Vella we’ve already mentioned but, apparently, the Ħamrun local council thought it was appropriate to invite him to tour their new car-park, built with public money, where he took the opportunity to launch Labour’s local council elections campaign.
I’ve nothing against Dr Muscat having a look around, of course, but it jars. And what’s even more jarring is the fact that no one picked up on the inappropriateness of the junket, not Dr Muscat himself, not his advisers and certainly not the Labour-led local council.
Moving on from these illusions and delusions, I really have to highlight for you an instance of Labour’s capacity to shoot itself in the foot even while doing its level best to take potshots at its opponent.
It was reported that Dr Muscat, while on his Progress Through The Car Park, said that “Labour was launching the campaign even though the elections’ writ had not yet been issued, reflecting the uncertainty in the country”. Leaving aside the possibility that the report may be inaccurate, which I doubt, given that press releases tend to be rather copiously reproduced, what is Dr Muscat really saying here?
From where I’m sitting, he’s saying, perhaps unwittingly, that it is Labour that is creating the uncertainty, which, to an extent, it is by harping on and on about it.
Starting a campaign before the whistle is blown creates uncertainty in and of itself and, while this is not of vital importance when we’re talking about the local councils, the fact remains that Labour have been in campaign mode for weeks now, ever since the mouth-watering prospect of a government collapse was waved in front of their eyes. And then dashed cruelly away.
That is what is causing “uncertainty”, to use Labour’s own word, that along with their almost obsessive-compulsive use of it.
The funny thing is that while Labour in public is going around talking about governments under siege and parliamentary sittings being cancelled and suchlike disaster movie themes, in the House itself issues of real constitutional importance, arising from the insignificant little crisis that Europe is having, are being debated in, from the first reports, a grown-up fashion.
To make it even funnier, the Prime Minister’s sober statement to the House came on his return from a trip the taking of which was branded as “running away” by the more idiotic of Labour’s Lil’Elves.