When brothers kill each other

The current political climate and the tone with which we deliver our speeches does not bode well for the future. We have exceeded all limitations and we are scraping the bottom of the barrel

I have been a member of parliament since 1992. I witnessed both the beautiful and the ugly sides of our country’s politics and there were many ideological battles and thoughts over the years. During these 24 years I have seen many politicians of both sides bickering and denouncing each other. In a democracy, disagreement and managed conflict are a good sign.

But I have always believed, and I think that this belief was shared by a number of my colleagues over the years, that this should happen in a sensible framework. There is an invisible line that we knew has always existed. Yes, we argue, sometimes in too aggressive a tone, and there were times where this line was exceeded. I admit that at times, even I used incorrect and excessive language and did not hold back when at times I could possibly have. However I always tried to apologise whenever I did so. We know that we have to fight another day but today I regret that these parameters no longer apply.

We are living in a time when harsh disparaging remarks are acceptable. It seems that ‘anything goes’ and there is no restraint whatsoever. If we stick to acceptable parameters, we would be protecting the dignity for others and showing them the respect that each and every one of us deserves. Recently, the former general secretary of the Nationalist Party referred to Glenn Bedingfield as garbage; adding insult to injury through a coloured photograph of a waste truck unloading at a waste tip which presumably is Castille. Another spokesperson for the PN resorted to inappropriate language on the PN media. Journalists were pushed (and I am being conservative here) merely for putting questions to the Leader of the Opposition in front of the law courts. It is the opposition that is pretending to take the moral high ground. Is this the alternative?

Over the years there have been a number of cases where MLP exponents, including myself, did not use restraint in our speeches. In such instances, the criticism, shock and panic of the parties on the other side of the fence was enormous. But it is bewildering that when the PN is the one responsible for these crass and offensive remarks, then it seems that such statements go unnoticed. The same applies to Parliament. Parliament television, straight to people’s homes, sounds like a brilliant idea, in theory. Our highest institution has become more accessible this way.

However this has led to an increase in the toxic dose of inappropriate words, which is contributing to the people’s diminishing trust in politics. Sometimes I imagine myself as a young boy watching all the uproar and unruliness on TV one evening and being expected to behave properly at school the next day – because it is the right thing to do!

During PQ time in the English Parliament there is a lot of noise and opposition but it is a civil and constructive criticism. The debate, in spite of being a heated one, is good and sensible and done in style. The attitude of our MPs on Parliament TV is, to say the least, discouraging to any youngster potentially aspiring to enter the political fray and be of service to our country.

In recent years we experienced quite a few changes in the way we communicate with each other and everyone now has the chance to air his views on social media. In itself this is very positive but unfortunately this newfound opportunity has often been used to create division, to offend and to hurt others, very often anonymously. Some resort to fictitious names and false photos to hide behind a secret profile that is intended solely to offend others online. This is another example of the lack of ethics and the desire to communicate within respected standards.

The current political climate and the tone with which we deliver our speeches does not bode well for the future. We have exceeded all limitations and we are scraping the bottom of the barrel. If we really want to be the people’s representatives we must desist from this name calling and we should not call each other ‘garbage’. We should show respect to each other, to the electorate and not least to ourselves. We need to calm all those hotheads who are harming the image of the politician and we should remember that we are after all, citizens of the same nation. Belittling each other is not the solution.

Of course we must also behave in an appropriate manner if we do not want to discredit ourselves and get to a situation where more and more people are not only disenchanted with us politicians, they become also disgusted with what we do and we make them go into anti-politics and support extremist views which merely denounce and oppose and propose nothing. See what has just happened in Austria and what might happen in France and in Germany when mainstream political parties and politicians discredit themselves.

I recall the novel of Nikos Kazantzakis, ‘The Fratricides’ in which the writer explains the dangers of losing a sense of proportion through an account of how the Greeks killed each other in the civil war 70 years ago. In a strongly worded sermon, the central character, Fr Yanaros says:

“Not one leader, either red or black, has the whole of Greece in his heart; all of them have her divided – the criminals have cut her in two, as if she were not alive. And each piece has gone mad and wants to eat the other. Kings, politicians, officers, bishops, leaders in the hills, captains in the valley, all of them, all of them have gone mad. They’re wild, hungry wolves, and we the people, are the meat, they see us as meat and they devour us.”

Evarist Bartolo is minister for education and employment