Why wait for a ‘Maltese Macron’… when you can be one yourself?

In a nutshell: just imagine, for a moment, what the Maltese political situation might actually look like, today… if only the Nationalist party had ‘seen the light’

Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing at all unwelcome about the fact that people sometimes undergo major cathartic ‘epiphanies’, on their own private ‘road to Damascus’.

That is to say: like St Paul before them – or John Belushi from ‘The Blues Brothers’, if you prefer - they experience moments of intense, transcendental ‘heightened consciousness’, which cause them to suddenly and inexplicably… ‘SEE THE LIGHT!’ (Hallelujah!)

Still, St Paul is probably a much better example than John Belushi: if nothing else, because it was St Paul – and certainly not ‘Jake Blues’ – who got himself shipwrecked here in Malta, in 60AD (thus giving us all yet another excuse for a good-old-fashioned Public Holiday, to add to all the rest).

Despite being regarded (somewhat anachronistically) as among the original ‘Apostles of Christ’… not to mention a co-founder of the Catholic Church itself; the first major Catholic theologian; and… well, also the guy who ‘rid Malta of all its venomous snakes’ (a miraculous feat, if there ever was one: seeing as there is no evidence whatsoever, that we ever even had any ‘venomous snakes’ to begin with…)

… well, St Paul was not always what you would call the ‘good guy’, from a purely Catholic/Christian perspective.

On the contrary: up until the age of 30, or thereabouts, the ‘Apostle formerly known as Saul’ was every bit as zealously committed to the wholesale persecution of Christians, as he would later be to the furtherance of their cause.

According to the Acts of the Apostles (8:2-3): “[…] a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria; […] Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison…”

Indeed, this was the whole point of St Paul even being on that ‘road to Damascus’, in the first place. His intention was (to quote Acts once more): “so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem…”

But in any case: you’ll hardly need me to tell you what happened next. “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; He fell to the ground and heard a voice say unto him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’…”

… and the rest, I suppose, is history. Not, perhaps, in the sense that there is any ‘historical evidence’, for any of it; but because – like it or not – the church partly founded by St Paul has indeed gone on to become one of the largest (if not THE largest) single faith, that this planet has ever seen.

And regardless whether St Paul himself ever even made it to these shores, or not: there can be no denying that his influence is still felt rather strongly, on the island that chose him as its patron saint (possibly, even more strongly than the influence of Jesus Christ himself. ‘Nuff said.)

Ah, but how very different would history have been, had St Paul’s ‘Damascene conversion’ occurred at some other moment in his life? Such as, for example, ‘on his own death-bed’… after an entire lifetime of having successfully (and uninterruptedly) ‘persecuted Christians’, at every single opportunity? [Note: I am perfectly aware that St Paul was beheaded in Rome, in 66AD.  But that would hardly have happened, had he never converted at all.]

For one thing: we wouldn’t be celebrating the ‘Feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck’ next Friday (which also means we’d all have to go to work, as usual… and be honest, now: what kind of fun would that be?)

But for another: it would be no exaggeration to state that the entire religion of Christianity itself – without St Paul’s massive contribution, at such a critical, early stage - probably wouldn’t even exist, today… AT ALL.

Either way, however: St Paul’s experience illustrates a fundamental truth about ‘Damascene conversions’ (which, incidentally, applies just as much to John Belushi.  Let’s face it: there wouldn’t even be a film called ‘The Blues Brothers’, had Jake and Elmer Blues not ‘seen the light’ at a point BEFORE the orphanage was actually closed down. Just saying…)

But in case I’m not making myself clear enough: ‘sudden conversions’ – be they ‘on the road to Damascus’; or ‘Pieta’; or wherever, really – are ultimately  not very much use to anyone at all … if they occur too late to actually make any difference whatsoever, to the cause you’re converting to.

Which brings me to the example we’ve all just witnessed this week: the one where Jason Azzopardi suddenly ‘fell off his horse’, and - in a blinding flash of transcendental illumination – came to the same conclusion that some of us (myself included) have been trying to convince him of (and others within his former party) for quite a few years now.

Namely, that the Nationalist Party has now lurched so far to the extreme right of the political spectrum (or in his own words, ‘away from the political centre’) that it has become quite frankly ‘unelectable’, in the eyes of an ever-growing segment of the voter population.

And much more to the point: that segment has now grown so very large, that – for the first time since Independence – it actually outnumbers the support-base of the Nationalist Party itself. Simply put: there are now more ‘non-voters’, in this country, than there are PN supporters.  And this led Azzopardi to opine that (wait for it):

“If a Macron – a centrist, charismatic, moderate, popular and credible politician – were to rise in Malta, he would have extremely fertile ground to defeat both PL and PN.”

Hmm. What did I only just tell you, about ‘conversions which come far too late in the day, to be of any practical use to anyone’? Only now, it seems, do people like Jason Azzopardi – who was (let’s face it) one of the driving forces, behind the PN’s recent transformation into the very OPPOSITE, of the ‘centrist, moderate, credible’ party, that he himself now pines for – suddenly realise that… well, maybe we shouldn’t have actually abandoned those same ‘moderate, centrist’ roots, in the first place?

And maybe it wasn’t such a good idea, after all, to alienate all our own party’s more ‘moderate, centrist’ supporters: by emulating the likes of Donald Trump, no less (and more recently, Giorgia Meloni), in a bid to court only the most extreme, radical, and ‘off-centre’ segments, that the Maltese voting population has to offer?

And besides: just think, for a moment, how very different our country’s recent political history would be, today – not least, for Azzopardi himself – if only he had come to that self-evident conclusion, just a few years earlier.

Like in 2017, for instance: which is when Emmanuel Macron had performed his ‘electoral miracle’, in France; and also, when the Nationalist Party had only just experienced its second (incrementally humiliating) electoral defeat, on the trot.

Now: just imagine if someone like Jason Azzopardi – who may even have once harboured ‘PN leadership aspirations’ of his own – had decided, right there and then, to ‘emulate Macron’ by actually shifting the Nationalist Party TOWARDS the political centre, instead of ‘away from it’; and by trying to actually win back those thousands of lost voters… instead of only ever appealing to the party’s most hardcore ‘Blue versus Red’ traditionalists (who will always vote PN, no matter what); or to the ‘loonier’ fringes, of an already grotesquely xenophobic anti-immigration front; or to the most overtly misogynistic/homophobic elements, of a ‘conservative Maltese society’ that hardly even exists anymore…

In a nutshell: just imagine, for a moment, what the Maltese political situation might actually look like, today… if only the Nationalist party had ‘seen the light’, five short years ago (when there was still every chance that it might, indeed, transform into the ‘centrist, charismatic, moderate, popular and credible’ political party, that even Jason Azzopardi now realises is what is actually needed to ‘beat Labour’).

To be honest, I’m almost hesitant to speculate. For starters, the PN would not have gone on to haemorrhage a further 20,000 votes, by March 2022. On the contrary: it would almost certainly have regained at least a portion of its previous support… while simultaneously making inroads among the younger generation (who, predictably enough, happen to form the bulk of the new ‘non-voting’ contingent).

By the same token: the subsequent polls would have been nowhere near as ‘catastrophic’, as the ones that led to the untimely demise of Adrian Delia as leader; and therefore, there would have been no need whatsoever, for all the acrimonious, internecine ‘feuding’, that has only further eviscerated the PN ever since.

Do I need to even go on? Had the PN converted (as it should have done) into a ‘centrist, charismatic, moderate, popular and credible’ Opposition, back in 2017… there would certainly be no talk, today, of the need for any ‘new’ party, to fill this entirely avoidable ‘vacuum’ in the political spectrum.

No, indeed.  Under those circumstances, the Nationalist Party would itself have become the ‘new’ party, that its own former members now expect to ‘arise from the outside’…

… instead of sinking ever deeper – and more irretrievably - into a political quagmire of its own making.

Oh well. I guess that gives Jason Azzopardi a whole lot more to contemplate (and, in his own words, ‘perform an Examination of Conscience’ about), on his next visit to the ‘Santo Sepulcro’ in Jerusalem…