The nurses have a problem and so does the country. Two people were injured in a bicycle crash in Marsa. A nurse went there in an ambulance to help but ended up being threatened by a group of people. The police arrived 40 minutes later.

The Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses called on the Home Affairs Ministry to better protect nurses responding to emergency calls. The police said they were conducting an internal investigation to see why it took officers so long to get there. Predictably, the union then advised its members that, in threatening situations, they are to wait until the police arrive before helping the injured.

It is a debateable stand to take because assessing situations in emergencies can be quite subjective. This is a problem that needs to be resolved as soon as possible as Marsa was no unique incident. The union says nurses are constantly facing harassment, notably in Paceville. The heat is on Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia to solve the problem.

Then, unexpectedly, Health Minister Chris Fearne came out backing the union directive. It was a strange stand to take. He could have sympathised with the nurses but to support industrial action affecting the most basic of healthcare – emergency service – and for which he is politically responsible, smacks of populism. Mr Fearne appears to forget he sits on the same Cabinet as the Home Affairs Minister and shares responsibility for the state of affairs. However, this opaque positioning is not new.

Only last month, Environment Minister José Herrera pulled a similar stunt when he turned up at a protest in Pembroke against plans to construct a school there. The land belongs to the government, to which Dr Herrera belongs. The developers say it was the “authorities” who had directed them to Pembroke and there are reports they obtained the consent of the Lands Authority.

And, yet, the Environment Minister turned up at a protest against a project that appears to have the government’s backing. Next day, a spokesman said the government cannot stop the application process. That was a half-truth. If the government said it was against a school being built on its own land, there would be no purpose for the developers to pursue the application. But the government said nothing.

Dr Herrera’s and Mr Fearne’s moves are the first signs of a new Labour government marking the first 100 days of its second term and unable to blame a previous administration for everything wrong under the sun. It is realising there comes a point where populism does not work, where decisions must be made and political responsibility must be assumed. Ministers distancing themselves from one another, or from the very government they form a part of, cannot work.

The situation may actually get worse.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said he will not stay the whole second term. It is the same fatal mistake Tony Blair made when he pre-announced his intention to resign from the British premiership, only to suddenly find himself politically weakened.

Dr Muscat may very well face the same problems as Mr Blair, most especially from prospective successors. And, coupled with Labour’s obsession with appeasing everyone, no matter how contradictory it may be, it bodes for some confusing and troubled times ahead.

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