Gift horse runs loose for Labour
It would be too much to say that the Labour Party is looking a gift horse in the mouth with the way it is reacting to Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando’s manoeuvring in the Nationalist ranks. But it does seem to be the case that it is not riding along as carefully as it should.
The PL has certainly exploited the Nationalist ruptures. Its no confidence motions resulted in humiliation for the cockiest of the ruling ministers, with Austin Gatt just about saved by the bell in the form of the Speaker’s casting vote. They also acquired the scalps of former minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici and Malta’s Permanent Representative to the EU, Richard Cachia Caruana.
In doing that, Labour acted as any other opposition party would have and certainly no worse than the Nationalists did in 1998 when Dom Mintoff went on his rampage. Ironically, its political successes laid the ground for more self-inflicted embarrassment for the Nationalist Party. That presented itself in the unbalanced way the party reacted to the outcome of Labour’s successful no confidence motions.
It was as if Dr Mifsud Bonnici’s ministerial death was lamented on the occasion but swiftly forgotten a couple of days afterwards. That was in sharp contrast to the way the Prime Minister reacted to the loss Mr Cachia Caruana, which threw him into a frenzy of grief.
One man was disposable, the other irreplaceable.
The gift horse galloped on with the way three disaffected Nationalist MPs behaved, particularly in reaction to the party’s decision that they would not be allowed to contest the next election. That decision was hollow to the extent that MPs Jesmond Mugliette and Dr Pullicino Orlando had already crossed themselves out of the election.
It was less hollow in the case of Franco Debono who, rather remarkably, expected to be allowed to contest again. But, at least, the decision showed belated decisiveness. Yet, instead of cooling things down, that raised the heat to an almost unbearable level, especially in the form of Dr Pullicino Orlando. He unleashed astonishing vituperation against Mr Cachia Caruana, even requesting the PN to throw him out, guru qualities and all, for having allegedly acted in cahoots with members of the Labour government of 1996-98.
Surely that was the time for the PL to take a step back to pat the gift horse gratefully and to watch the spectacle of the new PN shenanigans as mere spectators. Labour had everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose by doing that. Instead, Labour somehow get involved between the PN and Mr Cachia Caruana. Master spinner that he is, the Nationalist guru must have been secretly delighted with this development.
On one hand, he evidently feels he can defend his patch and, anyway, Labour’s reiteration of alleged requests by him in 1998 do not amount to disloyalty to the PN or its leader. On the other, it was an unexpected opportunity to spin attention away from the disarray within the PN ranks and, also, from the problems of the government as such.
The outcome is that attention has been shifted to Mr Cachia Caruana and Dr Pullicino Orlando and, so, away from the Nationalist government. Beats me, as an old observer of the game of politics, what Labour are gaining out of all that. Rather, I would think that the Labour team are wasting time and energy required for attention elsewhere.
For instance, The Sunday Times election survey has it that a majority of new voters and of voters in the 18-24 years age group intend to vote for the PN. Granted, Labour has a handsome lead overall among those who have declared their voting intentions. But, surely, nothing can be allowed to chance in a game as fickle as politics.
Will Labour’s insertion between Dr Pullicino Orlando and his party have plucked one new voter or any voter under the age of 24 from the intention to vote Nationalists? Similarly, regarding voters aged 62 and over, a majority of whom also intend to vote Nationalist.
Gift horses are rare and require special handling. It is not unknown for them to harm those apparently receiving the gift.