16-year-olds running the country? Maybe it’s not such a bad idea, after all…

Ah, but can we say the same for all the ‘adult politicians’, that we vote for in each and every election? No, I didn’t think so, either…

Roberta Metsola
Roberta Metsola

What a coincidence! Just a couple of days ago, I wrote an article about how certain European politicians – alluding chiefly, but not exclusively, to EP President Roberta Metsola – have a tendency to ‘shoot first, and ask questions later’.

That is to say: their knee-jerk reaction to any new development, is always to blurt out the first (seemingly ‘appropriate’) sound-bite that springs to mind; “without ever pausing to consider what the rest of the European Union might actually have to say, about the matter…. before committing the entire bloc to adopting certain positions that it may well later come to ‘regret’ (if not ‘sheepishly retract, altogether’.)”

And, oh look: just three days later, Metsola had to issue a ‘clarification’ of her previous declarations on the Israel-Hamas conflict… after facing criticism from (among many other quarters) PSD leader Iratxe García, who said: “Both Ursula von der Leyen and Roberta Metsola were right to show Europe’s solidarity and absolute condemnation for Hamas’ terrorist attacks. However, as chief representatives of the EU and its institutions, they had the duty to represent the position of the Union as a whole, including its Member States. With their visit to Israel they failed, upholding an unacceptable bias that can only cause harm…”

All the same, however: that’s not the coincidence I was actually talking about, in my first sentence. For like I said in that earlier article: “Roberta Metsola is very far from being the only example’, in this regard. And what I should have added (but didn’t), was that this whole ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ pattern is BY NO MEANS limited to just the ‘European/international stage’.

In fact, you could almost argue that European politicians are actually amateurs, when it comes to flatly contradicting themselves in the space of a few days (or even, in some instances, within a few seconds). And not only that: but the home-grown examples always tend to be… let’s just say, more ‘amusing’ than their international counterparts (even because – thankfully – their consequences do not usually amount to ‘a heightened level of terror-alert, throughout Europe…’)

So without further ado… let’s pause to admire one of the most spectacular (and hilarious, if you ask me) ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ moments, that this country has ever witnessed.

This time, the ‘gunslinger-politician’ is a certain Justin Schembri – not a household name, perhaps; but still a Nationalist MP (and Opposition spokesman for ‘Education’, no less!) – who was very ‘quick-on-the-draw’, when it came to sharing his own personal reaction to government’s ‘Mayor-at-16’ bill, on Facebook.

For those may have been hiding under rock, these past few days: I’m referring to the Parliamentary bill entitled ‘Act on Local Government’, tabled last Wednesday, which provoked a furore of online controversy… by proposing to lower the age-restriction for becoming mayor, from 18 to 16.

Justin Schembri’s reaction? Well… to be fair, it was no different from pretty much every other reaction I’ve seen or heard, ever since (including, by the way, those of a not-small number of 13-15-year-olds, with whom I happened to discuss this very subject a few days ago).

It may, admittedly, be just an impression of mine; but it seems to me as though everyone and his dog is 100% in agreement, with Schembri’s observation that:

“[This is] the most senseless thing that could happen. Sorry, but 16-year-old teenagers do not have the experience to administer a town or village… they might not even be able to sign off on certain decisions, seeing as they are not yet 18 years of age…”

Ah… but it’s a little like the opening line of every Asterix and Obelix adventure, isn’t it? ‘“The year is 50 BC, and all Gaul is occupied. All Gaul? NO! One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders…’

Only in this case: it’s ‘two small villages’, not one. For it turns out that – apart from the Labour government – the Nationalist Opposition is also part of the microscopic Maltese minority (estimated at only 4%, by a Times online poll) that actually AGREES with this ‘senseless’ proposal, wholeheartedly.

Not only that: but the Nationalist Party also claimed ‘ownership’ of the same idea: with party spokesman Darren Carabott reminding us that the PN had included an identical scheme in its own local government policy, published last June.

The upshot? Just as quickly as Justin Schembri had ‘drawn his gun, and pulled the trigger’… he was forced (not unlike Metsola before him) to ‘sheepishly retract’ his knee-jerk declaration.

But this only brings us to the most amusing part. Never mind, for a moment, that Justin Schembri is himself a Nationalist MP (and as such, he is about to embark on a Parliamentary debate, on this very motion)…

… and yet, he seems entirely unaware of what his own party’s position on the issue even IS, begin with (not to stress too fine a point on it, but: you do need to know your own party’s policies… if you ever intend to actually implement them, that is...)

Leaving all that side, however: I mean, you’ve got to just marvel at the resulting irony, haven’t you? Even if – like all good ironies – this one’s a little hard to, well, ‘iron out’ (if you know what I mean).

OK, let me try this approach: on one level, I fully sympathise with Justin Schembri, because - even if he should really have known better, in this instance – his reaction was nonetheless entirely in synch, with the traditional Nationalist Party Opposition hand-book (entitled: “How to Oppose Absolutely Anything and Everything, For No Other Reason Than It Was Proposed By A Labour Government”).

And let’s face it, folks: in practically any other scenario, Justin Schembri would NOT have been forced to retract any such ‘knee-jerk’ comment, at all.  Because you can rest assured that – if we were talking about, say, a Parliamentary bill to ‘improve the health and safety standards, of women’s reproductive rights’ (like we were, in this country, until a few months ago) – the PN would surely have done what it always does, in such cases: and opposed it, purely ‘for the sake of opposition’.

In this case, however? For once, we had a situation where the Labour government was proposing something that an overwhelming majority, in this country, found instantly ‘objectionable’ and ‘deplorable’– on grounds that are IDENTICAL to Schembri’s objections, above – and… what happens?

Why, suddenly the two parties are ‘100% in agreement’, of course!

That’s right, folks: the same Nationalist and Labour parties that somehow never, EVER, manage to reach any form of ‘consensus’, on practically anything under the sun… somehow, manage to instantaneously find common ground, on a proposal that around 96% of the population considers to be…

… ooh, take your pick: ‘senseless’; ‘irresponsible’; ‘immature’; ‘daft’, etc.   

But that doesn’t even begin to capture the full extent of this irony, because… sorry, but what was it, again, that Justin Schembri (and so many others) found so ‘objectionable’, in the idea of ’16-year-old becoming mayors’? Didn’t it have something to do with the (indisputable) fact that – at the tender age of ‘sweet 16’ – people are generally regarded as being too… erm… ‘senseless’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘immature’, and ‘DAFT’, to be entrusted with the serious business of ‘running a town, or a village’?

And yet, and yet… what sort of behaviour are we witnessing, from the supposedly ‘mature, responsible’ adults that we DO actually elect – to run the entire country, mind you (and in Metsola’s case: the entire European Parliament): not just a few random ‘towns and villages’, here and there?

How ‘mature’ and ‘responsible’ is it, for instance, for both Government and Opposition parties to draw up such a brazen, ‘unheard-of’ policy for local governance – a policy so unique, that it exists in no other EU member state (quite possibly, with good reason) - without even bothering to find out what the vast majority of the country actually THINKS about the whole idea, to begin with?

If that’s not a classic case of ‘shooting first, and asking questions later’… I don’t know what is, quite frankly. But at least, it did help me revise my own opinion, about the matter at hand.

Should 16-year-olds be allowed to become mayors, at the end of the day?  To tell you the truth, if you asked me that question a few days ago… my answer would have been indistinguishable from Justin Schembri’s (and – be honest – yours, too). Today, however? I’m not so sure.

I mean, look at it this way: if even ‘mature’, responsible’, and (above all) ‘experienced’ adult politicians, end up behaving precisely like teenagers, the moment they’re in any position of power – among other things, by ‘blurting out the first thing that comes to mind’, without considering the consequences (a surefire symptom of ‘teenage irresponsibility’, if there ever was one)…. then surely, REAL teenagers couldn’t possibly do a worse job, of running this country, than the adults who’ve been trying to do that – and failing miserably – for the past 60 years…?

And besides: even if we concede that teenagers are unlikely to do a much BETTER job of it either, all things considered… at least, those kids will have an automatic excuse, for being so ‘senseless’, ‘irresponsible’,  ‘immature’, and ‘DAFT’.

They’re only 16, ffs! What else can you possibly expect?

Ah, but can we say the same for all the ‘adult politicians’, that we vote for in each and every election? No, I didn’t think so, either…