‘As you were’

The Panama story fires people’s imagination more than Manuel Mallia’s appointment as minister of competitiveness. It could well be that Joseph Muscat did not realise as much

Muscat’s decision to retain Mizzi and Schembri shows a worrying disregard for the views of the very same people who in 2013 gave him a convincing win
Muscat’s decision to retain Mizzi and Schembri shows a worrying disregard for the views of the very same people who in 2013 gave him a convincing win

The Cabinet decision announced last Thursday is the beginning of the end of Joseph Muscat’s hold on the popular vote.

Just as happened with the Gonzi administration, the unofficial opposition run by the man in the street will prove more lethal than the official opposition. The ordinary citizen feels short-changed. Indeed many have commented that if Muscat had made no Cabinet reshuffle, he would have come across as more honest than he did with a Cabinet reshuffle that effectively orders his ministers: ‘As you were!’.

The reasoning behind this is obvious. If Muscat feels that Konrad Mizzi has done nothing wrong, he should have left him in his ministerial position. If, on the other hand, he felt that Mizzi’s position was untenable, he should have kicked him out of the Cabinet. What Muscat did is neither one nor the other: just a cosmetic punishment that is hardly a slap on the wrist for Konrad Mizzi.

Instead of eliminating once and for all the perception that he is in cahoots with Mizzi and Keith Schembri (who was left untouched), Muscat’s non-decision strengthened it. I am not saying that this is the truth, of course. In politics, the truth always plays second fiddle to perception and the game is one of perceptions more than anything else.

This time Muscat has come across as if he could not wriggle out of a tight corner and that is the sort of situation that fires people’s imagination and their perception of the guy. I dare say that had he declared that he believed Konrad Mizzi did nothing wrong and made no reshuffle, Muscat’s standing with the public would have fared better than it has with this sham reshuffle.

I have met avid Labour supporters who have felt insulted with this strange Muscat move, asking whether Muscat thinks everybody is an idiot.

I cannot fathom how Joseph Muscat, who usually gets his PR right, did not realise that this will be the obvious reaction to his ‘reshuffle’. And this is not just the reaction of some fanatic PN supporter. It is a reaction across the board. Everybody has at least a modicum of intelligence that has felt slighted with Muscat’s move.

The move includes also the return of Manwel Mallia into the Cabinet. Manwel made an interesting speech at the recent Labour Party General Conference: he practically admitted that his experience as a criminal lawyer – where truth must be established beyond reasonable doubt – did not prepare him well for politics – where truth is irrelevant and perception is the name of the game. Hearing him, I sensed that Mallia’s speech was tantamount to admitting he had been politically naive and a plea to be given another chance.

So Joseph Muscat heard his plea and acted. This is the only cunning part of the reshuffle, in that Mallia’s return to the Cabinet – while irking many – was a diversionary tactic: people would be talking about this more than Konrad Mizzi’s great escape. This resurgence of Mallia as a Cabinet Minister has been on the books for some time; even so it surprised many. Obviously this element of surprise would be the talk of the town for some days, thus easing the pressure for the removal of Konrad Mizzi.

My reading is that the trick worked only for some people for a very short time and Muscat has not really managed to divert attention away from Konrad Mizzi’s Panama papers revelation. However the Panama story fires people’s imagination more than Manwel Mallia’s appointment as Minister of competitiveness. It could well be that Joseph Muscat did not realise as much.

The ultimate beneficiaries of this mess are Simon Busuttil and the PN. They should however handle this opportunity with care. The PN need not scream to the top of the world what the ordinary man in the street feels to be obvious. It should not be judge and jury at the same time. It should let the people digest the many possibilities – whether true or just a perception – that led to Muscat’s strange decision. Work on it cunningly not with some crude war cry that reveals a superior attitude... but with a more serene approach.

Attacking Muscat as if he were some Dom Mintoff will not work, because he is not.

Simon Busuttil has recently been ill advised to come across as some heroic leader brandishing all sorts of arms and rushing his troops into battle. I seriously feel this has been the wrong advice. He should just explain the facts and let everybody reach their own conclusion. In the current circumstances this is more lethal than crude battle cries.

Muscat did not really fire Konrad Mizzi. Why, one may ask. Let everybody reach their own conclusion without any prompting that would repel those who love Labour more than they love Joseph Muscat. There could be switchers there as well.

Johnson’s Freudian slip

Since that controversial English politician, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (known as Boris Johnson) who was born in New York to upper class English parents and who is the current Mayor of London and an MP since 2015 joined the ‘Leave the EU’ bandwagon, he has managed to become even more controversial.

Many judged his decision as a way of stabbing David Cameron in the back: a political move with ulterior motives i.e. his ambition to become the next British Prime Minister.

Now he has made the most glaring and classic Freudian slip when he implied that the stance adopted by US President Barak Obama who has urged the British to remain in the EU was the result of his being anti-British because of his ‘half-Kenyan’ origin.

This piece of Boris logic goes like this: Barack Obama’s father was Kenyan. The Kenyans had fought tooth and nail against the British to become an independent country and therefore hated the British. Hence Barack Obama is anti-British.
Boris Johnson’s implication tells us more about Boris than about Barak. He thinks the world is divided into two camps: those who love the British (and lick their boots) and those who hate the British.

The world is not like that, of course.

Many – like me – neither hate nor love the British. We just laugh at them!

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