Local gloom in bad climate

Needless to say, the main inter­pretation of the local elections result will be political: Labour won a resounding victory.

Rather obviously, too, this will be seen as a pointer to the forthcoming general election. Both conclusions call for a harder look.

Labour’s success lies in its percentage of the total local councils vote, relative to that totted up by the Nationalist Party. A winning margin of 12 percentage points is no mean feat.

Yet, the totals suggest the gap was due much more to the decline in the Nationalist overall votes than to Labour additions. This indicates that a substantial percentage of Nationalist voters stayed away from the poll, more so than on the Labour side.

I wouldn’t put such abstentions mostly to bad weather. Saturday was a brute of a day with the gregale blowing as angrily as could be. But there were long gaps when it was easy enough to go about one’s business outside the house.

Point was that more Nationalists than Labourites did not feel it was political business as usual. They stayed away to transmit a message of dissatisfaction.

Their party will find solace in the fact that they did not switch sides. Simon Busuttil can lead a campaign to understand them better while Paul Borg Olivier coordinates the ministers to massage them mightily by election time.

Beating of the official breast will be accompanied by careful address of complaints. It will be the same old story of 2008, and of every previous general election, all over again.

If Saturday’s outcome does point towards a PN far from its pomp and a Labour Party progressing towards its peak, it does not make the general election result a foregone conclusion.

I expect Joseph Muscat to be the first to realise that, tightening strategy and tactics, with Lawrence Gonzi taking a deep breath and hitching up his political pants in determination to bring back power to his elbow. Inevitable macro-political analysis takes us away from the micro-scenario of the local councils themselves.

Their elections are of necessity political but they have become far too much so. Local elections are not, or, at least, should not be a national extension of the political parties, of the government and the opposition. At the national level, the two sides are endlessly at it, hammer and tongs, with the government always hiding its partisanship behind the national interest and with the opposition recalling the ancient maxim that the duty of the opposition is to oppose.

That, I hold, is not how it should be at the level of local councils. We should not elect councillors merely to do blunt politics. They should realise that they are there to put the citizens in their locality first. They should work together for the local good. The endless political game should be left to the national arena.

Sadly, the new local councils have not been elected in the right climate for such an approach. Politics is endlessly played at the local level as well. Revelations of the way a Nationalist mayor saw her opponents – she wishes them all dead, without apologising for the evil thought – has made it worse.

Lacing local politics with hatred is not the best recipe to guide them towards as much cooperation as can be in the interest of the common citizenry.

And, yet, if the political parties do recognise what the true function of local councils should be, and leave them to it, they would stand to gain from their wise stance. There will still be local councillors who err on an individual basis. But their errors would be human and personal rather than simultaneously tainting the party they belong to.

There will still be councillors, and councils, who do their job well, who really improve the conditions within which their electors live. They would get recognition for it but in the process show that politics is not such a silly game after all and that it matters to the citizen who his local representatives are.

On Saturday, in a climate of local politics being part and parcel of national politics, it evidently did not matter so much to the many thousands of voters who did not collect their votes or did so but chose not to cast it.

The political parties might do worse than see the moral in that.


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