The fastest (and most infuriating) u-turn in history...

And I am sorry to have to conclude on such a dismal note, but: let’s face it, both Nationalist and Labour Parties have amply surpassed that limit, years - if not decades - ago…

Bernard Grech
Bernard Grech

I was tempted to start this article with the line: “I’ve seen a few political U-turns, in my time”…

But on second thoughts, that would: a) make me sound slightly (but only slightly) more of a ‘boring old fart’ than I really am; and b), it would be the more or less the same as saying: “I’ve breathed a bit of Oxygen, you know, since the day that I was born…”

For let’s face it, folks: political parties tend to change their policy positions so incredibly frequently, in this country – even in matters that are supposed to be ‘dear to their heart’ – that British pop-band The Police even wrote a song about it once.

It was called ‘Every Breath You Take’; and as I recall, it was a hit-single back in 1983 (and, thanks to ‘Puff Daddy’, a consistent fan-favourite ever since).

In any case: things clearly haven’t changed all that much in the meantime. Because even if you only consider the U-turns performed by one of our two main parties – the PN – in recent years: you can almost safely bet, upon ‘breathing in’, that by the time you exhale… the Nationalist Party would have contradicted itself (sometimes UTTERLY) on at least one, if not more, of its most central policy-platforms.

Examples, I hear you ask? Well, take your pick. On the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance: the Nationalist Party initially (and quite justifiably) tore into the government over its ‘laissez-faire’ attitude during the first wave – and, as usual, in the most inflammatory way imaginable (remember all those billboards, accusing Robert Abela of having ‘blood on his hands’?)…

… only to end up lambasting the same government, a year later, for ‘damaging the economy’ by ‘taking too long to relax the health restrictions’ (you know: the same restrictions that the PN itself had earlier criticised, for ‘not being restrictive enough’…)

Then, there was that time when the same party overturned its entire opposition to the Cannabis Legalisation bill: first accusing the government of ‘not listening to medical experts’… only to later disregard the advice of those same experts themselves (not to mention their own warnings of ‘dire social consequences’, etc.) by simply, um, ‘voting in favour of the bill’, after all that hullaballoo.

Yup, folks: just like that, from one moment to the next… and without, as I far as I can see, ever uttering a single word of explanation, for the extraordinary change of heart.

Before that again, the PN had already performed at least two separate U-turns on one single issue – IVF – in the space of just a few years. From a position of ‘total opposition to the entire technology’, on purely moral grounds… the PN went on to become the party that actually introduced Malta’s first (and unsurprisingly, ineffective) IVF regulatory framework, in 2012.

And then, after having waged an all-out war against ‘embryo freezing’ throughout that time - a fact which separately accounts for why the 2012 legislation was so flawed in the first place - well, what do you know? When this position became manifestly too unscientific to carry on justifying, in the face of irrefutable medical results: the PN simply performed what legendary Italian football commentator Bruno Pizzul would have described as a ‘capovolgimento di fronte’… and, well, that’s it, really.

The same party that had so recently been ‘all-out against embryo-freezing’, is suddenly ‘all out in favour’. Except that… by this time, it had found another (remarkably similar) technological aspect of the same medical procedure, to suddenly kick up a whole moral stink about.

PGT testing: a technology that allows for the genetic screening of IVF-conceived human embryos, to avert the possibility of transmitting up to nine hereditary health conditions. Oh, and which is also ‘morally objectionable’ on more or less the exact same grounds as ‘embryo freezing’ used to be, until just a couple of years earlier.…

Oh, well. Already, I suppose, you can see that there is a certain unsustainability to all this consistent political ‘yo-yoing’. (And if you still can’t see it, may I humbly suggest you take another look at the last election result. It can’t all be down to ‘infighting within the PN’, can it? Surely, the sheer of level of political inconsistency, alone – and all the confusion it must inevitably create, among the PN’s own voters – must have something to do with that party’s catastrophic defeat, as well…)

But even I – who have inhaled so many political U-turns, with almost ‘every breath I took’ – was somewhat surprised by the sheer speed with which the same PN performed its latest feat of political gymnastics. (So surprised, in fact, that there is even another 1980s pop classic to describe the sensation: it literally ‘took my breath away…’)

OK, tell you what: look at it from my own perspective, for a moment.  Just last Sunday, I interviewed Opposition health spokesman Stephen Spiteri on this very topic. At one I point, I even asked him the question directly: “given that your earlier position has changed, between 2018 and today: should we expect this one [opposition to PGT] to change, too?”

I won’t bother reproducing his exactly answer here: partly because, well, you can all read it for yourselves (it was only uploaded a couple of days ago, after all); and partly because – just a couple of days later – it is already completely and utterly… REDUNDANT.

You know what’s coming next, so I’ll limit myself to a single quote from Wednesday’s paper: “When the Speaker called the vote on the changes being proposed by government, the Opposition did not call a division, which means they supported the Bill.”

And once again – just like that, from one moment to the next; and without any form of explanation, that I have seen so far – the Nationalist Party abruptly turned its entire ‘bioethics’ policy-platform, clean on its head. (Until, I suppose, it finds another aspect of IVF to ‘morally object’ to: whereupon, the entire process will just play out, all over again, on an endlessly repeated loop.)

Sorry, but… this can’t exactly go on forever, you know. And yes, yes: I am perfectly aware that this article may appear ‘unbalanced’, in that it only picks on the U-turns performed by one out of two parties…

But there are two things I’d say to that: 1) it is undeniable that the PN’s feats of political acrobatics are a good deal more ‘surreal’– and therefore, more ‘entertaining’ – than Labour’s; and 2) I actually intended to include a certain Labour Party  U-turn in this article (hint: it involves a certain Facebook update by former PL President Jason Micallef: who once described environmental activists as ‘enemies of the State’… only to suddenly, erm, ‘become one himself’). But it deserves a whole article unto itself, so I have decided to save it for later.

In any case, you can probably already see the connection between those two cases for yourselves. They are both examples of political ‘yo-yoing’, that quite frankly leaves the ordinary voters with no choice at all… on anything, really; but especially, when it comes to the matters that they themselves ‘hold dear to their own hearts’, too.

In the PN example, it might be those voters who (rightly or wrongly; not for me to say) still subscribe to the old ‘Religio et Patria’ motif of the old Nationalist Party they were brought up to recognise. In Labour’s case, it might be the sudden, ghastly realisation that… ‘Woops! Aren’t we now doing EXACTLY what we used to criticise PN governments for, in the not-so-distant past?  And doesn’t that mean that… erm… WE’RE the ‘bad guys’, now?!”

Either way, however: it still leaves the ordinary voter facing the same dilemma. What is the point, anyway, in actually voting for a political party, that seems to literally flip-flop from one position – to its clean opposite, and then back again – in almost literally the time it takes to draw a single breath?

And from that perspective: everything else about that last election result suddenly makes that much more sense, too. Not just the PN’s catastrophic performance, of course… but – more significantly for Labour (and hence, I imagine, Jason Micallef’s sudden panicky outburst) – also the inauspicious drop in voter turn-out… with all its possible future ramifications, for the current Labour government.

There is, after all, a limit to how often you can take your own voters for a ride, before you end up losing their trust completely. And I am sorry to have to conclude on such a dismal note, but: let’s face it, both Nationalist and Labour Parties have amply surpassed that limit, years - if not decades - ago…