The PN's new billboard tells voters Labour won't work.
The 1979 UK Conservatives' electoral billboard
The Nationalist Party is banking on the fear factor of a possible Labour electoral victory with new billboards that promise voters that 'Labour won't work' - lifting the landmark British Conservatives billboard 'Labour still isn't working' lock, stock and barrel.
The 1979 billboard, the handiwork of advertising gurus Saatchi and Saatchi, came hot on the heels of a disastrous Labour government when unemployment in Britain was around a million - the billboard featured a long dole queue under a banner that read 'Unemployment Office'.
In the PN billboard unveiled today morning, a long queue of people can also be seen, ostensibly denoting the reverse of Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi's boast that he has 'created' 20,000 jobs in the last four years.
In a press conference this morning, finance minister Tonio Fenech told journalists the PN was explaining its policies through its billboards. "The electoral campaign will only start when the PM announces an election date," he said.
Asked why the PN had chosen to attack Labour over its performance back in the 1970s and 1980s, Fenech said the electorate would be voting on important issues such as unemployment.
Fenech said the PN's new billboard shows Labour for what it is. He added that while the Labour Party's billboards personally attack the Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi. The PN's billboard focuses on the families' needs.
The finance minister said "while everybody knows where the PN stands on employment, Labour's policies remain unknown and when Labour was in government it's failed policies ran the country to the ground."
The minister said the billboard shows the Nationalist government success in creating 20,000 new jobs in the past four years and boasted of one of the lowest levels of unemployment while the Labour Party had a track record in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as between 1996 and 1998, of creating unemployment.
On his part, justice minister Chris Said said comparisons between Labour and the PN were inevitable. "The same people who promoted and implemented wrong policies in the past, are the same people leading the Labour Party, with former industry minister Karmenu Vella responsible for writing Labour's manifesto and aspiring to lead the country.
"We are obliged to make these comparisons because the future of the country is at stake, and until recently Joseph Muscat was giving wrong advice about Malta modelling its economy on Cyprus's." Said added "contrary to the PN's policies, Labour's policies create unemployment."
PN secretary-general Paul Borg Olivier was not present for the press conference.
On its part, Labour issued a statement listing several events that took place back in 1979, to drive the line that "GonziPN is stuck in the past". In its statement, the PL says that 33 years ago Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran, Saddam Hussein became president of Iraq, Little House on the Prairie was a hit show, and "GonziPN's copycat billboard was created... GonziPN is stuck in the past."
The same Tory slogan has been borrowed by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose most recent banner reads "Obama Isn't Working", in which he is blaming the US President for a shuttered plant he used as a backdrop.
The PN's billboard also comes a week after Labour unveiled its latest billboards mocking the empty stands the PN set up on roadsides in preparation for their billboard campaign. Placed exactly near the PN's blue billboard, the Labour billboard points towards the other, with the words "gonzipn - an absent government" [gonzipn - gvern bahh].
Lawrence Gonzi's declaration on Sunday that not voting in the next election would be equivalent to voting for Labour, reflects polls showing that the PN loses more of its votes to abstention than directly to Labour.
Gonzi's declaration signals that the PN has embarked on the preliminary stage of its long electoral campaign - today marked by their billboard campaign - to recover those 2008 Nationalist voters who do not intend shifting to Labour but are inclined not to vote or are still undecided on what to do.
One fundamental difference between 2008 and now is that while in the previous election Gonzi was the most trusted leader, despite his party trailing by 6 to 7 points in the polls, Gonzi himself is now less trusted than Labour leader Joseph Muscat.
All this suggests that the PN needs a long electoral campaign to accomplish its three goals: re-compacting its 2008 vote base by winning back non-voters and those who are still undecided, winning a majority of new voters, and substantially reduce the swing to Labour.
One major obstacle to this three-pronged strategy is that it depends on the fear factor, which was easy to conjure when Labour was still led by Alfred Sant after 1998. Moreover in 1996, when Sant was young and fresh, the PN's "ma tistax tafdah" (you can't trust him) campaign backfired.
The fact that Muscat does not have a baggage of government and is largely untried or untested makes the PN's campaign to diminish his appeal more difficult.