Of budgets and people who won’t budge
Anyone who has ever hosted a party knows how maddening the business of invitations can be, especially when you’re on a tight budget. There are lots of invitation rules and regulations I have learned over the years, both in my capacity as hostess and guest.
Certain guests are lethal and open a proverbial can of invitation worms. There are some people who travel in groups and whom you can’t ask in isolation.
When it comes to these, five guests swiftly become 15 and before you know it, your low-key, 30-something shindig has grown considerably somewhere in the region of 75 and counting. You suddenly need to rent glasses and a waiter for the night.
There’s the invitation law that says 10 or 20 people invariably don’t turn up on the night due to sickness, forgetfulness or other commitments.
This means if you want to host 30 people, you’re better off asking 50, otherwise you risk lots of empty space and left over food.
There’s the ‘last-minute invitation’ – where you invite people a couple of days before the event – which is rather rude and not done. If you are on the receiving end, it generally signifies you were an afterthought, a lingering doubt or the result of someone else’s regret or cancellation.
Finally, there’s the invitation ‘cheat’ – the one where you deliberately ask people you happen to know can’t make it. People you discover are going to be away or otherwise indisposed.
This usually works beautifully when you’re heavily indebted invitation wise and have lots of reciprocating to do. Because you get to do your bit and appear generous and magnanimous, when in reality you are neither.
I found myself thinking of the ‘cheat’ on Monday night and in the days following the Budget vote, as I watched the Prime Minister and his minions tell us all about the fantastic budget which the PN had extended our way and which we would never partake in and enjoy thanks to the Labour Party who ought to have RSVP’d, confirming their approval and attendance.
They couldn’t exactly pin the blame on Franco Debono unequivocally, because he RSVP’d a hell of a long time ago and made his regret publicly known. We all knew what Debono’s position was. To call him a party pooper wouldn’t even be fair or accurate. He had registered his reservations about Gonzi’s guest list and had made it adequately clear to all of us that he would not be prepared to ‘party on’ in the presence of one of Gonzi’s party favourites.
Several months before, he had tabled a no confidence motion in Austin Gatt which was ignored and had repeatedly warned that going ahead with the Budget was an exercise in futility as long as Gatt didn’t budge.
Why whet the country’s appetite with a Budget which Gonzi knew was never going to come to fruition? It’s the equivalent of extending invitations to a party which is never going to materialise or to guests you know can’t make it.
But Gonzi charged ahead regardless, ignoring all the signals, because it suited him fine and the Minister of Finance got to work on the Budget that would never be. It fitted in beautifully with the PN’s plans. A dream Budget which was too good to be true and which the island probably couldn’t afford anyway, one which they wouldn’t need to implement and yet, which would leave a great after-taste behind.
An attractive election budget if ever there was one, which they could afford to be ultra-generous with and use as yet another delaying tactic, keeping them in office until the very last day.
And the best part – when it didn’t go through, the PN could turn around, look very apologetic and shocked, throw their hands in the air in feigned mock desperation as if to say: “We gave it our best shot. Please don’t blame us – blame the irresponsible idiots who voted against it.”
As I sat there last Monday and watched the Prime Minister deliver his “irrelevant speech”, trying his damnedest to ignore the elephant in the room, almost refusing to utter his name, I couldn’t help but feel a great sense of unease.
It all seemed so staged and fabricated. We had just heard Debono’s speech which unfortunately was a hurried through affair, with too many interruptions from the Speaker; a speech which rang too many truths. And not a single allusion thereto or a word of retort from the Prime Minister.
Debono may be a megalomaniac who couldn’t bear the fact that he was virtually crossed off the party list and was getting his own back, but that doesn’t make any of the things he said less true.
In the days that followed there were mixed reviews. We had the usual suspects spewing hate mail and open letters to Debono writing him off as a ‘has been’. The negative attention was evidence of how present, continuous and still very relevant Debono is, but I won’t even go there.
And then there were those who acknowledged that Debono had more than just a point and didn’t really have another way out. He had painted himself into a corner and there was absolutely no way he could back down.
But there was another exit which could have been utilised. If the PN really wanted to give the country its stability back and have its glorious Budget go through, they ought to have sacrificed the other megalomaniac and tantrum thrower in the room – Gatt.
Even if Gatt were completely blameless he ought to have been big enough to realise that backing down would have been the most magnanimous, sacrificial act of them all and would really have shown Debono up as politically immature and rendered him completely irrelevant.
But Gatt, who is anything but blameless and who ought really to have offered his resignation months ago would hear nothing of sacrificing his near-expired political career to save the PN, its fantastic Budget and us mortals.