How to play Maltese politics... and win...
It is a truism that in Malta, football has attained a status close to that of a religion, among the male population at any rate.
But if this is the case, then the game of politics... that is, local politics, is nothing short of an obsession. And an obsession indulged in by both men and women – and as a spectator sport it is right up there with the UK’s Premier League and Italy’s Serie A.
Like all important sporting passions, it is played on several layers. At the top is the Premier League – otherwise known as the national parliament. The second tier is called the local councils... right on down through the various internal ‘teams’, like the youth teams – the young Nats or Labour’s Brigata and the organisers of political coffee mornings or high-teas.
Today I’m going to concentrate on blue-riband politics and give you the seven essentials necessary to succeed at the top level of parliamentary sport:
1. Whether you are in government or not, as a general election approaches, promise anything, the more outrageous the better. Nobody ever won an election by pledging to reduce the price of utilities by 10 per cent, make it 90per cent.
Then follow this up by promising to abolish income tax and to cut the price of petrol and diesel to 10 cents a litre. It’s OK, you don’t have to carry out any of your promises.
If you are the opposition and you get elected on this fanciful manifesto... once you are in power you merely turn round and claim that: “You had no idea the country was in such a parlous financial position and you would have to put your pledges – to create heaven on Malta – on hold for the time being” (For time being... read infinity).
If you are the governing party and you manage to get re-elected, it’s simple... You merely forget all about your pre-election pledges. It’s called political amnesia – and it works every time.
2. It is essential for everyone in the Premier League of Maltese politics to create an aura of power and mystique around themselves. Even the most junior of MPs, one who has been elected to Parliament on the 57th count of a by-election must quickly grasp this essential.
Closely allied to this is, what is known as ‘The conspiratorial huddle’. This massing of – usually male – bodies, normally occurs on social occasions like official receptions, weddings and drinks parties.
Upon the arrival of the Premier League politician, a scrum will form around him – rarely her – comprising various businessmen of dubious provenance. There follows a whispered conversation between several members of the huddle and the MP. This can sometimes last for several bottles.
3. Develop a split personality. Schizophrenia is a useful tool in the first division of local politics. A haughty, almost dismissive demeanour should be adopted for four years and almost 11 months.
Then, once the general election is six weeks away, he/she should undergo a complete character change to that of a caring, sharing sweet-natured servant of the people.
This can be discarded on day one, after the results are declared.
4. Never ever appear frivolous or flippant. A top drawer Maltese politician must appear serious at all times... even if inside he/she is dying to blow a raspberry or utter a string of jocular obscenities.
Nobody likes a know-it-all... and nobody trusts a comedian. So, deadly serious, it is OK.
5. The ability to lie through your teeth, while maintaining an open, honest appearance is vital. Some say this trait is born in the most successful politicians... all over the world.
6. This applies mainly to politicians of the male persuasion. The absolute necessity to appear to your constituents – and to the rest of the Maltese public – as a God-fearing family man... even though you may be keeping a harem on the side and you haven’t been to confession since you left St Aloysius’ College.
Appearance is everything.
7. It would be advisable for aspiring Maltese politicians to undertake a drama class or two. The ability to act convincingly (or unconvincingly) is regarded as one of the pillars of politics. In fact, some of our current crop of MPs have taken acting classes, with varying degrees of success.
And there you have it. Attain or absorb at least half of the above and you’ll have a very good chance of success in the world of Maltese politics.