Back to the drawing board

After last week’s disappointing electoral result, will the PN go back to the drawing board, eat some humble pie and change its tactics?

Nobody is perfect and Muscat has his defects – but they are not the ones that the PN imagines.
Nobody is perfect and Muscat has his defects – but they are not the ones that the PN imagines.

The vote in the election for the six Maltese European Parliament members has been interpreted as showing that Joseph Muscat’s performance as Prime Minister – warts and all – has hardly dented his popularity. Even more telling is the fact that the result shows that the PN’s tactics in Opposition have proved to be an unmitigated disaster.

Simon Busuttil can look for and find some crumbs of comfort in the result, but he cannot obliterate the harsh truth: the PN has been using the wrong tactics against Joseph Muscat and the electorate preferred to punish the PN again rather than start worrying about Muscat’s peccadilloes.

One can argue that after fourteen months of Joseph Muscat in power, the traumatised generation of the seventies and eighties does not fear Labour any more and feels that Labour has really changed. Despite the bad news dished out daily by the PN propaganda machine, people get the feeling that, by and large, the economy is doing well and that there are more positives than negatives in Labour’s performance.

Moreover one year is too short compared with twenty-five years of PN governments and the way the credibility of the PN had been damaged before the 2013 election is not easily forgotten. As a result, many tend to ignore Muscat’s obvious political pitfalls – the Engerer case, the secret ‘Henley & Partners’ contract, the plethora of jobs for the boys, the blatant political transfers and the outrageous promotions in the Army. This is an attitude that I can understand, although I do not agree with it at all.

I think that the PN’s biggest problem is its own attitude to Joseph Muscat and his staggering 2013 election victory and the way this misguided attitude has led the PN to use the wrong tactics.

It is obvious that there are too many among those who were directly or indirectly responsible for the PN’s 2013 debacle who are still in denial – the PN in government did nothing wrong and voters were conned by a lucky political upstart who falsely led them up the garden path.

This scenario is very far from the truth and the PN cannot start its way back to recovery before it acknowledges that the truth is otherwise. Unfortunately for the last fourteen months, PN spokespersons have been dismissing truth as perceptions and believing that their own perceptions are the truth. To shake itself out of this trap, the PN needs to do some serious thinking and go back to the drawing board.

The excessively hysterical attacks at every perceived false step on the part of the Muscat administration have further dented the PN’s credibility rather than Muscat’s. Discerning voters cannot stand the attitude that seems to imply that whatever the PN did in government was right while whatever Muscat does in government is wrong. They cannot stand the attitude that the PN is necessarily superior and that its performance in government was beyond reproach.

It is true that in the past the PN successfully managed to get Malta out of the economic cul-de-sac into which Mintoff had pushed it, but this does not mean that Mintoff’s successor as Labour leader, Joseph Muscat, must perforce be pushing Malta up the wrong alley. This is a perception born out of prejudice and nothing else.

These prejudices, preconceived ideas and completely wrong assessments will keep the PN stagnating in the political backwater and unwittingly give Muscat an incredible advantage.

To beat an adversary, one must first make a good assessment of the abilities and intelligence of the adversary. The PN has refused to do so, over and over again. I have heard and read Joseph Muscat being described as a former ‘Super One’ reporter; Malta’s Zapatero, implying he will end up in a mess; and even as Dom Mintoff mark II.

All this is the result of people stupidly putting Joseph Muscat in some preconceived pigeonhole of their liking. Rather than fitting Muscat in one’s preconceived pet theories, Muscat should be viewed objectively and realistically. Joseph Muscat is Joseph Muscat and he must be studied and considered seriously as such. His incredible electoral performances, so far, indicate that the PN’s preconceived ideas have continually led it to underestimate him.

For the PN to stand a chance of beating Muscat, it has first to shed its prejudices and look at things objectively. It has to acknowledge – and respect – his intelligence, his shrewdness and his capability for using the right tactics in the right moment, rather than dismissing him as some inferior politician.

Only when it humbly does so and understands properly what Muscat is really all about can the PN pick up the chinks in his armour. Nobody is perfect and Muscat has his defects – but they are not the ones that the PN imagines.

Although stemming from the same preconceived ideas, the PN faces another serious problem in its approach towards those voters who abandoned it in March 2013 – the so-called switchers who voted Labour and others who just abstained from voting. 

The PN acts as if it is adamant that they were conned by deceitful slogans and propaganda and ended up making the silliest decision ever. At the same time, it pays lip service to their right to choose whom they vote for. Simply put, this is not enough to lure these voters back and the sooner the PN realises this, the better.

In short, the PN must acknowledge that these voters made a cold but correct assessment of the situation in March 2013 and respect them for their decision, not simply tolerate them. Too many PN spokespersons unconsciously display their hidden anger towards them rather than acknowledging that their decision was justified in the circumstances.

After last week’s disappointing electoral result, will the PN go back to the drawing board, eat some humble pie and change its tactics? Or is the electorate in for four more years of hysterical press conferences condemning every government move (a patently Labour tactic under Alfred Sant) and the perfunctory dismissal of Labour’s capability to lead the nation forward?

Incredible as it might seem, after the March 2013 electoral defeat the PN refused to come down from its high horse. It is time that it does so and engages itself in quite a lot of sober thinking behind closed doors, even if it has to keep mum until it draws up an effective political strategy.

Anything else will only spell more electoral disasters for the PN.

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