Tribute to Adrian Vassallo
Come election time, Labour MP Dr Adrian Vassallo will step down. He has served his party loyally for as long as he has been in the House: the only exception being when he refused to vote in favour of the introduction of divorce legislation. Although Labour had supposedly given its MPs the right to exercise a free vote Dr Vassallo has accused the party leadership of heaping all sorts of indirect pressure on him and other likeminded colleagues.
Dr Vassallo supported Prime Minister Gonzi’s stand against the introduction of divorce legislation and confides that, “Dr Muscat basically told voters that if I contest the next election they should kick me out.” The Labour MP feels he no longer has a place in the PL and, as he says, has reached the conclusion that “I am more of an embarrassment than an asset.”
Far from gloating over Labour’s loss of a popular MP, I am old enough to recall that following the defection of an Opposition MP, Nationalist supporters were cock-a-hoop and equally deflated years later when one of ours migrated in the opposite camp.
I salute Dr Vassallo’s loyalty to his principles and the sober way he has gone about saying farewell to politics. Silly histrionics, pseudo-reformism and prima donna postures are not his scene. The clear, concise and circumspect manner in which he expresses himself singles him out to be entirely different from run of the mill objectors.
In his valedictory letter Dr Vassallo tells his leader that, “The party doesn’t consider me to be as moderate or progressive as the leadership wishes.” Perhaps now that he will have more freedom to enjoy his pastimes he will have time to read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. This West Virginia University social psychologist contends that the principal differences between conservatism or for that matter Christian Democrats, and being liberal, moderate and progressive are that unlike conservatives the latter do not really understand their opponents.
Haidt is of the view that most systems of morality are underpinned by six key ideas: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. Liberals are “almost exclusively concerned with the first two” and solely “pre-occupied with suffering and social justice” while conservatives are animated by all six.
For the record, the Nationalist Party in government, which the Labour Party and a sprinkling of fellow-travelling journalists and opinion formers who play the independent card do not consider liberal and progressive, has regularly driven policies to decentralise power, set up local councils, empower NGOs, instituted the office of Ombudsman, armed citizens to combat abuse and corruption thereby effectively liberalising, rolling back and renouncing powers which successive Labour governments had snatched up so avidly and greedily.
According to Haidt the self-righteousness of the left and their inability to empathise with those who do not share their point of view is tiresome and contains the seeds of their own destruction. Therefore, when conservatives think about politics they enjoy an advantage because their view of the world also encompasses the first two categories. Although they do not prioritize these principles, conservatives and Christian Democrats understand the importance of protecting people from harm and shielding them from economic serfdom. On the other hand, Haidt maintains that liberals cannot understand the moral significance of the other four categories and consider appeals to freedom, honour, patriotism, chastity, law and order as hot air and a smokescreen to hide an agenda designed to perpetuate injustice. Plus ça change!
As Dr Vassallo rides into the sunset he takes a few steps up the ladder of the thinking man’s estimation. This self-confessed conservative who shares my aversion to “turncoats” other than of the Damascene category, will undoubtedly find comfort in Haidt’s way of thinking. I wish him well.