Switch off syndrome

There is little interest in what is happening and everyone, it seems, is geared into doing nothing but having a damn good time

I am enthralled by the ability of most people to switch off completely; disconnect from the outside world and get on with their lives.

Everything seems inevitable and everything seems possible. There is little interest in what is happening and everyone, it seems, is geared into doing nothing but having a damn good time.

The other day I phoned a leading politician to invite him to my TV programme Xtra. “U le,” he said, “let us leave it for October because everyone is swimming and the last thing they want is to see me on TV.”

In Maltese, we have a saying: ‘Morna l-baħar,’ which loosely translated means that we all went downhill.

So my riposte to that politician was as expected: “It seems everyone has gone for a swim, and that includes the politicians and political parties.”

If we want proof that everyone is switched off, all we have to do is look at the coffee and bistro culture that has gripped the country together with the post-COVID passion to travel as people seek new experiences and foreign landscapes.

The other day, I was quizzed by a person who questioned why we did not treat Robert Abela like Lawrence Gonzi.  I take criticism seriously.

But sometimes when people pass comments, they fail to realise that times have changed and so have the politicians.

The controversies and ethical standards do not change but people’s concerns do. And between 2008 and 2023 there is a big-time difference - 15 years is a long time.

Malta has truly changed. Though there are those in the Labour Party who gleefully and secretively compare Robert Abela with Lawrence Gonzi, insisting that there are more similarities than one can really identify, they fail to see that there are still some fundamental differences.

Today, Robert Abela is sitting on a throne with a comfortable parliamentary majority, Lawrence Gonzi had a one seat majority, a rebellion in his midst and the incalculable self-centred politics of Franco Debono to deal with.

Robert Abela administers control over his party with an iron fist and a smile, but he does not speed through with reforms or bulldozes change.

He bides his time and then acts. So, in the first instance he is different to Gonzi but in the second case he is very similar.

Abela unlike Gonzi does not wipe out his internal adversaries or competition but places them in posts which are politically innocuous but not denuded from power.

Gonzi on the other hand unskilfully declared war on his own party, damaging his party and imposing an exclusive approach.

Abela is either very lucky or extremely Machiavellian. He is also not willing to undermine his populist badge.

He may not be proud of Joseph Muscat’s legacy, but he wants to keep the tiger economy created by Muscat going even if it means eating into our landscape and environment.

Abela risks being caught up in regulatory measures that will suffocate business enterprise but he is trying hard to address this.

But Abela is not willing to put a brake on planning permits, something Gonzi tried to do at a time when recession was starting to hit Malta.

To be honest, Gonzi is not credited enough for trying to rein in the building industry during his second term in 2008 after having extended development zones two years before.

Back to Abela; as most of his colleagues admit, no one never knows what he is really thinking.

Abela’s politics is to guarantee continuity, a consideration many Maltese and Gozitan people who have little or no time or are switched off embrace wholeheartedly.

Abela also presides over a political landscape where the present Nationalist Party seems to be stuck in a rut and unable to make significant gains. Labour simply sails on, with the advantage of having the majority of the population switched off.

A state of mind that suits the powers that be... for the time being, at least!