Results win the debate
Many watched the Xarabank debate between Lawrence Gonzi and Joseph Muscat and formed an opinion there and then. The Times, in its leader on November 7, did not pronounce a winner and, in a well-balanced argument, said Gonzi was convincing in explaining the way his government managed in impossible economic times while Muscat came across as moderate, sometimes even agreeing with the Prime Minister.
As happens in America, television pundits keep telling us who won and lost this kind of debate on the strength of appearance. John F. Kennedy is supposed to have won the first-ever US presidential debate in 1960, and won that election, because he shaved just before the debate and put on make up for the television cameras while Richard Nixon looked sickly in his 5 o’clock shadow and ill-fitting clothes.
I do not purport to be a judge of men’s make up and gel. I’ll leave that to the cosmetics and television pundits. What I did notice was a confident Prime Minister and a quiet Labour leader, repeatedly asked, and repeatedly failing, to explain his proposals.
The key moment of the debate, I believe, was when the Prime Minister produced a thick bunch of independent international reports commending Malta for its remarkable economic performance and job creation in the choppy economic waters that have sent countries to the wall and millions of people onto the dole.
Reading Labour candidates’ columns in the papers you would think that we live in a country where tens of thousands of people are begging and dying of hunger. People can’t make ends meet by the third week of the month, said Muscat during the debate in one of his less moderate moments. But that’s political talk, easy as it gets.
The Prime Minister told Muscat and viewers that he doesn’t want to sing his own praises but brought 12 international reports by the likes of The Economist Intelligence Unit, the European Commission, the World Economic Forum, the EU statistics office, Eurostat, and the International Labour Organisation to sing Malta’s praises at the end of these five years since Gonzi won his first general election; five years of internationally deep financial, economic and jobs crises.
Can all these independent international organisations be wrong about Malta? This is where Gonzi was more than a cut above Muscat because the Prime Minister has the results and the substance to show for his term of office since 2008.
More than 20,000 students have graduated from the University in these last four years, yet, we have an even lower unemployment level now than we had in 2008. Malta is the only country in Europe, alongside Germany, that enjoys such an achievement. Where did those 20,000 students go?
New jobs were generated because the Government, rather than subsidising fuel imports, was investing in education for more and better-paying jobs in new sectors such as pharmaceuticals, financial services, aviation services, igaming and information technology.
I do meet a lot of Labour-leaning small business owners. We talk genuinely and honestly. Even they admit the economy’s doing well. Many of them travel and know what’s happening abroad where high unemployment, tax increases, benefits cuts, redundancies and high fees for a University education are blighting the future of a whole generation of youngsters and millions of workers.
Yet, in Malta, Muscat does not talk about jobs because his big issue continues to be the electricity bills, which the Labour government had jacked up most unfairly when oil was selling at $12 a barrel.
Muscat keeps cynically and childishly avoiding to explain how we’ll pay for them if he’s in office after the next election. People know: if Muscat does reduce the bills, what we won’t pay in the bills proper we’ll have to pay via new and higher taxes.
So we – families and businesses, including hotels and factories – would better spend our money investing to harness the ‘oil’ we already have in Malta, not in the ground but above us: our glorious sunshine, that technology and government subsidies are making ever easier to turn into viable energy, rather than subsidising the imports of oil and only making the sheiks even richer than they are.
Here again, results and substance: the hard decision to remove energy subsidies and shift those tens of millions saved to investment in job creation, education and clean and cheap energy has given this country rich dividends: 20,000 new jobs in new industries and an economy that (according to the latest European Commission economic report published after the debate) is set to grow at the third highest rate in the eurozone.
Make up and gel anyone? No. It is results and substance that win the debate.