Do Labour’s ‘1,000 promises’ include all the ones it didn’t keep in 2017?

It seems that every political party on the island – with a single, rather large exception – clearly understands at least one fundamental principle of democracy: i.e., that voters need to know in advance what the heck they’re actually voting for, come Election Day

Not, mind you, that we can tell what those ‘1,000 promises’ are even going to be: because – believe it or not – with less than three weeks to go before the election, the Labour Party has not yet published its own electoral manifesto.

Admittedly, this may well have changed by the time you read this. But it remains a fact that the Labour Party – which, being in government, has a clear advantage over everyone else – is actually the last off the mark, when it comes to telling us what it intends to do if (more likely, when) it is re-elected.

The Nationalist Party published its manifesto almost a week ago; and ADPD – which I now regret having criticized, on exactly the same grounds – did the same thing a few days later (despite, as Carmel Cacopardo told me in an interview, ‘not having hundreds of paid employees’).

Heck, even much smaller parties like Volt and ABBA have managed to come out with a ‘published list of electoral intentions’: be it in print, or only online. So it seems that every political party on the island – with a single, rather large exception – clearly understands at least one fundamental principle of democracy: i.e., that voters need to know in advance what the heck they’re actually voting for, come Election Day.

Ideally, voters should also be given enough time to sift through what is being proposed in all those documents… especially considering that Prime Minister Robert Abela is promising a manifesto bursting with ‘no less than 1,000 ideas’ – in other words, almost 300 more than the PL’s 2017 manifesto (which only contained 721 electoral pledges, running over a meagre 176 pages.)

So… um... what’s this Labour Party manifesto even going to end up looking like, anyway? ‘The Complete Works of George RR Martin, in 27 volumes’? And if so: how on earth are we expected to digest all that information, in the short time left for us to actually decide our own voting intentions?

Because that’s the thing with electoral manifestos, you know: they don’t really matter all that much, when everyone’s mind is already made up from the outset. But if there’s one thing that has consistently emerged from all our surveys – not just this one – it is that a small-but-hugely-significant chunk of the electorate does NOT approach elections with the same tribal fervour as a Champion’s League Final.

In fact, they often leave it until literally the last couple of weeks to make up their minds (in some cases, until they are literally in the polling booth themselves). And I need hardly add that this particular segment – the ‘undecideds’ – happens to be especially crucial, in any election, for at least three reasons I can think up off the top of my head.

One: they are the ones who can actually sway an election result, when the gap between parties is at its more customary levels (i.e., microscopic); and by the same token, they also determine the size of the actual discrepancy between the two parties, at all other times (Note: this makes them all the more relevant, I would say, in an election that is ultimately being fought over the size of that very gap);

Two: they represent the only class of Maltese voter whose voting intentions cannot possibly be taken for granted: because they self-evidently do NOT identify with either party’s support-base to begin with;

And three: for a combination of both those reasons, they are also the likeliest by far to actually read (or at least, to WANT to read) any of those manifestos. (Because let’s face it: what else even exists, anyway, for those people to base their voting intentions on…?)

But no matter: Robert Abela has relieved at least part of the suspense, by giving us a sneak-preview of some of those ‘1,000 ideas’.  And the very first one he mentioned was: ‘The Labour Party has pledged a €700 million fund to increase open spaces and parks in cities, towns and villages around the islands.’

Sounds terrific, doesn’t it? Or at least, it did… the first time I heard that promise, way back when it was originally made (by Joseph Muscat) in around May 2017.

Yup, folks! Remember that 2017 election manifesto I mentioned earlier? It’s still available for download, you know. And oh my, what a coincide: it just so happens that electoral pledge number 22 (of subsection 11, ‘The Environment’) reads as follows:

‘OPEN SPACES: A new [Labour] government will prioritize the creation of more open spaces, both through investment by the government itself, and also through planning regulations…’

As far as I can see, then: the only ‘new’ thing that Robert Abela has added, to an idea that was originally Joseph Muscat’s – and which neither Muscat nor Abela has actually delivered on, in well over nine years – was to quantify the exact amount that government would invest… at a tidy E700 million, no less.

Once again, it sounds fairly impressive: until you realise that it is nothing but a more detailed version, of the same old government promise of ‘investing in open spaces’ that was very evidently NOT implemented after 2017.

Hate to be the one to ask, but… is there any particular reason why we should all expect the same promise to be fulfilled, the second time round? (Wait, let me guess: ‘Because this time, it will be different… promise!’)

Now: if this were the only instance of an unfulfilled 2017 electoral pledge, suddenly re-appearing on an as-yet unpublished 2022 manifesto… it would be worrying enough. But ‘Electoral promise 22’ was one of no fewer than 44 pledges concerning ‘The Environment’. And would you believe me if I told you that, of the remaining 43… NOT A SINGLE ONE was entirely kept, either?

Well… probably not. (Truth be told, I have difficulties in believing it myself.) But then again, why should you have to take my word for it, when: a) you can simply read the manifesto for yourself, and; b) at least one Labour Party spokesman has actually come out and said the same thing himself?

It was, to be fair, a while ago – in May 2021, to be precise – but Cabinet Minister Carmelo Abela did say, at the time, that: “A total of 84% of the Labour Party’s electoral manifesto has been completed.” And what is that, if not another way of saying that 16% of the same manifesto had NOT been completed, within the same time-frame?

I hope you’re paying attention to all these statistics, by the way: because this is where it all starts getting a little surreal. Just a few lines up, I claimed that 44 of those 721 campaign promises – all the ones concerning ‘The Environment’, basically – remain unfulfilled to this day. And… um… what percentage of 721 is 44, pray tell? Why, it works out at exactly…

Bingo! 16.3%! And, well, there you have it, I suppose. Carmelo Abela actually hit the nail bang on the head (and within an entirely acceptable 0.3% margin of error, too!)  The Labour government really has reneged on ALL its 2017 environmental promises… and the math only proves it, beyond all shadow of doubt.

All the same, however: let’s take a quick look at those promises again, shall we? Naturally, I won’t list out all 44 of them – but suffice it to say that they included:

  • ‘The setting-up of an Environmental Court’.

The last thing we actually heard about this was in November 2019, when TVM announced that “government was drawing up a draft bill [which] would be ready by January 2020”. Since then, nothing…

  • ‘A stronger Environment & Resources Authority’ (and, even more specifically, that ‘the ERA will impose tougher administrative penalties, so that its enforcement aspect will be more effective’).   

I don’t think you’ll need me to inform you that this one never saw the light of day, either. Not only has the ERA has been noticeably weakened over the past five years… but the only administrative changes since then, have been to strip it of its few remaining enforcement capabilities (just this month, Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia proposed lessening the fines for developers guilty of multiple infringements. ‘Nuff said.)

  • ‘A more efficient, transparent Planning Authority’

Well: to be fair, they did deliver on the first part of that promise. The PA has undeniably become ‘more efficient’, in recent years… when it comes to approving an endless stream of (mostly monstrous) development applications, in even the most sensitive and supposedly ‘protected’ areas: and even against all objections by residents, and negative recommendations by case officers.

But… ‘transparency’? Really?

  • ‘A national policy to curb Noise Pollution’ (I kid you not: it’s there, at number 34).

I’ll just leave it to anyone who has the misfortune of residing next to a construction site – in other words, around 90% of the entire island (rising to 100%, in Gozo) - to answer that one. But unless you count the cessation of all ‘festa’ activities for two years – which was the result of COVID-19; and certainly not any concern with ‘noise pollution’ – we can all hear, with our own two ears, just how less noisy the country has become, since 2017…

Right: I can more or less stop there, because the rest of the 44 environmental promises all follow the same identical pattern. There is, however, another small one that is, quite frankly, too outrageous to actually be left out.

Ready? Here comes ‘Broken Electoral Promise Number 28’…

  • ‘More trees and gardens’ (!!!!!!!)

By which point, the question of how long the PL will take to publish its electoral manifesto becomes more or less academic, really. Right from now, I can very easily predict at least 44 of those ‘1,000 new ideas’…. they will be rehashed versions of the same old 44 promises that the Labour government broke after the last election: only with a few minor modifications, here and there, to make them less immediately… well… ‘recognisable’.

Simple as that, really.