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The Xarabank Survey: Unspinning the Spin (2)

Posted by fcb on June 1, 2008

Woman spinning flax using a drop spindle and distaff. 15th c. France MS Fr. 599, f. 40, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris


This is the second part of a series of three editorial comments on the study released Friday by Xarabank / Where is Everybody, “The views of the Maltese on the forthcoming election of the Leadership of the MLP: Summary of the findings”. In this second part we are focusing on two further parts of section 4.4 “Comparison between who the people want and who they think will bring a Labour victory” namely, part 4.4.2 “Nationalists”  and part 4.4.3 “Labourites”. Tomorrow (Wednesday, June 3) morning, we will publish a commentary on the remaining sections as well as of the whole report. The three commentaries form a step-by-step reflection.

Yesterday’s general argument summarised:
You will recall that we began with a reflection on the meaning of the question that the Xarabank interviewers put to the respondents namely, when they asked them “who the people want” and “who they think will bring a Labour victory”. Let us recall what we said:
“In the former case, the person asking questions on the phone asks me who I want as leader of the Labour Party. In the latter case, she asks me who I think who will win the election for Labour. Under certain circumstances these are two very different questions. Under other circumstances they are not different. Let us reason this closely. If I was a Labourite who wants her or his party to win the next election, then you would expect my reply to both questions would be identical. I want as leader the person who will win the next election for Labour. If I was a loyal and calculating Nationalist who wants her or his party to win the next election, then it is not likely that the person I would like to be elected as the next leader of the Labour party is the same one who I believe can win the next election for Labour. On the contrary, it would not be unreasonable to expect me to want as leader of the Labour Party the person with the least chances of winning the next election for Labour. In which case, when the voice on the phone asks me, a loyal and calculating Nationalist who wants the Nationalist Party to be re-elected at the next election, who I want as leader of the Labour Party, then I will give the voice the name of a person least likely to defeat the Nationalist Party, my party, at the next elections. You might object that not all Nationalists are loyal or calculating or both. That is, of course, possible. You might say that it is possible to conceive of a (not-so-loyal) Nationalist who, in spite of having just identified him or herself to the voice on the phone as a Nationalist, is really a person who would switch allegiance to the Labour Party if only the Labour Party would elect a new leader that will defeat his/her (Nationalist) Party at the next election. Not impossible, but how probable? You might say that it is possible to conceive of a (not-so-calculating) Nationalist who is carried away by his or her emotions. Such an emotive and not-so-smart Nationalist would presumably tell the voice on the phone that Labour should choose…and he/she would name a person associated in his mind with internal opposition to Labour’s past leader, a past Labour leader (Alfred Sant) that he/she has been taught over the past sixteen years to hate viscerally. That such an opponent to Alfred Sant might end up defeating his own (Nationalist) Party at the next election might well be beyond his/her mental capacity. Yes, there may well be a number of these amongst the respondents to the latest Xarabank survey.”

Nationalists (Section 4.4.2)

“Who you want Leader”
George Abela 48.5%
Michael Falzon 12.1%
Joseph Muscat 33.3%

“Who will win election for MLP”
George Abela 54.5%
Michael Falzon 9.1%
Joseph Muscat 34.3%

This is one of the most intriguing and fascinating elements of the Xarabank survey. Put yourself in the shoes of the Nationalist respondent (or, to be more careful with our assumptions, in the shoes of the respondent who says that he or she is Nationalist). Someone who does not know you is asking you who you want as Labour leader. Let’s say you are of the cool and calculating type: you will give the name of someone who, whilst standing a reasonable chance of getting elected as Labour leader will, in your view, constitute the least possible threat to the Nationalist party (concretely to Lawrence Gonzi) at the next national elections and the least ‘difficult’ leader of the opposition in the present circumstances (when you have a mere parliamentary majority of one seat). Bartolo, Coleiro Preca and Falzon don’t seem to stand a chance, so you rule them out. What good would it do to pump them up when there is no way they can make it? 

If you are this sort of Nationalist, you have to choose between Abela and Muscat. If you think Abela is the least of the two threats, then you would like to give him a hand to become leader. Assuming you do want to reply, you have two choices. You either say you want him, or you say you want Muscat. If you think that choosing Abela will boost his chance of getting elected by the delegates of the Labour Party, then you will say that you want Abela to become leader. If you think that by doing so you will damage his chances, then you will reply that you prefer Joseph Muscat. You may have been told by someone close to Pieta’ to always say that you prefer Abela. Even if you haven’t, however, you have observed that The Times, The Independent, sometimes Malta Today, Daphne…are all somehow for Abela or, more precisely, against Joseph. So you tell the anonymous and faceless voice on the telephone that you want Abela and stuff Joseph Muscat! Let’s call you a Type Calculating “A” Nationalist.

There is a lesser chance, but a chance nevertheless, that your calculation takes you a step further. You could reason that if you back Abela on the Xarabank Survey (and the voice did say that this is the Xarabank survey), then the Labour delegates – the majority of which know that Xarabank is one of the wagons of the PN train – will conclude that the Nationalists want Abela and will therefore not vote for him. So, you will tell the Xarabank interviewer that you would rather have Joseph Muscat as MLP leader. In any case, she doesn’t know you. Let’s call you a Type Calculating “B” Nationalist.

If you are a calculating Nationalist but more emotionally Nationalist than ‘calculating’ (admittedly God did not endow us all with the same level of intelligence) you will hesitate in the case of Falzon. He is doing better in the polls than Bartolo and Before Abela came into the picture, the strategists at Pieta’ did not exclude starting a whisper campaign instructing Nationalists to say they preferred Falzon to anybody else on the grounds that he was a good sport and accepted defeat without rancour or acrimony at Naxxar). Then George Abela came into the picture and the whisper campaign changed course. Pieta’ is too fast for your comprehension. Michael has bark, damn it, and he never quite got on with the hateful Sant. If he becomes leader, the PN will have no trouble winning again in 2013 and he will kick the Santjani out. X’cuc hu l-orgazmu! Two results for the price of one. Let’s call your Type, the Calculating-but-Emotional Nationalist. You are the one who will say Michael Falzon when the Xarabank interviewer (or any other interviewer) asks who you want as MLP leader.

You could, however, also belong to a fourth category, the Emotional Nationalist. You are a disaster and if Pieta’ could they would ban you outright from membership. Problem is you have a vote and, well, a vote is a vote. Sixteen years of brainwashing can’t be reversed in a few weeks. Sixteen years of demonising Alfred Sant has left an indelible effect on your little shrivelled brain. No way will you ever say you prefer Sant’s ‘poodle’ to anybody else. You hate him, you them, full-stop. Funny thing about you though, is that you will vote in the same way as the Type Calculating “A” Nationalist.

The table below suggest how each of the four main types of Nationalist respondent will reply to the Xarabank survey. A bit of cynically light-hearted psychology? No doubt, but go through the reasoning again. It can be defended. Is the typology all inclusive? No, we could add a fifth type, the Ethical Nationalist who empathises with Labourites and really sympathises with the contestant he says he wants as MLP leader. We are, however, too cynical to take her/him seriously.


Type of Nationalist respondent




Calculating “A”




Calculating “B”













Even in this category of voters, George Abela and Joseph Muscat have more people that think that they can bring a Labour victory than people who actually want them as leaders. The opposite is the case with respect to Michael Falzon. This would seem to confirm the reasoning above. The choice of name (either Joseph Muscat or George Abela) to give the Xarabank interviewer is almost always purely a tactical calculation (self-reasoned or learnt). It does not correspond to an expectation of the named contestant’s victory. Only in the case of an emotive respondent, do spite and – deep down – honesty converge.

Labourites (Section 4.4.3) 

“Who you want Leader”
George Abela 31.3%
Evarist Bartolo 2.5%
Marie Louise Coleiro Preca 11.3%
Michael Falzon 20.0%
Joseph Muscat 35.0%

“Who will win election for MLP”
George Abela 32.5%
Evarist Bartolo 2.5%
Marie Louise Coleiro Preca 8.8%
Michael Falzon 10.0%
Joseph Muscat 45.5%

More respondents (of those that claim to be Labourites) want Michael Falzon and Marie Louise Coleiro Preca as, respectively, leaders than realistically expect to win an election for Labour. It is as if the rational, realistic judgement prevails over the emotive in the last instance. I want her/him to be leader but will he/she defeat Gonzi? In the case of Michael and Marie Louise, may of their friends in this Xarabank sample do not feel they can. Bartolo is the only one whose friends (always in this Xarabank sample), those who want him to be leader, all believe he can win an election for Labour. There are, however, very few of these. In the case of Abela and Muscat, the opposite is the case. Many of those Labourites in this sample that concede that these two can kick Gonzi out of Castille do not want them as leaders. Good think only a few of these, if any at all, are delegates with a vote. On the other hand, if there were any delegates at all in the 300-strong (or 300-weak) Xarabank survey sample, they are more likely to be in this category than in the other three (Nationalist, Floater, unidentified).

[to be continued tomorrow].




11 Responses to “The Xarabank Survey: Unspinning the Spin (2)”

  1. Peter Paul Portelli said

    It is ironic that the strategy to prolong the date for the election of MLP leader, originally intended to facilitate George Abela’s comeback as a contender for the leadership post, should end up favouring Joseph Muscat.

    During the past weeks, George Abela managed to promote himself, with help from various surprising, but perhaps not so surprising, quarters, as a main contender for the post. At the same time, Joseph Muscat (initially portrayed as too young and Alfred Sant’s ‘poodle’) has convinced everyone that he is his own man, speaks his own mind, has a vision for the Labour Party and for the country, and has the necessary drive and skill to realize his vision. During these weeks, Joseph Muscat’s persona has visibly grown in stature, convincing even those who had initially been sceptical about him.

    Joe Grima’s statement on Xarabank last Friday is a case in point. For some, the programme was clearly intended to boost George Abela’s candidature. Many were however surprised (probably even Peppi Azzopardi) to see Joe Grima support Joseph Muscat. Before Xarabank, Joe Grima had openly declared George Abela to be the only possible valid leader, capable of winning the next elections. On the programme, Joe Grima admitted that he too had seen Joseph Muscat grow in stature and that Joseph Muscat was as much a valid candidate as George Abela to lead MLP to victory. He further added that whereas George Abela would in five years time be 65, Joseph Muscat would be at the right age to win the support of around 100,000 voters under 35 years of age.

    Lino Spiteri’s column in today’s Times issue seems to confirm this changed attitude. In his previous contributions, Lino Spiteri openly declared that his friend George Abela was the best option for MLP’s leadership even though he wanted Joseph Muscat on the same ticket. In today’s column, Lino Spiteri did not mention George Abela, or indeed Joseph Muscat, by name, but gave a clear and balanced assessment of how he sees the way forward towards 2013 elections. George Abela is no longer the only valid option. Clearly Lino Spiteri does not exclude that Joseph Muscat would also make a successful leader capable of winning.

    A full circle. What started as a strategy to undermine Joseph Muscat’s popularity has ended up showing that he is indeed a valid candidate capable of leading MLP to electoral victory.

    Peter Paul Portelli

  2. Rino Ceronte said

    Thanks to I caught up with last Friday’s edition that I had missed because it was boys’ monthly night out and I would not miss that for the world.

    Sitting through the whole show – thanks to the fast-forward facility helped me skip the deluge of commercials and the silly songs I came to the following conclusions:

    1) Labour’s electoral commission deserves full praise for putting its foot down and dictated its terms for the participation of the five election contenders on Peppi’s circus.

    3) A five year old child could see through Peppi’s agenda that went something like this: “Hey delegates, the surveys say that the nation wants George Abela so don’t be a bunch of morons, follow the herd and choose George Abela. This is what the PN electors did when they voted Gonzi. They followed the herd and elected Lawrence.

    3) A five year old child could also notice the way Peppi picks the speakers from the audience which was blatantly made up of George Abela supporters. Well rehearsed practically all three of them echoing George Abela’s rhetoric throughout his campaign

    4) Professor Fenech, one of George Abela’s promoters was ready to put his money where his mouth was and challenged the gentleman sitting to his left to a bet that Abela would win the election. Professor Fenech went overboard to illuminate us with George Abela’s achievements as Deputy Leader for Party Affairs between 1992 and 1998 to the extent that he said that George Abela laid the foundation stone at Labour’s new headquarters in Hamrun. Now this would have been a serious distortion of history if the event is not etched in stone and photographed for memory. Prof Fenech tried his best to mitigate George Abela’s jumping ship back in July 1998. George Abela then did not accept the overwhelming majority vote that endorsed a motion in favour of early election. A motion he himself had endorsed the day before during a National executive meeting.

    5) Peppi Azzopardi was more than happy to give professor Fenech a hand. He gave him the facility to wind up the debate as the last speaker.

    Hallina Peppi!

    Rino Ceronte

    [Author’s identity is well known to the Caretaker! The Caretaker]

  3. fabrizioellul said

    Muscat will be 40 by the next election. Is 40 a good age to be prime minister? I might suggest 41 or 42 or 45 or 50; why not make it by law that it should be 55. (55 is a nice number)

    What I fear is that the Gonzipn might call a snap election in 3 years time when Muscat will be 38. In 2011 we’ll be in the peak of the economic crisis. The Goznipn will come out and saying that we need is ‘peace of mind’ and how can you have peace of mind with a 38 yr old poodle as prime minister with a goatee to boot.

    Tactics. They are very good at it. This is why the MLP has to work as a collective. It will be tough. There are only 1,500 votes that divide the two parties and one thing that the Gonzipn knows how to do: is to keep power and it has all intention to do so; the gonzi boys will then come to replace the father. the MLP might as well dismantle at that point and continue to live the christian democratic dream. If you actually ignore the core, life isn’t that bad after all. A few happy pills will do the job.

    Fabrizio Ellul

  4. Joseph Fenech Borg said

    Profs Dom Fenech’s arguments on Peppi’s Agenda were sound and logical. If he stays on with the Labour Party, whoever wins, it would be an added bonus. I say the same things of Lino Spiteri, a veteran and an impeccable intellectual, with very few to match him in his age group.
    However,as a young man – 31-, I found Dom’s arguments a bit too subjective, in the sense that if you are a friend of someone, friendship, no matter what, predominates and impacts on your arguments. And, amongst friends, that is how it should be! But the leadership debate is not about friendship, neither about personal agendas; it is an unselfish act, it is for the common good. At this point in time, given the proponderance of young voters like me and given the mess that Mintoff left behind him in the labour movement, a young man who has not been involved in the Mintoff’s turbulent times, Abela’s abandonment of Labour to its own devices, and Sant’s miserable PR, the young Joseph Muscat is the cool thing to vote for. So, Labour clean your act, start afresh, ot’s move forward together for a better Malta; we deserve better!

    Joseph Fenech Borg

  5. Melvin Cassar said

    I am not sure I understand Fabrizio’s point. All I know is that If Joseph wins he will not be alone. I am not sure how well Fabrizio knows Joseph and his friends in Malta and in Europe – this is no mystery and can easily be checked – but he might be comforted by the thought that, for example, some of Europe’s best economic minds have chosen to associate themselves with the Foreign Direct Investment Policy for Europe (FDIPE) initiative launched by Joseph Muscat as Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Economic & Monetary Affairs of the European Parliament: they include such well known names as Professors Buckley, Dunning, Blomström and the former president of WAIPA (the World Association of Investment Promotion Agencies) Kai Hammerich (he is also the CEO of Sweden’s national investment promotion agency), and institutes such as Cambridge University’s CIBAM (Centre for International Business & Management).

    Can you imagine what would have happened had Joseph asked these to confirm their support for his European initiatives for a Maltese audience? People like Fabrizio would have been reassured that Muscat is already today a safer pair of hands at economic policy (also because he can access many pairs of first-class hands and brains) than Gonzi and his tired old (or young non-starter) crew, and will be even safer still in 3 or 5 years). But, had this happened, can you imagine the hue and cry about foreign interference from many other quarters?

    Rather than repeat over and over again tired and infantile tirades about poodles and goatees, let’s finally get real.

    Moreover, Fabrizio, if Joseph wins, there’ll be plenty of us Maltese in Europe and beyond, who will regain hope in the possibility of Malta pulling itself out by its hair from the provincial cess pit it is sinking in, and come back, roll up our sleeves and give our fair share of hard work and creativity to makes us, finally, proud to be Maltese in Europe and Europeans in Malta. Not to say anything of those highly qualified specialists (Labourites, Greens AND dissenting or just plain bored Nationalists) who although they never left Malta are as good as exiled.

    Melvin Cassar
    Frankfurt am Main

  6. harloc said

    Melvin, I think that your reply to Fabrizio’s message shows 2 things, that first of all it cleasrly shows that most of us Labourites do not accept crticism, even when this is constructive. You are trying to convince all those sceptics of Joseph Muscat that his age is nothing compared to some of his credentials, when in actual fact, quoting you saying “Joseph Muscat as Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Economic & Monetary Affairs of the European Parliament” clearly shows that he was part of a group and neither it’s leader.

    So please Melvin, just say that like most here you favor Joseph Muscat and please satrt accepting constructive crtiticism, cause in case that Joseph’s assistants will be all like you, than there is no hope that a Labour Party under Joseph will be any better than one the one led by his mentor Alfred Sant.

    To conclude, I sincerely hope that in case Joseph is elected, he will embrace more the rest of the party and that he will embrace more the left faction of the party that has been left in the dark for the past 10 years.

    Hope that in case any delegates read this blog, my message to you is to think with your mind and that you choose the person who is willing to go against all odds in the interest of the party and not in the interest of winning the next election. With a united party Labour will win.

    Sahhiet and may the best contender build again the MLP.


  7. fabrizioellul said

    I was being sarcastic.

    I think the Labour is finally moving towards a progressive policy. I am looking forward to get to know more of this party.

    Emma Goldmann:’Nor need we retrace our steps into the distant past to realize the enormity of opposition, difficulties, and hardships placed in the path of every progressive idea. The rack, the thumbscrew, and the knout are still with us; so are the convict’s garb and the social wrath, all conspiring against the spirit that is serenely marching on.’

    I think there is a lot we can learn from the liberal wing of socialism. I have great hopes in the MLP that it can bring a cultural revolution in Malta. If it wasn’t for the MLP – Malta would have been a European Iran. Now it needs to look forward, be proud of being Left, be humble but strong. In 2013 it will be 25 years of Christian Democrats. Enough is Enough.


  8. Anthony Grima said

    There has never been an election for a party leader as democratic as this one. Hopefully, the political punches that were delivered will soon be forgotten and the urgency to re-organize the party will take over. I must say thank you to the organizers of this window; as it has enabled many Maltese, some of them not fervent Labourites ( like me) to give them some respite in the clearly airless and one sided political debates on the local Times. Hopefully, Malta To-day, will be the natural place where free loving Maltese citizens can debate without censorship. So Good Luck Labour and let the best leader win!

    Anthony Grima

  9. Alistair Borg said

    During the intense campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party, Joseph Muscat has shown he is the best suited for the post.

    He emerged as:

    1. As the most energetic

    2. The one with the best ideas for the party

    3. The youngest, yet the most mature. He never ever attacked directly or indirectly any of the other four contenders. Nor did he attack the Party. We can all learn from the way he managed his campaign.

    4. He is the one most suited to unite the Party. A must if we want to win.

    Vote for the best. Vote for Joseph Muscat.

    Alistair Borg

  10. John Gray said

    Jenny invited me to have a look at your site. I must admit that I know very little about Maltese Politics. However, Good luck with the search for a new leader! You seem to having a more constructive (and polite) debate than we had in the UK during our Labour Party leadership elections last year.
    John Gray

  11. fabrizioellul said

    Age is not important. A person should be judged on his ideas. I met 50 year olds who act like kids; and kids with the wisdom of an owl.

    A month or more ago I stated that the winning tandem is Abela – Muscat. I think that most people are getting this point. Abela represents that old-school working class passion. Most of the Labourites truly like him. My only reservations are on his liberal social views. Muscat represents the progressive youth of today. You need both.

    I’m not really worried about the outcome of the election. Both of them seem to have great respect towards each other and both have said that they will work together.

    Just one question: what will happen to this blog?

    Fabrizio Ellul

    [From the Caretaker to the owl…good question, the one about this blog. What do you think we ought to do? Some say that there are plenty of blogs around…]

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