The summer of spin
I can just picture the scene at PN headquarters minutes after Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando delivered his resignation letter (not a moment too soon) and swaggered off to the nearest television camera.
In the depths of the Stamperija – far away from the glass facade which was meant to symbolise a new era of transparency and honesty, but has simply caused everyone to feel as if they’re in a fishbowl – the PN Strategy/Spin group is hard at work.
The first – and only – item on the agenda – is damage limitation, or how to portray the party which has created and nurtured Pullicino Orlando as an innocent victim of the ungrateful rebel.
Austin Gatt and Richard Cachia Caruana are exchanging books in The Hunger Games trilogy and ruing the decision to build a new Parliament instead of an enormous arena where errant MPs could be sent to battle to the death in a televised affair which would beat Indifest hands down in the viewing stakes.
Paul Borg Olivier is jotting down the minutes of the meeting on a notepad. There is no way that he’s trusting a computer again after that fat fingers episode.
David Agius has been despatched to the door to spirit away the tattooed heavies in wife-beater vests who are definitely lowering the tone at the front of house.
The IT whizzkid who dreamt up the ‘Prime Minister for a Day’ competition is flipping through Fifty Shades of Grey and asking himself why the Kardashians are so yesterday, why Christian Grey is trending on Twitter, and how on earth he can create the same sort of buzz around Lawrence Gonzi.
The Prime Minister has had it up to the gills with calls for his resignation and for a new leader at the helm. He looks even more tired than the Labour billboard of him holding his hands over his ears.
He decides to show everybody who’s in charge and to stamp his authority on the meeting. So he bans Ralph Lauren poloshirts from the premises.
Franco Debono may threaten to vote against the government, but at this point Gonzi couldn’t care less. And he can’t stomach the sight of that oversized polo player embossed over yet another MP’s heaving maboobs. In the immortal words of Tony Zarb, “Issa daqshekk” – enough is enough.
Gordon Pisani and Simon Busuttil are comparing transcripts of conversations they’ve had with people over the last 10 years or so. Pisani thinks he’s on to a winner with the infamous “Qed inħossni ħażin” transcript where Pullicino Orlando says he’s feeling ill when alerted to the fact that PN central has caught wind of Alfred Sant’s knowledge of the Mistra disco application.
But Busuttil trumps Pisani with a transcript of a conversation he had with Joseph Muscat back in 2008. Written on an airline sick bag, the transcript has Muscat dropping broad hints about Labour’s ace in the hole for the 2008 election – namely Pullicino Orlando’s involvement in the Mistra scandal.
After much discussion and downing of mugs of coffee, the strategy group hatch a cunning plan. In the time-honoured tradition of cunning plans thought up by the major political parties, it is (a) not remotely relevant to issues people really care about (think health, education, economic woes, roads), and (b) is an attack on the other party.
So for a change (not), the PN is going to attack the Leader of the Opposition. He is to be depicted as a blabbermouth who revealed sensitive information to the Nationalist Party.
The members of the PN strategy group quibble about how to push this. Maybe they can present it as Muscat’s Machiavellian plan to cause Alfred Sant to lose the election and to step neatly into his shoes. Or else they can simply say that Muscat is a big mouth who was trying to impress Busuttil with insider knowledge.
Either way, it will make Muscat look bad and serve as a distraction from the PN’s internal bloodletting. So they go for it. The cunning plan is unleashed. An urgent press conference is convened. The press is told Muscat leaked the Mistra news.
Barely 24 hours later another press conference is called and the press is told Muscat leaked the news – again. Maybe by the time this article goes to print, further press conferences would have been called for the same purpose.
Why not have one every day until Parliament reconvenes? You can never have enough of a good thing.
Where exactly does this leave the rest of us? Those of us who are not political anoraks obsessively keeping track of who said what and when in 2008? Even if Muscat is to blame for alerting the PN to Pullicino Orlando’s involvement in the Mistra affair, how does it absolve the PN from not vetting him adequately, helping him in that sickening TVM charade, and lumping him on the electorate?
How does this contribute in any way to portraying the PN as a force for the good and not a spent spin-machine? Maybe the PN strategy group should think long and hard about these issues, instead of regurgitating the same old tired attacks.