The PN’s recurring nightmare

By opting to be a confessional party – that historically it never was – the PN would be supported by a minority of voters and will never become the majority that it enjoyed only under Eddie Fenech Adami

Former Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo
Former Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo

The latest amendments to the law regulating IVF have proved to be yet another stumbling block in the PN’s laborious search to find its proper position in Malta’s political spectrum.

The controversial aspect of the new amendments to the new law was the introduction of the possibility for prospective parents with a history of hereditary disease to screen their embryos prior to implantation.

First, we had the PN’s shadow minister for health stating why the law will not be endorsed by the PN. Then we had the PN leader himself, appearing to be against the law, then appearing to accept that the issue was open for discussion and then going to Parliament and surprising many political observers by pronouncing that the PN was, after all, in favour of the law.

The dust had not yet settled before former Nationalist MP Edwin Vassallo published an open letter to current PN MPs, criticising them strongly for deciding to support a bill that allows couples to test IVF embryos for serious genetic disorders.

According to Vassallo, PN MPs had either to stand up to be counted, “speak out and represent the pain and suffering that no one is talking about”, or reduce the PN into an irrelevant party with a parliamentary group that denies its own statute.

Vassallo also insisted that the bill went against the PN’s own statute because it discriminated between which embryos get to live and which ones must be perpetually cryopreserved.

All Vassallo’s arguments are based on the assumption that a fertilised human egg surviving in a test-tube (or a petri dish) is a fully fledged human being.

Many might agree with Vassallo while others might say that a fertilised carob seed need not enjoy the same protection as a fully-fledged tree. Comparisons are odious and this one is as odious as one can be, of course. It might even provoke some philosophical argument as valid as the one which counted the number of angels that can stay on a pinhead!

Beyond the IVF controversy, the big issue is whether the PN is a confessional party or a more liberal-minded party.

By opting to be a confessional party – that historically it never was – the PN would be supported by a minority of voters and will never become the majority that it enjoyed only under Eddie Fenech Adami; who was ‘aided’ by the reaction to the excesses of the Mintoff era.

Funnily enough, Vassallo has even expressed his worries that the PN is losing its entire relevance as an Opposition as its attitude on the IVF bill reduced the nation to a one-party state where sensitive issues are concerned. In fact, opposing the IVF amendments would have made the PN more irrelevant.

This argument is the weakest aspect of Vassallo’s worries as it pushes the fallacy that democracy cannot exist when there is an overall agreement on sensitive issues.

Steering the PN towards becoming a confessional party would be steering it up an ideological cul-de-sac in which it can permanently sit still and permanently condemn itself to the opposition benches.

Bernard Grech – or some of his advisors – realised this and his U-turn on the IVF issue ensured that he avoided the trap in which the likes of Edwin Vassallo would enter with eyes wide open.

At this juncture, the PN needs to assess where Maltese society finds itself in the beginning of the 2020s and push its relevance in that context, if it wants to ever become electable again. Opposing the IVF amendments would have stifled this process with a conservative, confessional pre-conceived bias which can never be approved by the majority of the Maltese.

Meanwhile, ever since Joseph Muscat became PL leader, Labour has been pushing issues which were considered controversial by the PN because they led to constant political controversies within the PN ranks. This has kept the PN on the defence ever since Joseph Muscat was elected labour leader.

It’s about time that the tables are turned. The PN should push issues on which Labour is weak. Labour has pushed policies that contradict its beliefs and many Labourites – including some MPs – resent this.

The PN must choose these issues carefully and attack Labour to put it in the awkward position of having to defend decisions and actions about which there is internal disagreement, or even dissent.

The alternative is for the PN to wallow in irrelevance by invoking principles to oppose situations about which the overall majority of people agree.

Bernard Grech has avoided this in the IVF amendments issue.

Will he build on this, or go back to sleep until Labour finds some other issue about which it can, once again, open the dormant differences within the PN confessional-liberal duopoly?

The music of the night

The Prime Minister’s stance on the issue of music being allowed well into the night in several Valletta streets is so rigid that it must have been an undeclared pre-electoral promise to those who think they will make more money with live music in these streets.

The negative reaction that greeted the initial legal notice did not stop him from amending it to increase the streets where it applies!

Not only did he ignore the Labour-led Valletta local council on the issue. He even imposed silence on the Labour MPs elected from the district that includes Valletta. This speaks volumes – more than moderate volume!

Of course, the question of volumes is the main concern. The relevant legal notice speaks of ‘moderate’ music. Scientifically, sounds are normally measured in decibels. Otherwise ‘moderate’ means nothing and everything. What is moderate to one is not moderate to another and in this sense the word is meaningless in the context of the law.

A lone fiddler playing to a couple dining at a table outside a restaurant is quite different from a loudspeaker playing pre-recorded rock. In this sense the legal notice authorising this music seems to be a licence to do whatever one wants.

Apart from the real concern of the Valletta residents, there is the issue on what type of ‘night-life’ is considered to be fit and proper for Valletta by the Tourism authorities.

Apparently, even they were muzzled on this issue.