Why Evarist Bartolo should hang on

Politics needs people like Evarist Bartolo; his party needs him, warts and all 

Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo
Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo

“I am very unhappy. Frustrated. I feel like leaving politics and spending my last years reading, writing, listening to music, cooking, walking, travelling and above all enjoying my family,” Bartolo wrote on Facebook.

That was foreign minister Evarist Bartolo for you on Saturday morning. 

He is Malta’s foreign minister and he is caught between a rock and a hard place.

Evarist Bartolo was never a racist, and surely, he has always stood up for third-country nationals and the weaker members of society. But as foreign minister he is being asked to look at the bigger picture. That is his dilemma.

The recent decision to anchor a Captain Morgan ship at Hurds Bank as some kind of floating detention centre in so called international waters, does not look good.

Yet even that is questionable. Europe does not give a hoot and no-one seems to care whether migrants drown or get pushed back to the incubus in Libya. 

Politicians have avoided migrants before and during COVID-19 - they consider the subject to be an electoral minefield. 

And the fact is that European politicians are no different to us when it comes to sucking up to xenophobic sentiment.

But Evarist Bartolo’s suggestion that he would resign brings up another subject. 

Bartolo is not someone I have had not clashed with before. Some clashes even resulted in us no longer being on speaking terms for a while.

In 35 years, I have had a few bones to pick with him. From his days as a political commentator and journalist to his early days in politics, in the political taxonomy he is considered to be a jackal: sly, ruthless, elegant but intelligent.

But in the wider scope of political discourse, Bartolo is one of the few remaining bigwigs who still represents the left wing of the party and the rational social democratic verve of the Malta Labour Party.

Under Joseph Muscat, Labour moved to the liberal centre, looking to the right on economic policy, and left on social issues. 

Under Abela, the party’s centrist position is turning out to be more populist, especially under the pall of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the shit hit the proverbial fan in November, Bartolo was crucial to push for change. Bartolo’s departure is a decision only he can make, but Labour today sorely needs some soul-searching and character. 

If Bartolo leaves they could well lose both.

No one should be advocating that Labour is turned into a retrograde party that barricades itself against business and champions one cause against the other. 

Yet neither should it be that party that proposes no new social policies, takes no new environmental initiatives and comes up with no international solutions.

Until now, Robert Abela’s administration has effectively only responded to predicaments: whether it has brought itself to respond to governance reforms, addressing corruption in the police and handling superbly the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Good and well done, but when it comes to kick-starting initiatives we are still miles away from seeing any concrete and visible action.

The situation is worse off because Abela’s adversaries (the PN) are so weak and divided amongst themselves; they offer no real checks and balances.

I was once told that the moment Labour MPs stop being aware of what it means to be working-class and what it means to be on the left of politics, then that will signal the end for the Labour Party.

It does not take much to understand this.

Few of the current MPs ever had a taste of radicalism or the suffering of youths under trying conditions. 

Joseph Muscat is the son of a prosperous pyrotechnical importer; Robert Abela is the son of one of Malta’s most successful lawyers. 

The same applies to many other MPs whose teeth were not in cut in political discord, but in the aspirational peacetime of the 1990s.

It even gets worse when you see the composition of some new MPs. 

Jean Claude Micallef was an aspiring Nationalist candidate in 2013 and is now a Labour MP. Ian Castaldi Paris, who will probably replace Chris Cardona, was an ardent Nationalist mayor and is now firmly in the Labour fold.

Surely, it’s a party that seems to be in good health, but without stalwarts and ideologues there’s no real colour and character. 

At this point, politics needs people like Evarist Bartolo; his party needs him, warts and all. The Labour Party is better with him than without him.

Spite against journalists on social media 

The other day, I picked up the phone to speak to the secretary-general of the Institute of Maltese Journalists, a creaky association which gets its coverage once a year when journalists who are members are invited to submit their work to win a prize.

In my 35 years, I have refused to nominate myself. And of course, never winning a prize is tantamount to being consigned to the dust heap of irrelevance, within the Maltese scenario. 

When I called the secretary general to ask him to wake up to the orgy of spite and odium on the social media against journalists, there was an eerie silence. 

“Can you send me some examples,” he said.

“Jesus,” I said. “Look what they have been saying about me and other journalists, but if you want some examples just see how some identifiable nutters have hit out at Joe (Peppi) Azzopardi, inciting hatred and abuse on his wife.”

After some time, I thought, I should have not phoned at all. I said to myself, what the heck.

Here is an IGM that most of the time is headed by individuals who are not even journalists, some of which have ceased being journalists and who are not remotely interested in their profession.

What I do know, is that if this abuse continues on Facebook and social media, then perhaps it is the time to publicise the abusers.

The police should also be vigilant. Violence against journalists on matters of racial intolerance has already happened; all we need is for some nutter to cross the boundary of decency and translate words into deeds. 

Then who should we blame?