Fleshing out Bernard’s vision

A negative campaign alone will not do the trick and fleshing out the vision depicted by Bernard Grech last Monday will always remain imperative if enough voters are to be persuaded to switch to the PN in the next election

Bernard Grech during last week's Budget speech
Bernard Grech during last week's Budget speech

While following Bernard Grech in Parliament on Monday when he was delivering – or rather reading – his speech in reply to the Budget, I had mixed reactions.

First among these reactions was the thought that he could do with some advice taken from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “Be not afraid of greatness. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.” There is no need to spell out under which category Bernard Grech fits!

Secondly, I thought that while calling the Budget a virtual reality one, with recycled – or just copy and paste – projects already indicated by Labour since it assumed power some seven or so years ago, his speech was peppered with hackneyed phrases used by the PN in the past, more so during the Fenech Adami administrations many much more years ago.

Thirdly, the PN’s vision as depicted by Grech is nothing new really – it is a repetition of ideas and ideals that were the PN’s motivation during the first Fenech Adami years; except that during Fenech Adami’s time, the PN fleshed out these ideas into sensible and achievable policies and projects, while Bernard Grech’s speech left everything hanging in the air.

Harking to the past is not always a good idea – as when Grech referred to the courage of the Maltese in the Great Siege some 400 years ago – yes 400 years ago – and World War II some 77 years ago. Today nobody has bonds with these national ‘memories’ and it was obvious that his words were being laughed off in the House of Representatives when he uttered them, let alone by the man and woman in the street who are actually the average voter with whom the PN has to connect.

In my opinion, the PN’s vision of the future, as indicated by Grech, is simply very hazy and lacks the concrete proposals that could fulfil the vision in practical terms. But then, perhaps, I am too impatient. Bernard Grech has just been elected leader and he still has time to work on this before the next general election is called – unless the Prime Minister decides to call the election before its time.

There is a big difference between good intentions and dreams and the knowledge of the action needed for them to actually become facts. The average voter senses this difference more than some politicians think. In other words, the voter must be convinced that the Opposition’s vision is the correct one and that the Opposition’s proposals make it achievable, leading to an improvement in the voter’s quality of life. Otherwise, the discerning voter will stick to the ‘status quo’.

This is why the PN urgently needs to come out with the real thing – information on the actual changes needed in the country’s legal framework and a plan of action that achieves its vision. Just having a vague vision read from a prepared document will not increase the PN’s popularity in the polls, whatever the group of MPs that ousted Adrian Delia – and replaced him with Bernard Grech – think.

This is the Herculean task that Bernard Grech faces. It is an uphill struggle and needs the input of many people – not just of those who wrote his speech. And he has to do it in a very short time; short, even if this administration lasts the full term allowed by the Constitution.

Attacking the wrong decisions taken by the political party in power is also part of the game, of course. But here the PN has a conundrum: Labour has changed horses and Robert Abela seeks to make amends about the many bad decisions taken during his predecessor’s time at Castille.

Rather than depicting Robert Abela’s administration as corrupt as the one led by Joseph Muscat – or even a continuation of it – I think the PN should acknowledge Robert Abela’s efforts to clean Labour’s act but depict these efforts as futile because of the inefficiency and ineptitude of the current administration. This would tie in with the inefficiency of Abela’s team as already perceived by the man in the street in other matters, such as the pandemic debacle.

A negative campaign alone will not do the trick and fleshing out the vision depicted by Bernard Grech last Monday will always remain imperative if enough voters are to be persuaded to switch to the PN in the next election.

Sex and the pandemic

It is too early to conclude what the effect of COVID-19 will be on fertility rates. But, according to a recent report in The Economist, different demographic patterns seem to be emerging in rich and poor countries.

Official Japanese figures indicate an 11% fall in new pregnancies in the three months from May when compared to the same period last year. Singapore is trying to boost birth rates.

Few women want to have a child in a time of uncertainty and in well-off countries, many are holding off starting a family or adding to it. But in the poorer places, where women often have less choice in the matter, a baby boom may be in the offing.

In poor countries, mass displacement is adding to sexual activity in refugee camps, where people rely on informal work that has dried up during lockdowns.

More sex doesn’t necessarily mean more babies. But COVID-19 has also disrupted supply chains for contraceptives. A short break without contraceptives being available can lead to unwanted pregnancies.

Data from health facilities in India show that between December and March the distribution of contraceptive pills and condoms dropped by 15% and 23%, respectively. The number of insertions of IUDs for long-term birth control has also tumbled.

The strain placed on health-care systems in developing countries by COVID-19 is likely to disrupt sexual health services. An estimated fall of 10% in the use of such services in 132 low-and-middle income countries will mean that 50m more women will not get the contraceptives they need, leading to 15 million unintended pregnancies. Estimates also indicate that some 28,000 mothers and 170,000 newborn babies will die; while unsafe abortions will increase by some 3.3 million.