Hal­loween stuffed

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”.

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

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.

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