Opposition leader Adrian Delia’s reply to the Budge Speech left most people incredulous by its vacuity. One had to laugh out loud at Joseph Muscat’s description of it: “Halloween stuff that attempts to scare people but ends up not being taken seriously”.
In the process, however, the Prime Minister rightly showed concern over sporadic remarks in Delia’s speech text that bordered dangerously on the xenophobic. Is the PN Opposition about to shift to extreme-Right jargon in the desperate hope of making some headway among the voting populace?
It looks very much like it. There will be covert strategists who suggest they should take a ride on the current extremeRight bandwagon in Europe, particularly in Malta’s case where the Opposition has, since 2013, been facing a government successfully transforming the economy. It has achieved a historic surplus, increased social benefits, is attracting massive foreign investment, creating record employment, cutting taxes and at the same time introducing no new ones, and carrying out huge infrastructural projects while still remaining creative and innovative. How can you oppose or disregard all that and not feel like an angry tomcat that has been left with no milk (no pun intended) to steal?
Frightening people is a convenient alternative strategy that thrives on populist disregard of human suffering, xenophobic standpoints, and a complete ignorance of basic economics. All of them indicate that there will be those who feel they should build on the model successfully produced by Italy’s M5S and Lega Nord, Germany’s AfD, Austria’s Freedom Party and similar parties elsewhere in Europe, regardless of the dangerous paths that a nation would end up having to traverse, a throwback to the1930s, alas.
It has of course worked brilliantly where austerity governments refused to realize people simply could not take any more. Where unemployment had soared, where tax hikes became the rule, where social benefits were bring cropped, where the majority could not afford to buy their own homes, where the cost of living had become a nightmare that denied families even a basic meat dish once a week. It was obvious that the sound of politicians preaching hatred against foreigners and, especially, immigrants and refugees “taking” native citizens’ jobs, would be music to people’s ears. They would also enjoy watching, for example, the videoed spectacle of a Lega Nord MEP, Angelo Ciocca, furiously grabbing EU Commissioner Pierre Moscovici’s notepapers and stamping on them with his shoe which he proudly said was, I guess, like pizza and the mafia, made in Italy.
Hence the blaring contrast between the situation where extreme-Right movements have grown and become a threat to European society as we have known it since the end of the Second World War, and that of 2018 Malta with an economic boom that is not without its collateral damage, certainly restricted to very small sectors of the economy which the 2019 Budget is clearly seeking to continue to address.
Coming after the negativism, evidently still steaming, of his predecessor, Adrian Delia would do better to rethink his strategies, be they political or economic. An Opposition that has no serious long-term planning but sticks to hollow statements on issues it seemingly cannot get to grips with will always have an uphill struggle to convince.
No political model fits all and, at a national level, it is a lesson every party, right, left and centre, has to learn over the years. In the global left-wing wave of the 70s, many of us had thought we could change the rest of the world, let alone this tiny archipelago, with neoMarxist, liberal and ultra-Left ideas about governing and doing politics. What happened? By the first year of the 80s, the electorate gradually became less and less convinced. The result: 25 years of conservative Nationalist rule, interrupted only by the two-year stint of the Alfred Sant Administration which was never really given a chance.
The Budget debate apart, having a difference of opinion is fine and it has all to do with politics. Discussing that difference of opinion is even nicer, but let us discuss, not hate. The Maltese people have shown clearly enough that, on more than one occasion, they do not want to dabble anymore in the hatred and the ugly negativism of a small group of politicians and their venomfanged blogger friends. Sadly, as we have just seen happening to Adrian Delia himself under the guise of “instant” journalism, the latter have let a nastiness creep into everything online, where you can’t have any political views anymore without someone jumping down your throat in a very personal way, and nuance is seen as a weakness. ***
The Mintoff memoirs and a special memory
While I do sometimes enjoy sharing memories with my readers other than just concentrating on things as they occur today, I simply could not resist the nostalgic kick I got from the publication of Dom Mintoff’s much-awaited first volume of memoirs: Mintoff Malta Mediterra: My Youth.
You see, again way back in the early 70s when Mintoff’s Malta was taking on the former imperial ruler over its military base rent, as a young journalist I had been actively involved in both the editorial exchanges with the UK media describing Malta as “a Cuba in the making” and the then exciting book world I have never left.
Whether portrayed as hero or villain, Mintoff at the time was a regular feature on the world’s front-pages and his Scarlet Pimpernel game with the media was an everyday occurrence. People wanted to write books about him, to interview him, to caricature him, to confront him. Quite by chance, a personal contact at Fontana Books had, a couple of years later, offered me a contract to write a book, the quickest work I could produce, about the man then at his peak. Needless to say, unruffled by the fact that I was only the Assistant Editor of a smallcirculation newspaper in English, I jumped at the opportunity and eagerly sent a letter to Prime Minister Mintoff asking for an interview to help start me off. No response. So I sent a second request, having the temerity to say his staff might not have passed the first one to him.
Did I expect a reply? Not in a thousand years, but I did get one in just a few days. Mintoff of course declined the request. In between negotiating the forthcoming new Republican status for Malta and introducing other game-changing ideas, he still found time to write me a nice letter in which he expressed his best wishes, adding that he had had several similar offers which he had turned down.
Evidently typed and handcorrected by Mintoff himself, the letter (pictured) further said that if he ever was to have his memoirs published, it would be from his own hand and no one else’s. Well, it has happened now, posthumously, alas. What this volume and the next say will be the subject of many dinner-table discussions to come, but thanks for the memory.