An axe-wielding bridge-builder?

Economy minister Chris Cardona seemed to contradict himself with his declaration of wanting to be a bridge builder while threatening political adversaries with a metaphorical axe and a metaphorical hammer

Economy Minister and Labour Deputy Leader Chris Cardona (centre)
Economy Minister and Labour Deputy Leader Chris Cardona (centre)

The election of Minister Chris Cardona to the post of Labour Party Deputy Leader for Party Affairs has been welcomed with quasi derision by the Nationalist Party that asserted that this step takes Labour back to the bad old days.

Cardona’s declaration of wanting to be a bridge builder while threatening political adversaries with a metaphorical axe and a metaphorical hammer was almost given the ‘Contradiction of the Year’ award. On the other hand, as Francis Zammit Dimech concluded in a recent article in ‘The Times’, when Cardona described his mission as a bridge-building exercise, he was referring to Labour’s need to restore communications and understanding with its own diehards. Hence the bridge-building is a Labour Party internal job.

Muscat’s Labour Party is facing the grim fact that the old Labour militants – or rather those who always put Mintoff before the Party – are hugely disappointed with the ‘business friendly’ new Labour. Muscat stands a good chance of losing this core vote just as Alfred Sant did when he fell out with Mintoff.

I reckon that these would number some nine to ten thousand votes. Over time they are becoming fewer and fewer but in Malta’s two-horse political race, every vote counts. After the Sant-Mintoff debacle they never voted for an Alfred Sant-led Labour Party and returned to the fold only when Joseph Muscat replaced Sant as Labour leader. Their vote contributed in no small way to Muscat’s staggering electoral victory three years ago.

They now consider Muscat as having abandoned Mintoffian socialism – which is actually a good assessment of Muscat’s policies. And they react by losing faith in Muscat to the extent that there is the possibility that they abandon Muscat’s Labour at the polls. 

The news that Yana Mintoff was rebuffed by Muscat when she asked him to introduce rent control in the Cottonera area reflects the ever widening ideological chasm between Muscat and the old type socialists – however romantic they might be.

The Mintoff proposal typically ignores the fact that rents in Cottonera are going up because the area is slowly but surely recuperating from its economically depressed status. People living there should be pleased about this but, in fact, their short-sightedness keeps them from realising the positive side of what is happening.  

These are the type of people that Muscat needs to build bridges with and he needs to do this urgently. If he is to be returned to power come the 2018 elections, he cannot afford to lose this component of his ‘movement’. He will, of course, have a very reduced majority if he succeeds to win again. The polls show that two-thirds of the so-called switchers have lost faith in him mainly because of the corruption issue. He cannot afford any more haemorrhages from his so-called ‘movement’ as the PN is earnestly closing the gap.

I have always said that the internal ideological tension within Muscat’s coalition – also known as ‘the movement’ – will be its eventual undoing. I now suspect that it is happening earlier than I thought it would.

A bridge builder is certainly needed and he must be one who can speak the language of those on the other side of the ideological divide. In other words, the bridge builder must also be an axe wielder – metaphorically, of course!

Enter Chris Cardona. He surely can talk the old Mintoffian lingo and the old Labour diehards understand him when he applies the metaphors of war and struggles to the political discourse.

Look at the editorials of the GWU-owned papers – l-orizzont and it-Torca – and you can find as much old Labour nonsense as you might possibly want – probably even more. For a long time I could not fathom why anyone should write that sort of political drivel today... but now I am suspecting that this is being done to please the inane fanatics who think the proper Labour policies are whatever Dom Mintoff used to do.

So is Cardona’s election part of a Muscat strategy to win back the old Labour diehards who prefer state controls to the liberal, free market policies of Joseph Muscat? Is an axe wielding bridge builder what Labour needs to fix its internal problems?

And if so, will he be able to square the circle through the gift of the gab while Muscat continues to carry out his ‘business friendly’ policies willy-nilly?

Tall order, of course.

Sliema sewage fears

A front page story in The Times last Wednesday quoted the former director of the Drainage Department as saying that there must be a plan to avoid the sewage problems that will ensue as a result of the cumulative effect of so many proposed tower blocks in Sliema and St Julian’s.

Sewage is one of those services that people tend to ignore when everything is going fine and then discover it exists when something goes wrong. From a political aspect it is just a negative that has to be forestalled while no one will get any kudos if the problems are avoided.

Way back in the late eighties when development in Sliema – especially Tower Road – had already started to boom, I realised that the existing sewer system would not be able to cope with the additional load as a result of all the development taking place. 

The department found a solution to the problem by laying a new sewer along Tower Road to take the grey waters from the buildings facing that road while the load on the old sewer was restricted to that coming from the side streets leading to Tower Road. The system took the additional load without any problems with few – if any – people realising why this had happened.

The proposed tower blocks will certainly impinge on the drainage system that would have to be upgraded to take the increased load. In this case, the developer – rather than the taxpayer – should carry the cost. 

All development permits carry the burden of a contribution for the drainage system. Tower blocks should be charged at a higher rate as the problems they cause are more expensive to resolve. 

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