An air of despondency

There is no doubt that the PN is still in a quandary. The expected upsurge resulting from so many new and young faces in the Opposition’s Parliamentary line-up has not materialised

After the Christmas and New Year celebrations and their temporary uplift, we seem to be back where we were in the summer, with the country apparently finding it hard to look forward to the future.

The problem, I reckon, is that Robert Abela’s administration does not have a different and original take on the future. Its programme seems to be simply to continue on with the policies that originated under Joseph Muscat and just hope that it will be alright on the night.

Polls indicate that more people are withdrawing their support of the Labour Party. This, however, is not translating into gains for the Nationalist Party which is also losing support.

No wonder that George Vital Zammit, a University of Malta senior lecturer on public policy, was last week reported by The Sunday Times to have mooted the possibility of new political parties emerging from the fact that the number of voters who respond to polls by saying that they have no confidence in the two mainstream parties is at a historic high. As he put it: “Fatigue (and disenchantment) from mainstream behaviour and demagoguery could trigger the creation of a political party that would launch a new political project.” Zammit goes on to speculate that this new party could be first tested in the 2024 European Parliament elections.

With the PN struggling to remain relevant, this outcome is not impossible. In fact, ever since the two-party system established itself in the 1966 general election, it has not been possible as much as it is now.

There is no doubt that the PN is still in a quandary. The expected upsurge resulting from so many new and young faces in the Opposition’s Parliamentary line-up has not materialised. The party is still coming across as ‘more of the same’ – whatever ‘the same’ is or was.

The PN cannot frame a futuristic vision that is acceptable to all its factions and it does not have a forceful leader that has the clout to make his vision a popular call for action. This is what Eddie Fenech Adami – with the undoubted help of the late Peter Serracino Inglott – did after the 1976 election, in spite of a minority within the PN who doubted this vision.

The abortion issue has helped galvanise the PN somewhat, but this will soon be over. The health minister has already said that the law will be tweaked at committee stage to ensure that the bill will be amended to clarify that a viable foetus ‘must be born’.  The law will also be amended to ensure that certain doctors will not be able to abuse it. To be sure, the pro-choice lobby will want more, but I seriously doubt whether Robert Abela will risk anything further on the abortion issue.

This will be over by the end of this month and the PN will be back in the doldrums. It will lose the unnecessary battle on the appointment of the Commissioner of Standards and will continue to fall back into irrelevance. On the other hand, the Prime Minister will go back to thinking ‘business as usual’, without inspiring the people of a better future.

The political problem is that both parties in Parliament do not inspire the hope of a better future, while the astronomic rise in the cost of living is now hurting the average Maltese citizen. In other words, both parties lack a vision that could inspire the typical voter. That is why the air of despondency is almost palpable.

The forthcoming elections for the European Parliament and local councils in 2024 could be the defining moment for the PN. Unless some miracle happens, I do not see the PN making any meaningful advances in these two polls and the position of the current PN leader, Bernard Grech, will become untenable.

If the PN sticks to Bernard Grech even after another disastrous popular vote, it will just be prolonging its irrelevance. Many people realise this and the ever-increasing voters who are hankering for change will be disappointed, while the Labour Party will be allowed to enjoy a Pyrrhic victory in the eventual general election in 2027.

This would mean a historical run of four subsequent electoral victories for Labour. More reason for an air of despondency, of course.

Learning maths

Rishi Sunak, the British Prime Minister, has announced he is considering plans to ensure all school pupils in England study maths in some form until the age of 18. He is completely right on this one.

In his first speech of 2023, Rishi Sunak said he wanted people to ‘feel confident’ when it came to finances. But critics have said the plan will not be possible without more maths teachers.

According to Sunak, just half of 16 to 19-year-olds in Britain study maths, but this figure includes pupils doing science courses and those who are preparing for compulsory GCSE resits.

In his speech, Sunak said that: “In a world where data is everywhere and statistics underpin every job, letting our children out into that world without those skills is letting our children down.”

I think that the phenomenon of too many children being left behind – well before they reach 16 – when it comes to maths is also a problem in Malta. Like Mr Sunak, I believe that no country can afford to have many citizens with a lack of proficiency in mathematics.

But the current situation in Malta on this issue leaves much to be desired. Mathematics is essential to our world, as its knowledge is transferable to many situations. Knowledge of mathematics is not only crucial for scientists or engineers, but it helps young people to enhance their logical and critical thinking and develop skills, such as analysing data, seeking evidence, recognising patterns every day. It gives a chance to people have a better way of understanding or interpreting information.

In my opinion, the importance of mathematics as a key to a successful life can never be underrated.

One must not forget, however, that many countries face the problem of a lack of maths teachers, mostly as a result of the fact that those who are proficient in mathematics have many other career paths available to them.