A U-turn worthy of 'Dukes of Hazzard'...

And that is precisely the sort of daredevil, death-defying stunt, that no one – not even Bo and Luke’s body-doubles – would ever dream of risking their own necks for…

After more than two decades of observing Maltese politics in action, it is only now that I realise why such a mediocre spectacle makes for such profoundly compelling viewing.

It reminds me of ‘Dukes of Hazzard’: that incorrigible old TV series which I loved so much as a young teenager. Not, perhaps, for all the reasons that have since made it so ‘controversial’ – the racist undertones, for instance (which flew clean over my head, at the time); or the fact that the Dukes’ car was named ‘General Lee’, and had a Confederate Flag spray-painted onto the roof…

No, I loved it for two reasons, above all others. The first was naturally Daisy Duke’s hot-pants – which, on their own, account for why ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ still retains such intense nostalgic charm, among (predominantly male) viewers born in the early 1970s – and the second was… the driving.

Indeed, if you were to analyze any random episode of ‘Dukes of Hazzard’, you will find that it was conceived to meet precisely those two criteria. Does the plot afford enough justification for repeated close-ups of Daisy’s posterior, in a wide variety of provocative poses? And… does it provide enough opportunity for outrageous, exhilarating, ‘don’t-try-this-at-home’ motoring stunts?

Invariably, the answer will be ‘yes’ and ‘yes’, every time. Small wonder, then, that a humble TV series about ‘a couple of bootleggers in the Deep South (and their impossibly sexy cousin)’ would develop such a devoted, affectionate cult-following over the years; and would even – lamentably, as always – end up with its own movie franchise…

But hang on a sec. What on earth has any of this got to with Maltese politics, you might be asking?

Sadly, I shall have to concede that there is no direct political correlative for any part of Daisy Duke’s anatomy, or attire – even though, now that I think about it, that’s probably just as well.

I’d say there is already enough ‘eye-candy’ out there, right now, to distract us all from the hideous flaws and aberrations of our political system; so if you take all those close-ups of Daisy’ butt for what they really were – i.e., a visual ploy, to divert our attention from the sheer banality of what was going on in the background – then I suppose today’s indirect equivalent would be a news item about ‘a couple of trees planted in a public garden’… or maybe the public inauguration of Ian Borg’s latest multiple-lane fly-over in Marsa…

Not quite as visually appealing, of course; but still: it all serves the same purpose, in the end.   

Elsewhere, however, the Maltese political landscape tends to resemble ‘Hazzard County’ in many, often uncanny ways (and I’m not just talking pot-holes, either). The entire character of ‘Boss Hogg’, for instance: a corrupt politician, deep in the pockets (and often at the mercy) of unscrupulous businessmen… that whole idea might easily have been inspired by a weekend visit to Malta…

…as could his side-kick ‘Rosco’: the bungling sheriff, who thinks his job is only to defend Boss Hogg’s corrupt, incompetent regime. (In fact, I can just imagine an episode where Rosco is blissfully stuffing his face with the Georgia equivalent of ‘rabbit’, while Bo and Luke run riot all over town…)

But it is the driving part that bears the most resemblance. Probably, the show’s second most memorable takeaway image was the sight of Bo and Luke diving in and out of General Lee through its windows… only to churn up a cloud of dust as they (or their stunt-doubles) wheelspin into a whole series of unlikely U-turns, handbrake turns, 360s, and maybe the occasional leap over the same old local canyon… all the while being chased by the same old local cops...

Like many other things we remember from the 1980s, it seemed impressive at the time. Today, however, the standard of measurement must include comparison with all the political U-turns – and other, mind-boggling automotive stunts – performed by Maltese politicians almost every day of the week.

And… sorry, Bo and Luke. You might have known a thing or two about clutch/accelerator balance; or when, precisely, to pull up that handbrake, while steering wildly on two wheels…

…but that sort of thing just pales to insignificance, compared to the sheer skill and daredevilry displayed by even the most typical, unremarkable Maltese political stunt-driver, all the time.

Examples, I hear you ask? Well, until only this week, I would have brought up the landmark case of Alfred Sant’s stunning post-2004 U-turn on EU membership (quite possibly, the most extraordinary sudden reversal of Labour Party political direction, since Mintoff’s ‘Integration’ volte-face in 1958).

But after watching Jason Azzopardi’s stunning feats of acrobatism behind the wheel… this time, it’s Alfred Sant’s turn to take a bow, and finally concede defeat.

Tell you what, though; let’s watch it again in slow-motion, and you can decide for yourselves.

As some of you may recall: last year, Jason Azzopardi had publicly claimed that he was aware of lengthy Whatsapp exchanges between Adrian Delia – then still PN leader (but not for long) – and Yorgen Fenech, the alleged mastermind behind Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder. This correspondence presumably extended to around 700 ‘very friendly’ messages between the two; and from then on, Azzopardi began publicly goading Delia with the monicker ‘Yorgen’s Friend’.

As all this was going on, the PN’s executive council was under pressure to hold another leadership election; and as I recall, that ‘hundreds of messages’ claim ended up playing a major role in the subsequent election campaign.

I won’t go as far as to say it was the only reason why Delia lost that vote; but, added to all the other allegations and insinuations against him at the time – that he was ‘in bed with criminals’; that he had a history of corruption and malfeasance, and so on – it all contributed to the perception that Delia himself was somehow ‘tainted’.

And among the accusations which were either originated, or fanned with much gusto, by Jason Azzopardi himself: there was one about how Yorgen Fenech had paid the PN leader €50,000 to prevent David Casa from being re-elected as MEP.

But… well, what do you know? A year later – and after yet another very public Facebook spat with Delia (seriously, though: how long is it going to take Bernard Grech to finally realise that ‘politics and social media’ is a highly volatile mix?) – Jason Azzopardi puts his name to a public declaration stating pretty much the clean opposite of all those things.

Suddenly, the same Jason Azzopardi “has no reason to think that the Nationalist party led by Adrian Delia, or Adrian Delia himself, did anything, or took any decision, for David Casa not to be elected as a Member of the European Parliament, and it does not transpire that hundreds of messages were exchanged between Adrian Delia and Yorgen Fenech…”

He also described Adrian Delia himself as “not in the pocket of any businessman, and is, therefore, a part of the fight against corruption without hindrance or compromise”…

I don’t know; by this yardstick, even Alfred Sant’s own 2004 feat starts looking rather lame. For let’s be brutal about this, for a change: either those 700 WhatsApp messages existed, or they didn’t. Likewise, Yorgen Fenech either did bribe Delia to sabotage Casa’s re-election… or he didn’t.

By the same token, Azzopardi was either lying when he made those claims last year; or he was telling the truth.

And if he was lying… well, his motives were not exactly that difficult to decipher at the time (and even less today). Obviously, it was intended to destabilise, and ultimately overthrow Delia’s leadership; and timed to coincide with the eve of an election. And while I don’t exactly begrudge any politician for trying to replace their party leader, in a situation where they feel he or she needs replacing… but… to frame Adrian Delia, over fake criminal contacts with a notorious suspected murderer?

That’s a rather shabby way of going about it, wouldn’t you say? In all honesty, makes you wonder what that sort of politician would actually end up being like, if they ever go on to become… ooh, let’s see now: Malta’s next Minister for Justice, perhaps?

Much more damagingly, however… it would also call into question the entire chain of events that culminated in Bernard Grech’s appointment to replace Adrian Delia in the first place. For if there is suddenly no reason whatsoever to doubt that Delia is “a part of the fight against corruption without hindrance or compromise”… then there was no real reason to even hold that leadership election to begin with, either.

In fact, it would be no exaggeration at all to surmise that – were it not for all those allegations, that Jason Azzopardi has suddenly disavowed only now – Adrian Delia would have had a very good chance of still being PN leader today.

Certainly, at the very least we now have to ask ourselves whether Bernard Grech himself ascended the throne in much the same way as Shakespeare’s Henry IV: who, in later life, admitted to “the unusual paths and indirect, crooked ways that led me to this crown…”

All of which leads me to believe that what we all witnessed this week, was no less than the political U-turn of the century (if not millennium): for not only has Jason Azzopardi managed to single-handedly annihilate his own political credibility (while boosting that of his adversary)… but he has even managed to de-legitimise his preferred choice’s claim to the Nationalist Party leadership.

And that is precisely the sort of daredevil, death-defying stunt, that no one – not even Bo and Luke’s body-doubles – would ever dream of risking their own necks for…