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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

Down with the establishment?

With so many evident shortcomings in our two main political parties, the least they can do is spare the electorate meaningless arguments as to which of them is anti-establishment, when both of them are not

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
22 November 2016, 7:45am
Norman Lowell’s movement and the new ‘Patrijotti’ party could perhaps qualify as ‘anti-establishment’, but no one gives them a chance to garner enough support to become significant players in the Maltese political arena
Norman Lowell’s movement and the new ‘Patrijotti’ party could perhaps qualify as ‘anti-establishment’, but no one gives them a chance to garner enough support to become significant players in the Maltese political arena
In the wake of Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential elections a strange tiff developed in Malta between Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Leader of the Opposition Simon Busuttil. Both wanted to get a free ride from Donald Trump’s success and claimed that voters are being more attracted to politicians who are anti-establishment. Incredibly both claimed to be ‘anti-establishment’!

To say that the Prime Minister, who is the head of government, is automatically ‘the establishment’ is ridiculous, and at best naive. Neither is the party in Opposition automatically ‘anti-establishment’. It seems that our political leaders do not know what the term means.

The best definition (or rather explanation) that I found after a short cruise on the net is that the establishment ‘is the ruling class or authority group in a society; especially, an entrenched authority dedicated to preserving the status quo’.

There is no doubt that a head of government of a country that ruffles the feathers of an entrenched class can be anti-establishment. I reckon the only real anti-establishment Prime Minister that Malta ever had was Dom Mintoff, though in the end, even he had to come to a compromise with the establishment.

Joseph Muscat is no such political animal. He takes care not to annoy unduly the establishment. He never wanted to rock the boat and his claim that he is ‘business friendly’ says it all.

Simon Busuttil is certainly not anti-establishment just because he heads the Parliamentary Opposition to the Government of the day. Indeed, in a Western type democracy, it is practically normal for both the government and the opposition to be considered as part of the establishment. Look at Beppe Grillo of ‘Cinque Stelle’ in Italy or at Marine Le Pen in France and you will get an inkling of what this is all about. Both leaders and their parties are anti-establishment while the official government and opposition parties are both part of the establishment.

Chavez and his successor Maduro in Venezuela are typical extreme leftist anti-establishment leaders. The extreme left-wingers of their ilk resist ‘converting’ to become typically mainstream politicians and end up crashing their country’s economy into a solid concrete wall. 

Not all anti-establishment leaders are that shortsighted, however. 

A good example of an anti-establishment leader who is to be admired is Pope Francis. He has been fighting the Vatican bureaucracy – which is the ugly face of the Catholic Church’s establishment – since he was elected Pope. This week we even got the news that four conservative cardinals made a public challenge to Pope Francis over some of his teachings on the family, accusing him of sowing confusion on important moral issues.

That is a typical establishment backlash, I would say.

Many politicians start with being anti-establishment and end up, willy nilly, as part of the establishment when they feel the onus of power pressuring them. 

An amusing – but enlightening – anecdote in the ‘Yes Minister’ television series had two top civil servants (who were, no doubt, the incarnation of the British establishment) discussing how long it takes to ‘house train’ a new Minister. 

Dogs are house trained when they are taught not to dirty the house internally and to dispose their natural wastage wherever their master or mistress dictates. Eventually when a dog is house trained, the owner has no problem worrying about his dog’s toilet arrangements. This takes some time, of course. Civil servants also take some time to ‘persuade’ Ministers to abide by the long established method of doing things. 

The comparison is both hilarious and revealing but it shows how the ‘establishment’ works. 

Something more drastic happened in Greece not so long ago. After Alexis Tsipras did not manage to pull off his promised revolt against austerity and lost his ‘anti-establishment’ credentials, the hardliners in his party felt quite uncomfortable and broke away to form a new anti-austerity party. Just before the last Greek election, some 29 dissident Syriza MPs formed a new party that said it would fight the promises of further austerity and far-reaching reform that Tsipras had made to Greece’s international lenders. In actual fact, it took over Tsipiras ‘anti-establishment’ mantle while the Tsipiras government is now part of the establishment!

No such tremors seem to have happened in the Labour Party, in spite of Muscat promising an earthquake. He has very intelligently smothered those forming the extreme left wing of the Labour Party, who now find themselves practically disenfranchised.

Alas, both the government and the opposition in Malta are part of the establishment and the recent Muscat-Busuttil tiff about being anti-establishment only serves to show the extent of the illusions that affect both our political leaders.

Norman Lowell’s movement and the new ‘Patrijotti’ party could perhaps qualify as ‘anti-establishment’, but no one gives them a chance to garner enough support to become significant players in the Maltese political arena.

Even the Maltese press is part of the establishment... with the notable exception of this paper (MaltaToday) that sometimes exhibits spurts of an anti-establishment spirit. 

With so many evident shortcomings in our two main political parties, the least they can do is spare the electorate meaningless arguments as to which of them is anti-establishment, when both of them are not.

***

Calling the waiter

The other day I was at a rather expensive restaurant full of patrons on a Friday evening and I asked my wife how many foreigners she could see. My wife, thinking that I was referring to the patrons – replied that she could see none. I replied that practically all the waiters were foreigners!

When the truth sank in, I recalled that there was a time when Dom Mintoff was rather averse to the idea that tourism should be one of the more important of Malta’s economic sectors. With the bias of the son of a former cook in the Royal Navy, he even once said that he did not want Malta to become a nation of waiters. The idea of rich foreigners being served at table by Maltese ‘servants’ was too much for him to stomach.

The irony of history has no bounds. Today it is the ‘foreigners’ who come to Malta to wait on Maltese patrons in chic restaurants.

This country is incredible.

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...
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