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Don’t mention Franco

What in heaven’s name is the matter with the Nationalist Party? The latest is that the Opposition should properly vote for the Budget tomorrow, and that to not do so is invariably against the national interest. Joseph Muscat is therefore a Cassius who will do anything to become Prime Minister, and so on and so on.

The real problem is Debono, not the Opposition
- Mark Anthony Falzon

Hand on heart, does anyone actually believe that? Is there really a thinking person out there who imagines that the job of the opposition is to agree with government at all times?

I suppose not. But just in case, let me spell it out. I will not resort to vague generalisations about the role of the opposition to oppose. That’s partly because the occasion may indeed arise for different parties and different groups in Parliament to agree and vote together. It has happened on a number of times and will happen again. This however is not one of those occasions.

The Opposition will be at least two things when it votes against the Budget tomorrow. First, logically consistent, as follows. Joseph Muscat has said that the present Government is no good at running the country, that Labour would do it better, and that the sooner they get the chance to do so the better.

It follows that Labour will do all they can to get into power as soon as possible. To not do so would be completely bizarre, given the premise. As long as that happens by legitimate means, I suppose the point is self-evident. And a vote in Parliament is an entirely legitimate means.

The Opposition will also be acting in the ‘national interest’. I put the term in quotes because it has become something of a tired rhetorical device. It’s one I find distasteful, mostly because it has a totalitarian ring. It also has a sneaky habit of standing in for all sorts of nastiness. Cruelty to asylum seekers has often been justified in terms of the ‘national interest’, for example.

The only way we can redeem the term is to assume there will always be competing notions of what the national interest might be at any given moment.

That pulls it back into the political crab-basket and absolves it of totalitarianism. In other words, no one individual, group, or political party should have a monopoly on the definition of the national interest.

That includes the Nationalist Party, funnily enough. Which means the Party has no right whatsoever to accuse Labour of acting against the national interest. Labour may be acting against the national interest as defined by the PN to be sure, but it’s only doing so to push its own version. That version may be more or less useful than the PN’s but it has an equal right to exist.

Ah, but what about the Chamber of Commerce? Has it not called for ‘all parties to act in a responsible manner and be guided by the nation’s well-being’ (there we go again)? Has it not said that voting down the Budget would leave the country with a ‘huge uncertainty’ and hurt the economy?

Indeed it has, but for two caveats. First, the Chamber of Commerce is not an oracle chamber. It is not tended by virgin priestesses, nor does it exist in a ritual stratosphere which is above politics and therefore always right. Rather, it’s as steeped in politics as the rest. That’s not a criticism by the way, just a statement of fact.

Second, the Chamber’s statement was somewhat ambiguous. Certainly it referred to Labour and their duty to act in the national interest. But it also said it was ‘extremely worried’ about (dare I mention him?) Franco Debono who, at the time of writing, is not in the Labour camp.

The real problem is Debono, not the Opposition. This whole uncertainty business owes primarily to him – or, to be fair, to relations between the Prime Minister and himself.

At this stage, there’s a point I need to make about consistency. I’ve just argued that in opposing the Budget, Labour are both logically consistent and acting in the national interest. Surely the same argument applies to Debono?

It doesn’t. Debono has spent the last year or so hammering away at ‘GonziPN’, ‘Austin Pee Pee’, ‘the oligarchy’, and such. At the same time, he has shown himself to be terribly upset about his formal ostracisation from the PN. All said and (not) done, Debono still wants to be a full-fledged member of the PN. It appears he would also like to contest the next election on the party ticket.

All of which implies that, notwithstanding his vociferous reservations, he generally subscribes to what the present government stands for. By his own implicit admission, Debono’s definition of ‘the national interest’ matches that of the PN. Which means that, unlike Muscat’s, Debono’s opposition to the Budget is neither logically consistent nor in the national interest.

The only reason why the PN is harping about the ‘irresponsible’ Opposition rather than talking about the real issue is, sadly, that it persists in trying to appease Debono. Against all evidence of the man’s personality, one might add.

This has been going on for at least a whole year now. I’ve spoken to many Nationalists about it and they find it both tiresome and symptomatic of poor leadership. They will tell you the Prime Minister has delivered on some of the more difficult tasks and stumbled on the relatively easy ones.

It’s also one of the reasons why the PN is heading towards certain defeat. In the case of the Budget, it has pushed the party into a pathetic piece of drama, in two acts.

The first is a homage to the famous Fawlty Towers episode, the second a tremendous sulk about the very existence of an opposition.

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