Populism on the decline

With Labour’s populist cry on the decline and with the average voter being more dissatisfied with the current administration as time goes on, the PN should sit back and let the rot in Labour to fester

Joseph Muscat’s slogan ‘Malta taghna lkoll’ led to his first big electoral victory
Joseph Muscat’s slogan ‘Malta taghna lkoll’ led to his first big electoral victory

Populism is a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups. It promises a democratic way of life that is built on the popular engagement of the population in all political activity.

In practice, populism is the enemy of pluralism, and thus of modern democracy. Imposing the assumption of uniformity on the reality of diversity not only distorts the facts but also elevates the characteristics of some social groups over those of others.

Remember Joseph Muscat’s slogan: ‘Malta taghna lkoll’? It implied that under Gonzi’s PN government, Malta belonged to an elite that disregarded the rest of the population. It rang a bell, of course, and - among other ploys - it led to Muscat’s first big electoral victory.

A new study from the University of Cambridge suggests that worldwide, voter enthusiasm for populism has been on the wane since the beginning of the COVID pandemic.

According to a survey of polling data in 27 countries, the populist leaders, who were strong in the mid-twenties and came mainly from the right, started experiencing a steady decline in support.

The study also found that the COVID pandemic led to a ‘disturbing erosion of support for core democratic beliefs and principles, including less liberal attitudes with respect to basic civil rights and liberties’. There may be less appetite for public gatherings, but if anything, the research suggests that the pandemic has left people more open to having the state order them around.

The most recent Eurobarometer survey shows that optimism over Malta’s ‘general siuation’ has decreased dramatically over recent months. Today fewer than half the population believe the country’s situation is good compared to nearly three-quarters at the beginning of the year.

The Maltese public opinion of the country’s economic situation has also fallen sharply. While 75% described Malta’s economic situation as either ‘very’ or ‘rather’ good in January, that figure is now just 56%. On the other hand, those who rate it as ‘very’ or ‘rather’ bad have shot up by 19 percentage points to 42%.

According to the survey, the Maltese are now among the least likely to trust their justice system, second only to the Bulgarians.

I don’t think this is just a simple case of mid-term blues. For me, it signifies a definite ‘good-bye’ to Muscat’s populism.

I believe it is the beginning of the end of the love-story between Malta’s middle class and Joseph Muscat’s Labour.

Established Labour supporters are also expressing disappointment with Robert Abela’s way of governing. Muscat’s predecessor, former Labour leader Alfred Sant as well as former Labour deputy leader Joe Brincat and former Labour general secretary Jason Micallef have all registered disagreement with the current administration on particular issues. They all sense what the average Labour supporter is feeling and thinking. In another situation, they would refrain from openly disagreeing with the Labour leader.

The PN in Opposition should let the situation continue to irritate Labour supporters. They should avoid silly tiffs that do not lead to anything but provoke Labour supporters to react and rally against the PN. The recent issue about a proposed amendment refused by the Speaker is typical of the PN taking up unnecessary stances that only serve to put back life in Labour supporters as a reaction. In this case, I personally think the Speaker was right as one cannot propose an amendment to an amendment but only another amendment to the motion being discussed.   

The Opposition rarely gauges the effect of its actions on the voter that has not voted PN in the last two elections, the so-called switchers. This is another tactical mistake.

With Labour’s populist cry on the decline and with the average voter being more dissatisfied with the current administration as time goes on, the PN should sit back and let the rot in Labour to fester rather than provoke Labour to defend itself by launching counter-attacks. Attacks against Labour should be limited to a few issues that are immediately recognised by the electorate such as the cost of living and the senseless increase in foreign workers from third world countries.

There is still a long way to go to the next general election and therefore this is a waiting game; similar to the one Muscat played when he became Labour leader when he played his cards very carefully and left the attacks that matter for the electoral campaign.

Nothing wrong with copying successful tactics!

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Painting Barcelona white

According to recent figures, Europe is warming faster than the global average, with annual temperatures increasing between 1.7 and 1.9 degrees Celsius in urban areas. Barcelona is no exception, with 2020 seeing the city's warmest year for over two centuries - registering an average temperature of 16.8 degrees Celsius.

In recent years, Barcelona’s council has addressed the issue of climate change by planting and managing more trees in urban areas.

But as the problem intensifies, green areas alone will not be enough to prevent the increasingly frequent heatwaves which threaten the city. Some experts fear that more drastic changes are needed.

As the climate crisis advances, scientists from the University of Barcelona (UAB) have presented a dramatic proposal which could change the face of the city for good. The proposal would see the rooftops of the Catalan capital painted white in an effort to reduce the devastating impact of heatwaves. This would increase the percentage of sunlight reflected by the white surface and thus decrease the amount of heat absorbed by the building.

The terracotta balconies of Barcelona have, for a long time, been synonymous with the most popular city of Spain. But the colours in its skyline could be changing in an effort to reduce the effects of the continuously increasing hotter climate. Occurring more and more frequently, the city’s heat island effect has increased temperatures by up to eight degrees Celsius in the city centre.

Samuel Saintot, a software consultant whose flat enjoys panoramic views of the city says that he thinks this is an excellent idea: “I would definitely do it. And I really hope that everyone will do it. We would be saving energy such as on air conditioning, which would be a very, very good thing for global warming.”