Labour in labour

Re-inventing the Malta Labour Party (and Maltese politics): an unauthorised tazebao.

Archive for July, 2008

Is Malta losing its head? Stop the beheading of our heritage!

Posted by fcb on July 30, 2008

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Beheading of St. John the Baptist, c.1608
Oil on canvas, 361 x 520 cm, St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta

Fondazzjoni ghall-Ambjent Ahjar (FAA) is seriously concerned about two development applications to extend the St. John’s Cathedral Museum out to the St. John’s courtyard on Merchants’ Street and also under St. John’s Street and Square. These projects are potentially very damaging to our heritage. FAA feels that MEPA should refuse such applications especially as there is an alternative, considered as much wiser by the Fondazzjoni, to restore and convert one of the nearby deteriorating palazzos as a museum extension.

Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and St. John’s is the gem within that site. FAA is calling on the general public help it ensure the Cathedral is managed with prudence and sensitivity while fulfilling its space requirements in a way that will benefit Valletta for posterity. If you agree with FAA’s view, click on the link (http://www.ambjentahjar.org/letterofobjection3.asp) to send an objection to MEPA by Sunday 3rd August. You may also wish to pass this on to your friends.

The threat to St. John’s Cathedral and its surroundings is too great a risk to ignore. The changes being proposed include excavating St. John’s Street and Square, glassing in the entire cemetery courtyard to accommodate ticketing booths and a visitors centre (or possibly worse) and even a shop to be built right next to the Knight’s graves! 

Is Malta losing its head?

The editorial team of this tazebao believes that it is causes such as these that provide the opportunity for persons of good will to rise above any differences – real or perceived – between them, and to do what needs to be done. Some of you may doubt that individuals can make a difference in the face of an obtuse and unresponsive state. We beg to differ. If and when many individuals decide to make their voice heard, without ‘teatrin’, with moderation (what is more moderate than an e-mail to MEPA?) but with determination not to be pushed around and ignored, then it makes a difference. A big difference. The core visitors of this website are proud of their progressive ideas. Well, then what are you waiting for? Progressives will not tolerate the beheading of our national heritage in the name of progress!

 

THIS IS A COPY OF THE E-MAIL YOU WILL FIND AT THE AMBJENT AHJAR SITE

OBJECTION TO PA 00167/08 and 00168/08 Site at St John’s Cathedral Valletta

As a member of the public concerned for my country’s heritage, I vehemently object to the above-mentioned applicationsto extend St. John`s Museum by building an extra exhibition space and a shop projecting out onto the courtyard of St. John’s Cathedral, as well as to the excavation of chambers below St. John`s Street and Square, connecting to existing underground reservoirs and to St John’s Cathedral and to construct vertical lifts through all floors and other alterations.

The excavation of St John’s Square in order to provide more chambers might not only affect the Cathedral’s foundations, but will also destroy the remains of a palace of the Knights’ period there. Valletta’s underground chambers, tunnels, channels and water cisterns for the catchment of rainwater and the disposal of waste water are 16th century engineering treasures, evidence of the advanced engineering techniques of Laparelli and Geronimo Cassar and of the Order’s foresight in ensuring Valletta’s water supply. As such they should be mapped out, studied and preserved, and not damaged and exploited.

In addition to contravening several MEPA regulations on the preservation of Urban Conservation Areas, these applications also violate the Heritage Act since St. John’s Cathedral as a National Monument Schedule Grade 1 falls under: “Buildings of outstanding architectural or historical interest that shall be preserved in their entirety. Demolition or alterations which impair the setting or change the external or internal appearance, including anything contained within the curtilage of the building, will not be allowed. Internal structural alterations will only be allowed in exceptional circumstances where this is paramount for reasons of keeping the building in active use.”

Clearly, this does not permit an extension which changes St. John’s external appearance, just as the Cathedral does not need an extension in order to remain in use.

If the Cathedral needs extensions, these could be accommodated in one of the many palazzos or old buildings in the immediate neighbourhood of the Cathedral which are in an advanced state of deterioration. I maintain that the enormous funds to be spent on this extravagant and damaging project would be much better spent on investing in and restoring such a palace as a ‘state-of-the-art museum’. This would avoid the damage to Valletta’s underground heritage, avoid any risk to the foundations and structure of St. John’s Cathedral, spare the residents, shops, visitors and tourists years of upheaval in ripping up the newly-paved square, and will enrich Valletta through the restoration and rehabilitation of a decaying building.

I therefore urge Mepa to refuse these applications and ask to be recognised as an official objector and to be kept informed of any developments and hearings on this case by communicating with me at the above-mentioned email address.

Name & Surname, Postal and E-mail address

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Posted in Editorial | 3 Comments »

The sense of humour of the great unwashed: kachkéis and nuts.

Posted by fcb on July 23, 2008

View of the Upper Town of Luxembourg and drawing of postman, postbox, and Luxembourg postage stamps, postcard, 1912.

See the exchange of niceties between our Thomas Falzon and Jacques R. Zammit of the blog J’accuse.  You’ll find it under Representing diversity in a complex and dynamic world: the moderate and progressive vision of European democracy.  That you are at it, also have a look at Anna Maria Callus’ squeezing of Dr. Sigmund Bonello’s nuts. As the controversy rages in the ‘have-your-say’ section on the ADMINISTRATION & NATIONAL EXECUTIVE ELECTIONS, preserve your sanity and have a laugh. It really looks like Joseph’s New Political Season is compelling the elites to realise that the ‘great unwashed’ have a formidable political weapon…a sense of humour.

Posted in Editorial | 5 Comments »

Representing diversity in a complex and dynamic world: the moderate and progressive vision of European democracy.

Posted by fcb on July 19, 2008

Copernicus, fractal art, Sven Geier, 2007 (image inverted by LiL team) [*]

The Prime Minister’s decision to set up a select committee of the House of Representatives, representing both parties equally, to discuss issues related to the strengthening of democracy is one of the first tangible results of Joseph Muscat’s leadership.

The committee’s agenda is impressive and almost daunting:

* Public broadcasting
* Electoral Law
* Public financing of political parties and party funding transparency
* Adequate resources for Parliament
* A reform of the Permanent Commission against Corruption
* Strengthening of the Office of the Ombudsman
* Regulation of parliamentary appointments
* Regulation of ministers’, parliamentary secretaries’, and MPs’ conflict of interest

We feel that Lawrence Gonzi and Joseph Muscat have both understood the great opportunity offered by the present exceptionally favourable political circumstances to take Malta a step closer to the standards of governance expected of a European country today. One hopes that all of the MPs chosen to sit on this historic committee (Tonio Borg, Anglu Farrugia, Austin Gatt, Charles Mangion, Karmenu Vella and Francis Zammit Dimech) will live up to the considerable responsibility they have been entrusted with by their respective leaders.

Joseph’s insistence that civil society should be given the opportunity to have its say before any decision are taken, including the trade unions, the constituted bodies, Alternattiva Demokratika (the only organisation he specifically named) and the NGOs, should not be underestimated. Parliament is the highest expression of our democracy but does not, cannot, comprehend and express the complexity, diversity and dynamism of the galaxy of interests, aspirations and preoccupations that characterise Maltese society close to the end of the first decade of the 21st century.

The latter is an issue that needs to be seriously engaged by the political parties. Malta’s consistently high electoral participation rates hide the fact that in between elections an increasing number of Maltese and Gozitans feel alienated from ‘the political class’. Voting Labour or Nationalist at elections today does not mean that one identifies completely with the culture of the party one has voted for. Indeed, one wonders why so many thinking citizens continue to vote for so many candidates whose ignorance is surpassed only by their arrogance. And we are not thinking of the marginal cranks, oddballs and black sheep that occasionally jump onto the stage. We are thinking of the average candidate’s ability to read and appreciate the signs of the times and to ‘represent’ these in the House of Representatives.

The problems of political representation of diversity in a complex and changing society is one of the main issues that Labour in labour intends to pursue. It is central to any discussion of democracy in the contemporary world and, more emphatically, of the vision of democracy of European moderates and progressives.

[*] See Caaretaker’s note below.

Posted in Editorial | 14 Comments »

Choosing the Labour Party’s administrators and national executive.

Posted by fcb on July 18, 2008

Visitors to this blog, including the contestants themselves, are cordially invited to post their comments in the special page MLP ADMINISTRATION & EXECUTIVE ELECTIONS. Any comment focusing on the forthcoming election of the Party’s Administration and national executive posted anywhere else in our virtual tazebao will be redirected to the said special page. We are doing this to prevent the discussion on these elections to deviate Labour in labour from concentrating on the bigger picture and on the rethinking of the Party’s strategic goals.

Comments should, ideally, be signed by their author and the latter’s identity should, ideally, be a real one. We are not always in a position to verify identities and we appreciate that there are situations that justify the use of a pseudonym. We trust commentators will exhibit the good taste that has, so far, characterised the overwhelming majority of contributions to Labour in labour.

Nominations received by the MLP’s Electoral Commission:

· President : Wenzu Mintoff, Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi.

· Vice President : Louis Gatt, Alexander Sciberras.

· Secretary General: Gino Cauchi, Keith Grech, Alfred Grixti, Jason Micallef, Joe Vella Bonnici, Joe Chetcuti.

· Secretary Finance: Frans Chircop, Tommy Dimech, Jeffrey Camilleri, Joseph Cordina.

· Secretary Public Relations: Ray Azzopardi.

· International Secretary: Lorna Vassallo, Joe Mifsud, Alex Sciberras Trigona.

· Secretary Education: Anthony Degiovanni, Aaron Farrugia.

· 10 ordinary members of the National Executive: Nikita Zammit Alamango, Simon Saliba, Claudette Abela Baldacchino, John P Bonnici, Charles Cassar, Gino Cauchi, Frans Chircop, Michael Cohen, Roberto Cristiano, Aaron Farrugia, Anthony Degiovanni, Nettu Farrugia, Keith Grech, Alfred Grixti, Darren Marmara, Charles Marsh, Paul Pace, Salvu Seychell, Antoinette Vassallo, Lorna Vassallo, Christian Abela, Ray Azzopardi, Saviour Bonnici, Josephine Cassar, Joe Chircop, Chris Cilia, Frans Debono, Roberto Debrincat, Ancel Farrugia Migneco, Leonard Falzon, Charlon Gouder, Manuel Rocco, Alexander Sciberras, Jennifer Tabone.

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The public transport strike: konsenturi.

Posted by fcb on July 16, 2008

Konsenturi

The public transport strike has shaken the country. The Malta Transport Federation shows no signs of softening. An “and-everybody-lived-happily-ever-after” end is not in sight. True, the economic impact has not (so far) been catastrophic. The political and social impact, however, has been more powerful and more serious than meets the eye.

The political impact on the ruling Nationalist Party has been tremendous. The rank and file of the Party is shocked at the intensity of the strikers’ anger. The ordinary Nationalist supporter is genuinely surprised. We spoke to several and most reacted in the same way. They ask: “What did we do to them? Many, perhaps most, of them are Nationalists like us. Couldn’t we have solved this amicably, as we always do?”

Although Minister Austin Gatt puts up a facade of cool uncompromising toughness, not all is well within the Government and within the Party in government. There are clear signs of fatigue and cracks – konsenturi – are beginning to appear. We are not surprised. The stress is tremendous. The attempt to reassure the rank and file of the Nationalist Party and the ordinary Nationalist supporter that all is under control is beginning to fail.

Many of them are beginning to wonder who is responsible for a situation that could have been prevented. Many are beginning to point fingers and to speak of serious political mismanagement. Many are expecting Lawrence Gonzi to relieve Austin Gatt of a job that is evidently above and beyond his political competence and ability. Gatt, many – including a number of his own colleagues – have concluded, is unable to solve a problem that should not have been a problem in the first place.

The social impact, too, has been considerable. It has been a long time since we witnessed words and actions as harsh as some of those we heard and saw in the last three days. The effect will not rub off easily. The harshness we witnessed is a clear sign that beneath the surface not all is well in this society. Pressures from conflicts and resentment are building up to a level that is fast approaching the danger mark.

The political responsibility for the build-up of these pressures goes beyond the responsibility for the situation we are living through now. The public transport strike is only one episode, one of a number of other potential eruptions. The roots of this turmoil is to be found in the irresponsible manner with which Nationalist governments have, over the years, failed to tackle important issues decisively and definitively.

Posted in Editorial | 8 Comments »

Alternattiva Demokratika welcomes Joseph Muscat’s “political maturity”.

Posted by fcb on July 13, 2008

Referring to his proposals to Prime Minister Gonzi regarding the strenghtening of democracy, Joseph Muscat today emphasised the Labour Party’s request that talks on this subject should not be limited to the two parties represented in Parliament but ought to include other representatives of civil society. Alternattiva Demokratika, Joseph Muscat said, should be included in any discussions concerning electoral law and party financing.

Alternattiva Demokratika has welcomed the position taken by Joseph Muscat. Alternattiva chairman Arnold Cassola said this was a “strong gesture of political maturity”. “Indeed, all political parties, as well as civil society, should be directly involved also in the talks on a new electoral system for Malta,” said Dr Cassola. Stephen Cachia, AD’s deputy chairman, added that Joseph Muscat’s going beyond partisan politics was a very positive step as it gives credit to the positive contribution AD had given over the years to Malta’s political development. He hoped that Nationalist Party would also show such political maturity.

July 13, 2007

Posted in Editorial | 6 Comments »

A broad movement to save Malta and Gozo from drowning in a sea of speculation.

Posted by fcb on July 12, 2008

A drowning at Lévis, Ex-voto painting from the Québec region, 1754, Artist unknown, Oil on wood, (1994X269),  Musée de Sainte Anne, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Canada

As we debate the future of the Labour Party, this planet continues to revolve around itself and around the Sun. More particularly, the rape of this country’s natural heritage continues unabated.  Gozo is a case in point. As Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono launches the so-called consultation process for the government’s hifaluting eco-island project, MEPA continues to take decisions that are far from reassuring.

We suppose that the Hon. Debono will now include us amongst those she has branded as “sceptical people” and “who must not be living in Malta” because they do not salivate with pleasure when she lectures us about this country’s environmental track record. Well, Mrs. Debono, your government – pardon, MEPA – leaves us with little choice but to be sceptical. Take, for example, Ramla l-Hamra…

…doesn’t it stink ! MEPA Appeals Board chairman Ian Spiteri Bailey’s decision in Gozo last Friday July 11, not to throw out Emidio Azzopardi’s appeal shocked all those who give a damn about this country’s natural heritage, or what’s left of it. Normally an applicant who fails to pay the right fee for the appeal to be heard is simply told that the application is cancelled and the development blocked.

But Mr. Azzopardi, it appears, is not a normal applicant. “Had it been a normal applicant,” observed Miriam Cremona, “not a developer, the decision would have not been the same”. This means that a decision about the scandalous Ramla l-Hamra development is now postponed to the end of November. MEPA Appeals Board met to hear the Ramla developers’ appeal against MEPA’s rescinding of their permit to build 23 villas with pools on the Ramla hillside, partly on ODZ land. 

The permit had been originally granted in spite of robust opposition by environment NGOs. It was later rescinded because it turned out that the developer had provided MEPA with false information. In fact the application failed to state that part of the footprint included a public road. It took a demonstration by 1,500 protestors in Valletta to press government to nudge MEPA to reverse the permit. Rather than simply blocking the project, however, MEPA simply postponed a final decision till after the elections. 

Last Friday’s decision seems to be another attempt to delay a decision rather than declare the case closed. We wonder why…

…meanwhile, as Gozo drowns in a sea of speculation, we can either have faith in Giovanna Debono and take her word that “Gozo has already made great strides on the environmental front” or we can pray for deliverance or we can contribute to piecing together a broad movement of men and women of good will who will not be treated like fools.

SEE COMMENTS BY SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT, LELI AND ASTRID VELLA (AMBJENT AHJAR) ON THE ENVIRONMENT AND THE SOUTH

For more background information click on the following:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20080712/local/gozo-minister-grilled-at-eco-island-project-launch

http://www.ambjentahjar.org/pressRelease/28.08_ramlathreatresurfaces%2009.07.08.htm
http://www.ambjentahjar.org/news/maltatoday140707.htm
http://www.ambjentahjar.org/news/times150607.htm

Posted in Editorial | 9 Comments »

Further thoughts on the fear of sailing.

Posted by fcb on July 11, 2008

Snow Storm: Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth, J. M. W. Turner, 1842. Oil on Canvas 914 x 1219 mm, Tate Gallery, London.

Yesterday we reflected on the political perils of presenting ourselves as a party that rocks the boat and causes sea-sickness. Our reflection continues.

Can one hope to make a difference in politics and yet be accepted by an electorate that would rather have a government that did not rock the boat? This is a fundamental question, especially for a party that in 2013 will have spent twenty four of the previous twenty six years in opposition, especially in a country whose citizens have shown a marked and clear preference for political parties that let them be.

Faced with the choice between a party  that promises to resort to surgery to uproot alleged malignant growths and another that traditionally refuses to admit that there is any growth at all, resorts to palliatives and sedates the patient into numbness, our electorate ultimately chooses the party  that takes the softest approach.

In this situation, the party that has been consistently punished by a risk-averse electorate is tempted to imitate its more laid back competitor. It is tempted to avoid raising any serious issues and to smile itself into office. “We promise you we’ll do nothing to upset anyone at all. Vote for us and everything will remain exactly as it is. Vote Joseph and get GonziPN!” Will this do the trick? We don’t think so.

It is true that our electorate values continuity, stability and political tranquillity above all, perhaps as a reaction to past experiences.  In 1945, Pawlu Boffa resigned from the Council of Government to pressurise the Governor into dissolving it. In 1946 the nine Labour members of the Council of Government resigned. In 1949, after only two years in government, the Labour Party split and prime minister Boffa, now in a minority, survived for another year then resigned.

In 1958, after three years in office, Mintoff’s Labour government resigned, leading to four years of emergency colonial rule. Labour would have to wait another thirteen years – a highly conflictual period during which raged the infamous ‘political-religious war’ – before winning an election.

Then came the electoral victories of 1971 and 1976. These were ten years the experience of which we need to revisit and to reconsider. They were far from smooth but they were decisive for the country socio-economic progress, even if they have been the object of a revisionist historiography that is no less blatant and shameful than the worst examples of Stalinist rewriting of history.

Then came the ‘perverse’ result of 1981 – clearly a sign of political decline -, Mintoff’s resignation in favour of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici in 1984 and the defeat of 1987. The closing years of the 70s and the first half of the 80s were traumatic and left wounds that have yet to heal. There is a lot that happened then that is still shrouded in mystery but the point is that in the memory (first hand or received) of tens of thousands of Maltese and Gozitans, Labour is the villain of those years.

Then came 1996, a glorious year that saw Labour – with the decisive contribution of many activists who had led the difficult struggle to renew the Party – back into government. Merely two years later, possibly in an attempt to turn back the clock of history within the Party, a crisis ensued that led prime minister Alfred Sant to decide to call an election. Need we add a reference to the EU issue? Whatever the merits and demerits of Labour’s position on that issue, it will certainly be remembered as another instance of its genetic negativism.

In all of the cases mentioned above, Labour was – to use an unfashionable phrase – on the side of history. The resignations, the split, the early elections were all the consequences of good intentions. But who cares apart from those who are already convinced that is the case? Our collective memory has retained mainly the distress of those occasions to the extent that in the minds of roughly half the population Labour has become a synonym of distress. 

We can, of course, study the distortions of history and the systematic suppression of truth that has moulded our collective memory but at the end of the day, we have the collective memory that we have and that, perhaps, we have deserved.

Which brings back to the future, to our Joseph. There is no doubt that a lot needs to be done to make of this country a decent European one, one that we need not be ashamed of. The question now is how to go about convincing a majority of fellow citizens that doing what needs to be done will cause no distress. On the contrary, that we will all be distressed unless we take action to prevent this from happening.

We think that Labour’s new approach, the ‘new political season’ inaugurated by Joseph, is the right way out of the dilemma we referred to in the first paragraph. It won’t be easy, also because not every Labourite is Joseph, but we can do it. And we will.

Posted in Editorial | 5 Comments »

Voters fear sea-sickness.

Posted by fcb on July 10, 2008

Dutch merchant ship in a storm, Ludolf Bakhuizen, oil on canvas, 39.5 x 48cm, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Correspondent Danny Attard insists, correctly in our view, that a progressive and innovative leader is not a guarantee of a Labour victory at the next elections. If Labour is to win, he concedes, it must attract those that yearn for a more progressive and innovative society but, he insists, it must also win the acceptance of the many whose priority is stress-less continuity. Many, Danny argues forcefully and consistently, would rather vote for a conservative and uninspiring political party led by a conservative and uninspiring leader if the latter is unlikely to cause the aggravation often associated with change. 

They would rather resign themselves to the rape of our natural heritage, to being the dirtiest country in Europe, to a national economy that is slowly grinding to a halt, to an education system that does not educate and a health care system on the brink of breakdown, to institutions they cannot trust…than vote for a party that promises to rock the boat. Most Maltese and Gozitan voters, Danny seems to be saying, are not good sailors…rocking boats make them sick. 

Danny’s is not a new theory of course. Only a few days ago a very dear friend of mine for whom marketing is daily bread warned me to pass on the message that whatever we say we’ll do when in government, “avoid issues, avoid all issues, avoid any issue because people don’t like issues”. She explained that as far as the majority of voters were concerned there was no distinction between good and bad positions as far as issues were concerned. Anyone rubbing the voter’s nose into an issue, whichever issue, is not appreciated.

What is to be done then? Labour must learn to present itself as a natural party of government and not as a tough talking party of opposition. Voters do not assume that a good opposition party makes a good government party. On the contrary, it tends to assume that parties specialise in being either good opposition parties or good government parties. They conclude that a good opposition party should do what it does best, oppose. Why therefore vote it into government? 

Opposition parties are great at identifying worrisome issue and forcing government parties into solving these issues. Citizens appreciate this as long as nobody bothers them in the process.  Natural government parties do not worry citizens by forcing issues to their attention. In fact a natural party of government excels at denying that there are issues and if any such issue is brought to its attention it will do its best to convince citizens that the said issue is not, after all, as serious as the oppositions says it is. Citizens expect a good government party to solve issues without bothering them unduly.

These same citizens do not deny the value of an opposition party, on the contrary. But they feel that the opposition should restrict itself to prodding the government to solve issues it has identified. Ideally the opposition should do so without bothering anyone else, certainly not citizens themselves. Moral of the tale: if Labour wants to be in government in 2013 or whenever the opportunity presents itself, it must stop looking and sounding like the natural party of opposition. Joseph is leading the way in this direction. The rest of the party – its media included – must follow him.

Posted in Editorial | 3 Comments »

Ranier’s Thesis.

Posted by fcb on July 9, 2008

The well known columnist Ranier Fsadni teaches social anthropology at the University of Malta. A CV we found on internet informs us that he is also chairperson of the PN front organisation AZAD and is or was an advisor at the Office of the Prime Minister. Anecdotal evidence suggests that he is related to Rev. Peter Serracino Inglott, Rector Emeritus and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Malta, himself a well known advisor to the Nationalist Party and two Nationalist Prime Ministers. Former MLP president Mario Vella, in his 1989 book on the relationship between Serracino Inglott’ philosophical output and his political role, Reflections in a Canvas Bag: Beginning Philosophy between Politics and History,  writes that “had he (PSI) not existed, the Nationalist Party would have had to invent him”.

The Serracino Inglott that emerges from Vella’s book is that of the grey eminence of the Nationalist party’s transformation, in the period between the mid-70s and the mid-80s, from a network of conservative local notables with a somewhat restricted social base and heavily dependent on the Church for electoral mass mobilisation, into a modern popular party loosely modelled on the Italian Democrazia Cristiana and also – but more remotely –  inspired by the CDU, Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, the bigger of the two German centre-right Christian parties. More anecdotal evidence indicates that the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung), an organisation set up in 1956 as the “Society for Christian Democratic Education Work” and closely associated with the CDU, assisted the Nationalist Party to set up and develop AZAD.

But back to Ranier Fsadni. In a piece entitled The Liberal Turn, published in The Times of Malta of June 19, ( http://archive.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20080619/opinion/the-liberal-turn/) Fsadni articulates a very interesting thesis, one that we will henceforth refer to as Ranier’s Thesis. In a manner heavily reminescent of his uncle Peter, Fsadni begins by referring us to the distinction in classical rhetoric between “pathos (impact on audience), logos (what a thoughtful judge would make of an argument) and ethos (the spirit incarnated by an argument)” with a view to “help us notice certain moves and slides in Dr Muscat’s rhetoric and its likely future force”.

Then he moves swiftly to the point. These are the key passages: “While in the name of openness Dr Muscat is proposing to dissolve political polarisation in Malta, what he in fact wants to do is replace one polarisation with another: the PN-MLP divide will be substituted by a ‘conservative-liberal’ divide. He has already accused Lawrence Gonzi of being a conservative. It is a label that might stick. If so, the MLP will make inroads among some of the demographic groups where the Nationalist Party has in recent elections registered significant strength: youth and the middle-aged professional class. In fact, so far anyway, the PN is neither conservative nor progressive. Like the MLP it embraces a practical, if more fragile, synthesis of both”.

In other words, this is Ranier’s Thesis: In a bid to broaden the Labour Party’s support base, Joseph Muscat intends to reconstruct it as a party that appeals to all those who recognise themselves as progressives, regardless of their ideological roots. To do so he will have to convert the conservative elements within Labour to the progressive side. If he succedes to do so, Ranier argues, Joseph Muscat will shatter the Nationalist Party’s leading edge amongst certain socio-economic groups, especially in particular age strata. Not bad, the guy’s smart.

The calculation he makes (but does not show us the workings) is probably correct. This is the sub-text: If we line up progressive and conservative Labourites vs progressive and conservative Nationalists, the Nationalist Party gets the majority. If, on the other hand, we line up all progressives vs all conservatives, then the party of the progressives gets the majority. Ranier warns the Nationalist Party that Joseph Muscat has worked this out and plans to win the majority by bringing to Labour as many progressives as possible, even if this means making significant compromises.

So far Ranier’s Thesis is clear and unequivocal – even if it stands or falls on the assumption that in Malta fior del mondo there are more progressive voters than conservative ones – but he goes further. Beyond this point, however, his thesis becomes somewhat fuzzier and we think we know why. He fears, and warns the Nationalists accordingly, that if Joseph succeeds to a sufficient extent in labelling Gonzi as a conservative, then (quote) “the MLP will make inroads among some of the demographic groups where the Nationalist Party has in recent elections registered significant strength: youth and the middle-aged professional class”.

Ranier, tellingly, focuses on Lawrence Gonzi (“He [JM] has already accused Lawrence Gonzi of being a conservative. It is a label that might stick.”). Although he cannot spell it out without helping Joseph Muscat advance closer to his alleged goal, what Rainer is saying is that Gonzi may well become the Nationalist party’s ultimate problem. As a matter of fact, Ranier is quick to reassure the readers of The Times of Malta that, per se, the Nationalist Party “so far anyway, […] is neither conservative nor progressive”. Driven by the need not to be too clear, Ranier’s Thesis is condemned to fuzziness.

Hence Ranier concedes that the Nationalist Party “like the MLP […] embraces a practical, if more fragile, synthesis of both ” progressive and conservative elements. Hmmm…more fragile? Did he say “more fragile”? If we look hard enough, through the inevitable fuzziness, Raniers’ Thesis is sufficiently clear: If Joseph continues along this path and unless the Nationalist Party does something about it, a critical mass of progressives will rally around him. The fragile synthesis (his words) between progressives and conservatives that gives the Nationalist Party its political competitive edge will snap under the strain. Within this scenario, Lawrence Gonzi (on whom the conservative label “might stick”) is a liability.

Ranier’s clarion call is not aimed at the general public, let alone at Labour. It is aimed at the relatively restricted caucuses that determine the future of the Nationalist Party (for a taste of how this works, see our post of June 5 It-tbatija tat-tiġdid: ‘Peppinu’ Cassar dwar kif intgħażel Eddie Fenech Adami fl-1977). Like Peter Serracino Inglott in the 70s and 80s, Ranier Fsadni is desperately struggling to convince those that matter in and around the Nationalist Party that they cannot hide their head in the sand. Their party must become less conservative or lose power. 

Whereas former PN general secretary Joe Saliba – has he learnt anything from his self-proclaimed mentor, Joe Friggieri, Peter Serracino Inglott’s successor as the Professor of Philosophy, except for evasive distinguos ? – has reassured his party that Joseph Muscat may be an alternative to his predecessor but is not an alternative to Lawrence Gonzi, Ranier –  who has evidently had the benefit of a profounder teacher – is not so certain. No doubt he and his fellow Nationalist progressives (certainly a minority but a significant one) will be fighting tooth and nail to prevent the majority of Nationalist conservatives from taking over the party completely. If they do, they will simplify Joseph’s job.

Posted in Editorial | 7 Comments »