No mob, no party

Twenty five years ago, if you took it into your head to protest against the Labour government, its policies, or anything remotely smelling of socialist, you'd be hailed as a hero.

If you marched down Republic Street waving placards denouncing the regime, you were a citizen expressing your democratic right to be heard. If irate Sliema housewives wanted to let off steam because there was no running water in their taps, they took to the streets armed with pots and pans.

There may have been a few derogatory remarks about the tal-pepe people, but those would have come from Labour quarters (presumably from the same people who were diverting the water supply from the Sliema areas to the Labour heartland).

You can be sure that the photographs of the water protests would have featured prominently in the Nationalist newspapers and that the protestors were lauded for their courage in standing up to the government. A quarter of a century ago, when a group of people (including a young Peppi Azzopardi) gathered in Bahrija and interrupted the Bongu Malta Sunday programme because they wanted broadcasting free from political bias, the transmission was interrupted long enough for the protestors to get beaten up by the police.

They got roughed up pretty badly but right-thinking people admired the protestors for taking a stand to support the principles they believed in.

Things change. The martyrs of yesteryear are the 'mob' of today. These days there are no principled protestors, no valiant upholders of democracy, no genuine environmentalists.

Now, it's 'the mob' which takes to the streets, or which roams the countryside, seeking to mow down those who come before it. Or at least that's what exponents of the Nationalist Party would have us believe.

Following the public protest over the development in Bahrija by the former PN President Victor Scerri, the satellite spin machine of the PN went into high gear. The protestors were accused of being politically motivated, of megaphone posturing, and of being a lynch mob baying for Scerri's blood.

Scerri himself objected to what he described as "mob rule" when referring to the protests. "Mob rule was supposed to have ended in 1987," he lamented.

"It is wrong to have all this public pressure on the Prime Minister to intervene because 300 people have decided there was something illegal."

To be fair, Scerri later qualified his statement, explaining that the "mob rule" remark referred to those protestors bearing placards with insulting or personal messages. Still, a few annoying posters do not a mob make.

As for the insults - well, what can I say except that it's high time that Scerri condemned them, considering that some PN apologists have turned personal attacks into an art form.

But back to the "mob" label and why it gets spat out on a regular basis when the PN's popularity is at a low ebb. My take on the matter is that the Nationalist Party has not yet made the mental adjustment to becoming a political party which accepts criticism with good grace and a willingness to change.

The Prime Minister is extremely thin-skinned whenever his administration is criticised, as are his ministers and party officials. Despite the fact that it has been in power for nearly three decades, its exponents still see themselves as the ones who have delivered the country from Old Labour excesses and corruption.

Consequently, they consider criticism as a form of ingratitude and lash out defensively whenever the actions or judgement of PN officials are questioned. For them, the degradation of the built-up and rural environment started and ended with Lorry Sant, and the mess that has been presided over by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and its government-appointed board members, can never be as bad as what took place in the 1980s - mayhem which has become mythologised with every subsequent re-telling.

This "we can never be that bad" mentality has blinded the PN to the fact that its performance is no longer being measured against that of the likes of Lorry Sant. He's no longer the yardstick indicating unacceptable behaviour.

It's a whole new ball game now, with citizens expecting higher ethical standards from its politicians and at least a certain degree of adherence to the electoral promises that helped the PN cling to power.

So, attacking the people who voted the PN in, on the basis of those promises, is going to be self-defeating. The strategy of insulting and ridiculing objectors is not going to win over alienated PN voters either. Browbeating voters into submission smacks of desperation and will only push voters even further away from the party.

And while we're talking about ridiculous strategies, can the PN stop these petty tit-for-tat revelations when it gets into trouble? I'm talking about the pathetic little exposé the Nationalists dug up about Joseph Muscat's planning application - the one granted by Mepa back in 1998 when he was still a Super One hack wearing Nana Mouskouri-style spectacles.

The Nationalists are jumping up and down with glee because now they have an Applicationgate of their own and they can counter all accusations about the Bahrija permit, with one about Muscat. Except that the two applications are not comparable.

Scerri's development in Bahrija took place in an ODZ area, which has been designated as being worthy of a high level of protection. Muscat's application was a run-of-the-mill application for development of a residence in a built-up area.

If his permit was issued before the statutory time limit for objections was up, it was an act of maladministration, but not really a scandal which can upstage the Bahrija mess or JPO's Mistra.

The PN spin machine cranked into action to incite its own mob into action. Forget any possibility of reasoned debate about Mepa reform to take place as accusations and counter-accusations are hurled across the political divide.

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