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

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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.


3 Responses to “Voters fear sea-sickness.”

  1. Pascal Mizzi said

    I am impressed. Pity this blog probably doesn’t get the audience it deserves. You still get Nationalist pampaluni giving the impression that Labourites have no brains. What’s worse is that many Labourite brothers and sisters have been taught to believe this is true. This blog is living proof that in this historical moment it is Labour that enjoys a clear competitive edge as far as political creativity and intellectual depth are concerned.

    It is true that we cannot generalise and that we have our fair share of cabbages too (at all levels of the MLP, centrally – including the media – as well as in the districts, the localities – including local councils – and the so-called branches of the Party) but now, as never before, there is a new spirit emerging…a spirit of respect for intelligent innovation.

    Joseph Muscat is certainly to be credited for midwifing the conditions that are making this new and exciting period possible. But whereas men and women, as somebody said, make their own history, they do so in the circumstances they find themselves in. In different, earlier, circumstances, Labour’s cultural revival – a precondition of winning the respect and the trust of civil society – would have been impossible. Not only, Joseph himself would have been unthinkable.


  2. Lillian Borg Gatt said

    @ pascal

    Everything has its season. This is Joseph’s season. He could not have come before in the same way that migratory birds do not appear over our skies on the way to Africa before they sense the coming winter, or that the grape is not ready to be picked before autumn…

    Joseph is more than Joseph. He is the sign of a growing national impatience – not the impatience of Labourites or Nationalists but the impatience of all ‘progressives and moderates’ irrespective of their partisan pedigree – with an obsolete political culture – not Nationalist political culture but the mainstream political culture of those politicians on both sides that will do their damnest to conserve the old way of doing politics.

    This national impatience has been growing slowly, over many years and is now beginning to emerge in the open. It could not have done so before. The conditions were not ripe. Joe Saliba tried to reassure us that the process of innovation unleashed by Joseph is limited to the Labour Party. What a pathetic figure Joe Friggieri’s student has reduced himself too (I too have seen the interview on TV)! The poor man is just pitifully out of his depth.

    He has not understood that what is being challenged is a whole national way of doing and understanding politics. It will not happen overnight and it will not be a leisurely walk along Ghar-id-dud. There will be stragglers on both sides. There will be rear-guard actions from the part of reactionaries on both sides. But it will happen. And should anyone of those now cheering for change turn her or his coat, they will be over-run by those racing forward close at their heels.


  3. Andrew Abela said

    Hats off to Danny Attard!

    I vote him one of Labour in labour’s most brilliant commentators!
    Join me in singing a hearty

    “For he is a jollygood fellow … and he is one of us!”

    Andrew Abela

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