Losing the moral high ground

I do get the feeling that Muscat’s attempt at using the Engerer case in the way he did must have lost him more votes than he might have possibly won back.

Cyrus Engerer
Cyrus Engerer

In a contribution published in this newspaper on the Sunday after voting day when the result of the March 2013 general election was still unknown, I attempted to explain why and how the PN had lost the election (Foregone conclusion – 10 March, 2013).

I wrote that one contributing factor to the expected defeat was that the PN was perceived as having lost the moral high ground - many judged the performance of the PN administration as one leading to a situation where a network of corruption and shady deals blossomed under its very nose. I also added that this led to the ordinary citizen perceiving no ethical differences between Labour and PN and that choosing one instead of the other on moral and ethical grounds was no longer a consideration.

Joseph Muscat’s reaction to the court sentence on Cyrus Engerer’s shortsighted and illegal action against his former lover threatens to undo what Muscat had built on this front. By defending the indefensible in this case, Muscat is ceding the moral high ground that he had painstakingly assumed after debunking the PN administration’s way of doing things.

What Cyrus Engerer did was despicable and can never make him a hero. He did the decent thing when he decided that, in the circumstances, he had to withdraw his candidature in the election for the European Parliament (EP). On the other hand, the fact that he showed no remorse and made no public apology to the victim of his crime jarred. But, even so, he assumed his responsibilities and let the people judge.

In the circumstances, I did not expect the Prime Minister to kick Engerer out of the Labour Party and out of all the responsible posts – all carrying handsome remunerations - in which he was appointed by his administration. I expected the Prime Minister to say that Engerer had paid for his mistake by withdrawing his EP candidature and that he felt that Engerer still has a lot to contribute to the Labour Party and to the country, in spite of the incident in which his behaviour was incorrect and inexcusable.

Instead, the Prime Minister opted to use the Appeals Court decision - that found Engerer guilty - and his subsequent withdrawal from the EP election as an emotional issue with which to manipulate the old Labour hardcore. This includes many who are not in synch with Muscat’s administration that they correctly infer as being far, far away from the way Dom Mintoff used to do things. So Muscat attempted to identify Engerer, who defied convention by sending e-mails with ‘pornographic’ photographs of his former boyfriend, with those who defied convention by challenging the Church and voting Labour in the 1962 elections!

I seriously wonder whether this incredible attempt at manipulating people was successful. Joseph Muscat might have elicited the applause of those present when he went through the verbal gymnastics needed to prop up his attempt. But, somehow, I think that on further reflection most Labour party diehards fail to see the parallel when they reminisce on an election that was held over half a century ago with Labour voters being dubbed as heroic ‘soldiers of steel’ by Dom Mintoff.

Muscat’s popularity with the old faithful who yearn for a return to the ‘good’ old Mintoff days has certainly dwindled. In the March 2013 election, he lured them to vote Labour after a number of them had refrained from voting as long as Alfred Sant – who had clashed with Mintoff - remained Labour leader. Their disappointment with Muscat is palpable. His success in luring them back to vote in the EP election by dangling the ‘soldiers of steel’ bait is debatable.

There is, however, a more serious side to Muscat’s decision to treat the Engerer experience in the way he did. It is the reaction of those who do not care a hoot about the ‘soldiers of steel’ and who switched allegiance to vote for a Muscat led administration, not because of the ‘Malta tagħna lkoll’ promise but because they were fed up – for different reasons – of the PN administration and, at the same time, felt that choosing the PN rather than Labour for moral and ethical grounds was no longer a consideration.

Muscat has foolishly acted amorally and unethically in order to salvage some lost votes in Cottonera. Yet, I do get the feeling that Muscat’s attempt at using the Engerer case in the way he did must have lost him more votes than he might have possibly won back. 

Incidentally, rather than screaming for Engerer’s head, the PN should forget Engerer is a turncoat and ignore him completely. Instead they should concentrate on the rashness with which Muscat shortsightedly attempted to turn him into a working class hero. The attempt is hollow, not only because of Engerer’s background but because of Muscat revealing himself as being unprincipled and amoral.

Labour took ages to regain the moral high ground and it did so as a result of the foibles of the PN administration, more than because it proved itself. The Engerer story was an opportunity for Muscat to show that Labour deserves to keep the moral high ground.

Instead, Muscat acted in a way that shows that he and Labour do not deserve it.

All in the family!

The son of US Vice President Joe Biden’s, Hunter Biden, has been given a position on the board of Ukraine’s largest private gas firm, Burisma Holdings, and will be in charge of the company’s legal unit.

The White House on Tuesday brushed aside questions about whether the involvement of  the Vice President’s in a Ukrainian natural gas company raised ethical issues at a time when the administration is promoting energy diversity in the country. Moreover, natural gas has been a central issue in recent tensions between Russia and Ukraine that depends on Russia for most of its natural gas and has accused Moscow of hiking natural gas prices as punishment for moving closer to the EU.

According to a White House spokesman, “Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens, and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the Vice President or President”; while a spokeswoman for the Vice President Biden, said he “does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company.”

The head of a watchdog group on government ethics said there was no inherent conflict in Biden’s job in spite of the fact that Vice President Biden plays a central foreign policy role at the White House. 

So you think that the ‘all in the family’ syndrome is a Maltese disorder?

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