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Political embarrassment (or the lack thereof)

'Politics is run on a kind of perpetual deferral'

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Let me start with a personal note. I am very embarrassed and I do apologise for two grammatical slips that somehow eluded me while writing my previous entry in this blog. Indeed, as a couple of commentators rightly observed: it’s “lock, stock and barrel”, not “log …”, and yes, it should be “worst” not “worse”, because “worse comes to worst” and not the other way.

Those who engage in the craft of writing will confirm that even if one reads his or her own texts many times over, auto-correction is almost impossible unless one has the luxury to leave one’s text for a while and return to it after several weeks (which, in the case of writing a blog entry, one cannot do).

However, it is not my intention to waste your time on self-flagellation over my grammatical errors. Rather, I am more interested in how embarrassment has become a rarity in public life, especially when we all know that public opinion is the best auto-correction tool for politicians whose deeds, unlike grammatical errors, have a direct effect on a society’s daily life and culture.

So, let me get back into character and comment on the politics of embarrassment (or rather, the lack of it).

Whether you are someone—of any persuasion—who is not comfortable with how corruption seems to be taken with a degree of levity in politics; or indeed you are still livid over a line-up of unresolved matters, starting with the oil procurement scandal, Swiss leaks, Panama papers, Egrant, Jersey, and now to the recent spate of allegations around the processes that led to the election of a new leader for the PN, you are right to wonder why many politicians of all stripes never seem to be embarrassed by their gaffes.

Not only that, but whenever they speak of such matters, most politicians seem to have a talent for making elaborate excuses, to never flinch or baulk when they evidently fall into massive contradictions, and to refrain from publicly showing an ounce of regret.

It is less so common to witness a politician admitting mistakes (even when all is lost and he or she evidently got it wrong), and less so to members of the political class showing repentance. As to making amends, that somehow takes a different twist, as when they change stuff around, politicians normally want to show that in effect they were right in the first place.

I am not sure whether there will be a time when we can speak of politics of embarrassment, but perhaps we should

I am not sure whether there will be a time when we can speak of politics of embarrassment, but perhaps we should. And we should also speak of a politics of humility, as we move on to accept that all of us make mistakes and we have to take responsibility for them.

To make things worse, in Malta we seem to think that justice is something that has to run at a snail’s pace. Somehow, we accept that libels, inquiries, and other mechanisms by which someone has a right to claim his or her innocence, must take ages to find a resolution.

This creates a sense of endless suspension which could only encourage politicians and an assortment of commentators, and even some bloggers, to say what comes to their mind, feeling reassured that after they cause a rumpus, there will be enough time for people to lose track and forget what it was all about.

Those of us who have invested their faith and hope in the judiciary to take a line and establish the truth about crucial issues which have affected the stability of our political life are still waiting to see major allegations to be resolved and the facts established. Whatever one’s position and inclination to believe, accept, reject or endorse as facts or fiction in all these cases, we should at the very least agree that here we have a situation where politics is run on a kind of perpetual deferral, and where doubts tend to weaken the strength and legitimacy of democracy itself.

As there does not seem to be a sense of embarrassment, let alone remorse, coming from any camp, should we read this as a sign that the political structure of our country is pretty much fallacious and therefore not to be believed in any way possible? Could we afford not to have confidence in the way things are done, and where at the very least we could expect a level of fairness, rather than one or another side feeling constantly shortchanged, as if democracy is just a game where no one can be truly trusted?

Such a culture is very debilitating. It also makes the necessity of politics problematic, in that those good people who are working hard within the political system—and we know that there are many good people on both sides—are ignored and treated as equally unreliable and suspect.

Surely, if we haven't thought about it, we should now be expecting from our representatives and those who work with them, that at the very least they show that they are aware that this can’t keep going on, and unless we simply want to play the blame game and level out one scandal with another (as we see fit in our tribal mentality), we should come up and expect that politicians not only admit mistakes, but show a degree of embarrassment and act upon it.

Back to what the late comedian Dave Allen used to refer to as “the vagaries” of the English language, it seems to me that here we are not dealing with a few slips in the grammar of politics, but we have a major crisis of communication, where even the political language by which we are supposed to make our diverse and rightfully opposed cases, has become inadequate.

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