A day in politics

Is politics just about this populist barrel-scraping race for votes? With a depressed economy and a changing world, values will start to become an important reference point for many people

Last week Prime Minister Robert Abela and newly elected PN leader Bernard Grech met in parliament
Last week Prime Minister Robert Abela and newly elected PN leader Bernard Grech met in parliament

Today’s MaltaToday survey shows how a singular decision can change fortunes. Today Labour is at its lowest polling ever since 2017 (based on MaltaToday’s own polling) and this happened as expected with the election of Bernard Grech as Nationalist leader. Labour still leads by over 30,000 votes and is no way defeated.

It has not been easy for Robert Abela with the COVID-19 pandemic and the legacy of the disgraced Joseph Muscat, who still commands respect with many Labour supporters. Perhaps with Muscat out of the House, Abela can start dictating terms a bit easier; there is no doubt that when Muscat speaks, many of Labour’s faithful stand up to listen carefully.

However, to turn back to the Grech novelty, Abela must certainly be careful not to ignore some old adages in politics, one of them being, to always respect one’s adversary and never take them for granted. Labour’s resounding victories and the long-drawn troubles of the PN leadership have made life easy for Muscat and to some extent, Abela. But now Abela must consider Grech as a new threat on his radar.

A second consideration is to have a sense of the times. Take the week’s news of giving the hunting lobby a guardianship of the Miżieb and Aħrax woodlands. To me, abetting the hunting and trapping community in such an ever-changing world of environmental sensitivity, is not only dangerous but it is also short-term.

When Labour prime minister Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici promised to hand over Miżieb and Aħrax, he said this over 30 years ago. Then the word “environment” hardly made an appearance in the printed press. Today the influence of hunters as a voting lobby is grossly exaggerated and people are simpluy sick and tired of seeing our country treated as if it up for sale. Even the injustice of giving off land to people who shoot birds, whose ‘hobby’ excludes others and is meant to keep people off ‘their’ grounds is so inimical to the common good. It is simply an insult to people of good will.

More importantly, the obvious love affair that politicians have for the developers’ lobby headed by Sandro Chetcuti and Marthese Portelli is surely misplaced. Robert Abela would do well to acknowledge this.

But then again, Bernard Grech should not be afraid to take decisions. As things stand, he appears to be unwilling to make a brave U-turn on that white elephant, the permanent link between Malta and Gozo, a fetish shared by the likes of Muscat himself, and Chris Said, when they first proposed it back in 2013.

The fact is that environment lobby groups do not work in their own personal interests: theirs is a love for the common good, for open spaces and nature to be shared by everyone, with no distinction whatsoever.

Compared their work to the lobbies of the hunters, who seek public land for their pleasure only; all the Malta Developers Association, which seeks the regulation of rules at their pleasure so that they can make their profits easier; or the right-wing groups to which Labour is slowly capitulating to, who seek to exclude people from Malta for their own warped sense of identity.

Is politics just about this populist barrel-scraping race for votes? With a depressed economy and a changing world, values will start to become an important reference point for many people. For that’s something money cannot buy in the end. It will be a matter of time before politicians will realise this at their own expense.

My father

A month ago my father passed away. It is awkward for me to talk about my father Reynold here in this column. But had he not have been the silent bystander who supported me in my rude awakening from a quiet boy to an abrasive and uncouth activist in politics, environmentalism and later journalism, it would be unbecoming of me not to acknowledge his role in my life right here.

He was a gentle giant, respected in the Drydocks where he worked and grew up, in the footballing community where he served as a referee locally and even internationally, and his local parish, where he worked in the community.

He was a calm and soft-spoken man, but he mustered a sternness about him that could only go away with his big smile.

Despite my anger to have been denied access to him during the COVID-19 period inside hospital, I speak of him with thanks for all the times he would listen to me in those long, long walks we shared in his last years.

He would listen to my rants and give some of solemn advice in his distinct, calm manner. He smiled and gave me energy to go on, only warning me to be careful; never telling me to stop but not to be rash.

When I was shot at by hunters, attacked by Labourite thugs, arrested and imprisoned, denied a loan by the direct intervention of the late Labour minister Lino Spiteri, personally attacked by Daphne Caruana Galizia and countless other moments, from bereavement to financial difficulties, I knew I could turn to him.

But what he imbued in me was the need the need to distinguish between what is fundamentally good and bad. When to say no, and stand up to be counted.

Like most parents, he too shared my suffering when he saw the injustices of the hefty libel cases that were dished out by either Nationalist or Labour-leaning lawyers and politicians against me, or when I thought the world was too unfair.

I believe the days at the drydocks as a young boy, walking behind him up the gangplank up to a super-tanker, or climbing down the turret in a submarine, or accompanying him to a football match as a referee, will remain the fondest of memories.

Yet what I remember the most is when I opened up to him and told him how I felt let down by politicians and how I had been duped. He would look at me with his big eyes and then quietly agree with him, and scold me for being so reckless and naive.

Worst of all us my failure to take after him in so many of his good characteristics. If only words were enough to say thank you.

Public inquiry

Last Wednesday I stood before the public inquiry into the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder. I have said this before, but the inquiry members are so biased that I cannot believe that they are expected to be an objective reference for understanding the tragedy in the Caruana Galizia assassination.

But what irked me most was that they chose to call me in, when I had already offered testimony behind closed doors: out of my own free will.

I will not go into the Keith Schembri phone calls again. I told the inquiry that I took everybody’s calls, including Caruana Galizia herself when she would call me screaming abuse at me. Countless prime ministers, ministers and politicians of all hues have called me, at all hours of the day and night – some with stories, others imploring me not to run stories or polls, some requesting some misplaced mercy for some other MP. But let bygones be bygones.

What irked me is some quizzing over the effect of SLAPP defamation cases. I told the inquiry that SLAPP threats have existed for years – MaltaToday has been threatened by London lawyers ages before the words ‘Henley’ and ‘Mischon de Reya’ made the news pages here. I told the inquiry that the real issue for the Maltese press were the Maltese defamation cases. I said that in my case, close to quarter of million euros had been paid for defamation fines.

I was fuming. The three judges, Joe Said Pullicino, Michael Mallia and Abigail Lofaro, had all presided over decisions that had found me guilty in defamation cases.

The most unforgettable one was in 1992 when I had shown photographic evidence of the late justice minister Joe Fenech entering Customs without any authorisation at MIA, and picking up a painting on a baggage trolley. Said Pullicino had then decided in favour of Fenech and fined us a record Lm3,000 – just over €7,500 – and that was 1992. The sentence was peppered with political innuendoes, and I will always never forget the Malta Independent castigating us for infringing security and releasing delicate CCTV footage, which we had also obtained, at the airport.

Needless to say, the AFM soldier who leaked the footage – a whistleblower if there ever was one – was dismissed. Ironically, Daphne Caruana Galizia had been assistant editor of the Malta Independent at the time. I think I’ll stop here now!