Simon, people want direct politics

In the past the PN was known as a factory of ideas but now it is still struggling to engineer proposals, even because Joseph Muscat’s team always seem to be that pace or two ahead.

Like many I took note of Simon Busuttil’s new shadow cabinet, which the leader of the Opposition said ‘was just the beginning’.  

Busuttil needs to start winning elections and see the trust rating go up, and in this most recent exercise to revamp a daring edge he is set to leave an impact.  

As with many other decisions in politics, symbolisms rank high and this was no exception. The way the news conference was orchestrated with an open door behind the Opposition leader, a photo shoot showing the 10 ‘chosen ones’ made up of relatively new faces, symbolising a Cabinet of ministers (possibly rebutting a Malta Independent survey where the majority of respondents doubted that Busuttil was “prime ministerial material”), the 50-50 gender balance, engaging two MEPs who are considered star candidates to give the PN a European perspective, and relegating party stalwarts who stand for stippled performance in the past.

True, politics is ruthless. Is any of this wicked? Of course not. In politics it’s how the populace perceives you. But is also about persuading voters that somewhere along the line there are policies being bred, ideas flown around and positions taken.

In the past the PN was known as a factory of ideas but now it is still struggling to engineer proposals, even because Joseph Muscat’s team always seem to be that pace or two ahead. The PM has done it again by coming out of the blocks quicker, claiming what position he is going to take vis-à-vis the spring hunting referendum well before Busuttil.

Now is the time to move forward with tangible propositions. Apart from the convention, the policy fora, the shadow cabinet, some new faces and voices on the media, the Nationalist Party needs to be driven forward, keeping in mind that there exists no overarching ideology as was the case in the past. Work needs to be done by brokering with minorities, responding to popular concerns and engaging with the politics of interest groups.

This is not easy to do considering that the PN, a party in convalescence, is still governed by rigid structures closely attached to tradition, and with a laborious, hierarchical set-up and top-heavy representation. It keeps finding itself in a quandary when it comes to ideological content, not knowing how left or right or anything in-between it is.  

If this party is to rise from the ashes it needs to loosen its structure, define its content by purpose, target specific micro-issues without sounding ‘holier than thou’ or promoting some collective consciousness that’s oozing with pseudo-wholesomeness. The honesty ploy is a bit long drawn out for my liking, considering that politics, by its own definition, is neither candid not straightforward.

Like all other political movements, a reality the PN faces is the people’s diffidence to party politics, time and again resulting in apathy and lack of participation. What people want is direct politics, not beating around the bush.

If Busuttil wants to show his mettle he must narrow and mainstream the political chat, address the community at base, shift towards a managerial style of politics, resonate a centrist position and accommodate a wider spectrum of voters that still find it terribly tricky to engage with his party.

These last two years the PN was essentially dilly-dallying, taking too much of a back seat and giving out an impression of division between politics and citizens’ needs. Take as an example a Nationalist MP on my programme, Ghandi xi Nghid, who said she knows her position on the hunting referendum but was unwilling to state it, not to influence the community!

The PN must understand that for a party to be effective, it has to be about social change and this happens gradually, at a very uneven pace, even by conflicts that in turn bring further change.

So: fear of conflict is fear of change. Fear of change is irrelevance. 

Busuttil’s shadow cabinet must produce the goods and this can only happen if the following targets are achieved: the right use of symbolisms, leadership, grounded activism, an overarching ideal, striding away from ambivalence, a concoction of manifesto/alacrity/minority outreach and popularization of the party.  

From what I grasp, the PN has only nudged the first of these targets – a long way to go indeed.

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