Labour winning not enough

I have no means of knowing what goes on in the heart of the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party. My comments about politics reflect my reading, like everybody else, of media reports about their activities and the occasional rumour, and my personal interpretation of what’s going on and what might lie ahead.

The day after Labour will have to govern. Is it prepared for that?
- Lino Spiteri

My opinion, like that of every columnist, represents nothing but the quantum of one, which is why I don’t use the plural ‘we’ when expressing my views.

I represent no one but myself. That said I might add that it is not difficult to guess with near correctness what is going on and what is to come from the parties.

They are a predictable read though that might not agree with the way someone like me or say, Michael Falzon, also a retired politician, interprets them.

By way of background to this column I think the apparent lull in the political market is misleading. The party gurus have never been busier. A bit of their enterprise demonstrates itself in the battle of the billboards. But that is only a few drops of the water on the boil.

The Labour Party has waded into that battle with gusto. It seems to have a good team, alert to what is going on, to counter Nationalist tactics and to project the party in the meanwhile.

The PN is even busier. It is clear that their billboards reflect a theme they selected months ago. They do not want to bowl towards the present wicket. They deliberately focus on the past.

Lawrence Gonzi started it with a personal attack on Labour’s Karmenu Vella because, at 62, he has a long political past. The theme has been fleshed out in risky terms. The current phase is that Labour won’t work, a Thacherite ploy of over 30 years ago.

Is it clever to be a copy cat and an old one at that? Time will tell. It is certain that time will see the theme expanded to viciously include personalities, mainly Labour leader Joseph Muscat, but the rest of his team as well.

Old and young, they will be targeted. Not just the few likes of Alex Sceberras Trigona, but even new arrivals like Franco Mercieca. The more promising new Labour candidates will face bazookas.

The Labour Party seems to have decided that what Nationalist oppositions used to do, they can do better. The Nationalists in opposition were always the epitome of crass negativity. Whether it was Dom Mintoff, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici or Alfred Sant they always aimed at the person.

At one time they even charged that KMB, the straightest of people to who money does not count, was evading income tax.

Now Labour feels it is its turn to be as negative as can be. Every Nationalist thing that moves is fired at. No more ferociously that the Nationalists used to do it. But still, I do not feel that is the way to capture the centre ground of uncommitted and disgruntled voters, including the most important new ones.

My view is that Muscat should exploit his youth to demonstrate that he really can offer a new brand of politics. A competition about efficiency. A commitment to the socially deprived. A determination to improve the position of the new middle class (no longer the bourgeoisie) and to give maximum room and assistance to enterprise to motor the economy, but always within a distinct and lively social context.

It will not pay Labour to try to displace the Nationalists by being like them, only more so. Labour should try to embrace all but it must remain Labour, which means not everyone can fit in its embrace. Tax evaders, for instance, don’t. Those who enjoy state benefits though they don’t need them should not. Businessmen who seek a roll rather than sound investment won’t make it.

Unless Labour airs these concerns loud and clear, it will not differentiate itself enough from the Nationalist Party.

The Nationalists, on their part, have long ago stolen Labour’s social garments. That is a worldwide trend and it will continue here. The Nationalists will also increase their projection of Muscat as untried and inexperienced. Muscat shouldn’t present himself for what he is not. What he is is the equivalent, perhaps a bit better, of Eddie Fenech Adami in 1987. Fenech Adami did not even have Gonzi’s experience of presiding over a large business group, Mizzi’s of Blata l-Bajda. Yet, he persevered.

What Muscat must be aware of is alienating the people who matter in the civil service. He will inherit a dismantled bureaucracy and have a largely inexperienced Cabinet. The ministers will import advisers. Yet in the main they will have to work with the top civil servants. Raising their hackles by dragging Richard Cachia Caruana before Parliament about a government job issue was not the cleverest of moves.

As things stand Muscat’s Labour has a good chance of winning the next general election. But then what? Zaren Fantin of Qormi, an old canvasser of mine and a natural philosopher though he is illiterate, used to say, what happens after the festa? He was referring to the huge pile of rubbish to be cleared the day after.

The day after Labour will have to govern. Is it prepared for that? Should it not use the current lull better than to win the inane ­battle of the billboards?

The Nationalists do not have that problem. For a bit of good and bit of bad, they are governing. They have the advantage of saying that if they win there will be no disruptions. Labour has to be able to say that as well, as convincingly as can be. Winning is not enough.


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