Simon’s choice on hunting

As a result of Busuttil’s decision, come the next general election, bird hunting will no longer be an electoral issue for the first time in over 20 years – whatever the referendum result will be. This is to the PN’s advantage

Many were surprised that the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Busuttil, declared that he would be voting in favour of the ‘status quo’ in the referendum about spring hunting. In truth, any other position would have shown him as being inconsistent and as having been deceitful about the hunting issue in the past.

Having been an avid campaigner to clinch the derogation allowing “controlled and limited” hunting in spring, Simon Busuttil said he would remain consistent and vote to keep this privilege: “I am not a hunter and I love animals and the environment, but I personally worked for and defended the derogation for limited and sustainable spring hunting, both within my party and in the EU, and I have to be consistent.” 

Surely declaring otherwise would have clearly implied that his past stance was simply a dishonest matter of convenience aimed at securing the hunters’ vote for the PN on false pretences. He would have confirmed the accusations that the PN was an active anti-hunting party that had been deceiving hunters for so many years. The truth is that these accusations were concocted by the Labour Party that has been successfully using the hunting issue as a political weapon against the PN ever since the 1996 election, two decades ago.

Simply put, Simon had no other honest realistic choice.

There are some who are criticising Simon Busuttil’s declaring his personal decision to vote in favour of spring hunting as one that is disastrous for the PN. They think that many so-called switchers and the ‘ones who vote PN’ have a firm opinion about spring hunting, and they are against it. This is far off from the truth. The PN has always been a coalition of people with various interests. I reckon that before Alfred Sant politicised the issue 20 years ago in his anti-EU crusade, some 35% of hunters were PN voters. The PN could only dismiss this part of its electorate at its own expense – and at the expense of those same people who are criticising Busuttil’s decision.

Even if one were to short-sightedly put aside the importance of consistency and honesty that Simon Busuttil had to consider in making his choice and perceive his option from a purely Machiavellian point of view, the decision could not have been otherwise. 

Consider what the scenario would have been had Simon Busuttil declared that his personal views about hunting were to lead him to dismiss what his party has stood for over the last 20 years. The referendum would have then been perceived as some contest between Joseph Muscat and Simon Busuttil with more Labour Party supporters deciding to mimic their leader. Indeed this stance would have made it worse for the anti-hunting coalition as people, who would otherwise not be bothered, would tend to vote in favour of the present derogation to support Muscat more than for anything less.  

This means that Busuttil’s declared opposition to spring hunting would have made a win for the ‘Yes’ vote more probable. This would not only confirm that Busuttil cannot hope to match Muscat’s popularity but also put Busuttil in a terrible quandary come the 2018 general election. Then the hunting issue will again raise its ugly head with Busuttil being accused of intending to ban spring hunting if elected in power. Having declared his vote in the referendum against spring hunting, Busuttil would then find it impossible to defend himself and the PN from this type of scare-mongering.

As a result of Busuttil’s decision, come the next general election, bird hunting will no longer be an electoral issue for the first time in over 20 years – whatever the referendum result will be. This is to the PN’s advantage. Labour has been successfully manipulating the hunters’ vote for so long that today there are many who have stupidly concluded that ‘pro-hunting’ vs ‘ban hunting’ is tantamount to Labour vs PN... little realising that this notion is exactly what Labour has been pushing down the throat of the electorate to its advantage for so many years. 

Ironically, the anti-Labour ‘stalwarts’ who think that Busuttil’s decision is ‘disastrous’ for the PN have unconsciously fallen into that insidious Labour trap.

The switchers’ choice

For the PN to become the choice of the majority once again, it has to realise that it can only do so if it once again recognises that it is a coalition of people with different concerns who not only agree with the PN’s overall vision for Malta but can also rest assured that their interests are not threatened by a PN government. This applies to hunters as much as it applies to so many other groups that the last PN administration alienated in its five years in power.

This is the real reason for the PN’s disastrous result in the March 2013 election. Joseph Muscat’s freshness on its own could not have won the election by such a wide margin. He would have probably won the election in any case as the time for a change in administration was overdue; but it is the mulish short-sightedness of those who were leading the PN at the time that led to the staggering defeat.

I am sure that Simon Busuttil realises this as more time passes and the more people he meets. The switchers’ choice was no fluke. Nor were they selfish people who were not given some petty favour or stupid people who were duped by Joseph Muscat’s promises. They were people who felt alienated by the way they perceived that the PN administration was treating them. This includes many in the business community, as Busuttil is discovering.   

In a recent interview with ‘The Economist’, when asked what lessons he derives from his experience of election-winning, Tony Blair cited ‘not alienating large parts of business, for one thing.’ He sees this – ‘The Economist’ goes on – as essential to the creation of a broad appeal to the vital centre-ground of politics.

This is what the PN completely missed in its last term in power and it is what Joseph Muscat cleverly realised to the extent that it was the raison d’être on which he built his so-called ‘movement’. 

Simon Busuttil is now finding that reversing that trend is a daily uphill struggle. The allegation that his declared personal choice on his vote in the spring hunting referendum has pushed him back down the slippery slope is far from the truth. 

Rather, it has ensured that he can stand his ground.

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