Same old strategy, same old results...

How can anyone be 'surprised', then, when the same old, failed strategy keeps returning the same old, disastrous results? 

Tell you what: let’s try a little experiment. I’ll list out a number of events that took place at a certain (recent) time in this country’s history… and you try and guess when they all occurred.

Ready? Here goes…

1) There is a major development in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder trial – involving at least one high-profile arrest – which sends the entire country into convulsions. The media portrays the situation as a ‘crisis’, and the Prime Minister faces renewed calls to resign (and/or apologise), etc., etc.

2) The European Parliament convenes for an urgent debate about ‘the situation in Malta, in the light of recent revelations concerning the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia’. Despite resistance by Labour’s MEP delegation, the discussion goes ahead as planned (and results in the umpteenth, almost-unanimous EP condemnation of Malta’s rule-of-law situation).

3) Soon after all this has taken place, two separate newspapers publish their regular political surveys: and it transpires that (as usual) none of the above has made so much as the tiniest dent in the general thrust of public opinion.

As MaltaToday put it at the time: “The survey suggests that despite the political crisis that has rocked the Labour government, people are still not seeing a viable alternative. The results […] put the PL on the same margin of victory it obtained in the 2017 general election…”

4) For some bizarre reason, everyone seems ‘surprised’ that (to quote from the same article) the “Opposition has failed to capitalise on the widespread anger and turmoil caused by the damning revelations…”

And… OK, I’ll stop there for now: because I think I’ve already given you more than enough to go on.  Or at least, enough for you to work out that… no, actually: the above is NOT a description of events of the past couple of weeks (and if there is any similarity at all with today’s situation… it’s mainly because I was very selective in my choice of which details to include, and which to leave out).

For instance: if I specified that the ‘crisis’, alluded to in paragraph one, actually resulted in the Prime Minister’s resignation by the end of the month… well, it would have been altogether too obvious that I was referring to the events of late November/December 2019, not today (and let’s face it: where’s the fun in that?)

But in any case: you have the answer now. Those occurrences I (very loosely) described above, roughly correspond to what happened here around a year and a half ago. And yes, there are a few differences between the two scenarios. I’ve already mentioned that the 2019 ‘crisis’ was real enough bring down Joseph Muscat altogether (a possibility that had always previously seemed ‘remote’, to say the least)…

… and it bears mentioning that November 2019 arrest of Yorgen Fenech – i.e., the ‘damning revelation’ that sparked the whole crisis off to begin with – was far more impactful, in the short term, than the arrest of Keith Schembri last month (on charges that are, in any case, unrelated to the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia).

And there are other differences, too: not least, the way the Nationalist Party eventually responded to those negative December 2019 survey results… and all the others that followed. As I recall, the PN did not merely talk about the ‘need to take tough decisions’ (as Bernard Grech is doing today). On the contrary: it went on to actually take the most drastic of ‘tough decisions’ imaginable: by giving its former leader Adrian Delia the boot, no less… precisely because of his failure to ‘make any difference in the polls’.

But let’s not get lost in superficial details. Having sifted out all those differences… I think we can safely agree that the general pattern of events (if not the events themselves) remains uncannily similar.

Yet again, we’ve just had another supposed political ‘crisis’ (also caused by ‘damning revelations’ concerning the former Muscat administration; and also complete with yet another European Parliamentary discussion, chugging away merrily in the background)… all leading to precisely the same sort of anti-climactic denouement: once again, with the same old newspaper surveys, pointing towards the same old, unchanging result…

In other words, there is once again a clear mismatch between certain events, and the expectations they clearly raised among certain people… and the non-effect those same events clearly had on people’s overall voting intentions.

And, much more significantly: all this time later – after a change of leadership in both government and opposition parties, please note – the situation remains broadly the same in one, critical respect.

Truth be told, there has been no significant change in electoral patterns, of any kind whatsoever, since 2013 at the earliest. And unless you count minor fluctuations in the sheer extent of Labour’s majority – never amounting to more than a few thousand votes, at most, here and there – there never seems to be any correlation at all, between all the public outrage (both local and international) that is routinely expressed over any given political ‘scandal’… and the political state of play itself.

And when you consider how much else has changed in the meantime - how much more, for instance, we know today about the misdeeds of the former Muscat administration; and how much our international reputation has suffered in the meantime, as a result of all those EU condemnations, and all the bad press in general – well, I think it’s high time we finally ask ourselves a teenie-weenie little question.

Why do these so-called ‘earthquakes’ always seem to have virtually no impact at all on the actual political landscape? Why is it, exactly, that everything that seems (on the surface) to be an indictment on the party in government – or a least, a vindication of its critics - always ends up having almost the clean opposite effect instead?

It is to answer this question, incidentally, that I prefer to focus on the similarities between today and 2019… rather than the differences. For let’s face it: those polls results are not the only things that have remained exactly the same ever since.

Despite a change in leadership between now and then – and above all, despite repeated messages, from the electorate, that the Nationalist Party’s entire electoral strategy is simply not working:  full-stop – the PN’s entire modus operandi has remained virtually unchanged in any detail, too.

Not just since 2019, I might add… but ever since the 2013 election itself (you know: the one whose very result seems to have meanwhile got itself firmly entrenched into the entire country’s political fabric…)

Take, for instance, that December 2019 European Parliamentary resolution I went so far out of my way to mention, above. It is obviously a coincidence that, on both occasions, a similar condemnation from that institution happened to be quickly succeeded by polls suggesting that… um... quite frankly, the vast majority of Maltese citizens don’t actually give a toss about what the European Parliament says or thinks, either way…

But there is nothing ‘coincidental’ about the fact that these outside interventions (for want of a better description) always seem to collide so severely with public opinion.

There is, after all, a limit to how many surveys –  not to mention electoral results – have to actually emerge, before a political party finally gets the message that… how can I put it? These things don’t actually go down too well with the wider electorate, you know...

And yes; I know it’s completely ‘unreasonable’, ‘unfair’, and all that… but somehow, the general population doesn’t seem to actually enjoy watching its country’s name consistently dragged through the muck like that. And if you don’t believe it, coming from me... well, it’s coming from all those surveys, too.

Not that it is the only message, of course: being so unreasonable, it seems the Maltese population also expects its Opposition parties to occasionally come out with a few workable policies of their own… or (even more bizarrely), to lay down some kind of political ‘vision’ with which to entice voters… or, at the very least, to just give them an indication of where the party actually plots itself, on the political spectrum…

And again: these are not questions coming ‘only from me’, or from a few random political observers here and there. No, they have been repeatedly asked of the Nationalist Party, by all sorts of people – including a few of its own former members, who now apparently even need ‘rehabilitation’ - ever since that fateful 2013 election itself (and arguably, even before).

How can anyone be ‘surprised’, then, when the same old, failed strategy keeps returning the same old, disastrous results? Or when polls and surveys so stubbornly insist on projecting harsh reality back in our faces… when what we really want to see is a reflection of our own, jaundiced perceptions?

How, indeed…