A foregone conclusion, there’s the rub
I was astonished at what Joseph Muscat had to tell this newspaper about the environment and land reclamation a couple of weeks ago. Notwithstanding the fact that environmental issues have become a key battle ground of contemporary Maltese politics, it would really seem that Labour is going to the polls without the slightest scintilla of a coherent or thoughtful environmental policy.
All Muscat had to say was that ‘tough decisions will have to be taken’ and that the future is bright for those wishing to pour some concrete into the sea. He actually seemed rather dismissive about it all and was quick to change the subject.
One might object that it’s not quite fair that I should pick on Labour. The party is not currently in power and surely it’s unfair to expect it to do anything. Why should one spend one’s time writing about Labour?
Simply because Labour will very soon be in government. The Nationalist Party is so about to lose the election, and badly at that. The reasons have nothing to do with the former’s greatness or the latter’s mismanagement of the country. Rather, the formula is simple: A divided party will always lose.
Until a couple of weeks ago I’d have given the PN a fighting chance. When people are generally living well – and we are, broadly speaking – the ‘devil you know’ argument kicks in and not rocking the boat becomes a reasonable option. My take was that as long as people could shop (even as they complained that they weren’t shopping enough) the PN would be on dry ground.
Of course, there was Franco Debono. But one would have expected the gigantic machine that is the party to have brokered some sort of makeshift peace eventually. That didn’t happen and double trouble got the all clear to crawl out of the woodwork.
Even then, things could have been salvaged, just about. The Prime Minister could have let himself be conveniently distracted by Maria Hammett and then found it in his heart to declare another chapter closed, just as he did with Carm Mifsud Bonnici. The Maltese summer would have numbed people’s senses and memories sufficiently for a fresh start in October.
Instead it’s war. The people concerned just can’t seem to keep off each other’s throats. The sky is dark with kundanni flying all over the place. It may well be too late now to do anything and the PN will go to the ballot boxes fighting itself.
The upshot is that the party, and this government, have about as much life in them as the hedgehog I saw lying in the middle of the road the other day, presumably on a short breather from capoeira classes for small mammals. Lawrence Gonzi’s government is now all but an invertebrate write-off and one would be wasting one’s time to discuss its policies at all.
On his merry part Muscat can pretty much sit by the pool and watch his beloved Mario Balotelli lob them in. All it will take when the time comes is a little nudge and an ‘If you insist’. You can hardly lose when you have two parties working for you.
Of course, he will do nothing of the sort. Instead he will go on about his gvern ġdid jekk jingħata l-fiduċja (‘a new government, given people’s trust’) oh-so-modest catchphrase. He will also be vague, very vague, in what he promises on behalf of the new government-given-people’s-trust. Which is where land reclamation comes in.
There are two reasons why Muscat chose to root so enthusiastically for land reclamation. First, the Biblical symbolism (Moses, St Peter, and such able seamen) of conquering the sea is probably hard for any politician, and especially those with bits of Dubai still about their pockets, to resist.
Second, because he was being asked questions about environmental issues and development and such. He probably thought land reclamation was some sort of sound British compromise between the builders’ association breathing down his neck, and the green brigade with their all-too-precious fickle votes.
Muscat probably thinks of the sea as not-land. Nothing new there. The image of the Mediterranean as a region of natural-born seafarers is largely a myth. It is well known that inland Mediterranean societies (especially those linked to landowning, agriculture, and so on) are landlubbing. Until recently most Maltese couldn’t swim. I’ve met people living in a hamlet one kilometre up the road from Ġnejna who have never once in their lives been to the sea.
I figure it struck Landlubber Muscat that building on not-land would do just fine to keep them all happy. That’s because he thinks that not-land is about nothingness and emptiness, and therefore uncontested.
His reasoning is similar to that of certain nationless ethnic groups who want a patch of land of their own but are reluctant to compete for it. They usually end up claiming some ‘empty’ corner of Rajasthan or a well-appointed but ‘uninhabited’ island off Madagascar. Only it usually turns out, first, that what seemed empty is, in fact, very full and, second, that no one wants to camp out in the desert or be marooned on an island in any case.
So no, the sea is not empty not-land. And in Malta at least, land reclamation is a bad and highly dubious idea. Granted that Muscat cannot be expected to be an expert in all things terrestrial and marine. Question is, however, couldn’t he have checked his facts? Couldn’t he have asked someone to brief him on why Dubai’s Palm Island might not look all that great off Salina?
That and more he could have done but I’ve a feeling he can’t be bothered. On land reclamation as on other matters, Labour’s plans are inchoate at best. Still, who cares when the Nationalists are doing their best to see Labour in power?
My point is not just about Labour. I’m saying that bumbling of the type recently perfected to a fine art by the PN actually does very bad things to politics, and to the country.
It’s not just about the obvious – the dishonesty, backstabbing, barefaced lies, and so on within the party. That, and it brings out the worst in the opposition. It breeds mental laziness and a reluctance to say anything tangible about how Labour plan to run the country.
Muscat can afford to be supercilious and devil-may-care. The reason for that has nothing to do with Labour’s intrinsic qualities. Rather, it’s called the sorry state of the Nationalist Party.