Simon Busuttil and his honesty card

Independence Day was a transparent ploy by Muscat to steal the headlines… in public relations, Muscat is miles ahead of the PN

Simon Busuttil has the difficult job of presenting a new reality without rubbishing the Lawrence Gonzi administration
Simon Busuttil has the difficult job of presenting a new reality without rubbishing the Lawrence Gonzi administration

In the run-up to the 2013 election, the PN used to describe a potential future Labour government as one that would not be able to manage the economy and would have policies that lead to an increase in unemployment. This is all water under the bridge as both these Nationalist ‘prophecies’ have turned out to be utterly fallacious.

Joseph Muscat’s economic success – built as it is on the foundations laid out by previous PN administrations – has forced the PN to look elsewhere for the push it needs to stand a chance of winning the next election.

The choice was, of course, glaring to anyone who dared have even the smallest peek at what the Muscat administration has been concocting ever since it attained power more than three years ago: the lack of transparency in the way Muscat operates and the numerous cases of abuse that have been surfacing over and over again, with Muscat keeping a straight face! In short, the evident lack of honesty in the way that the Muscat administration carries on is the only issue that could trip Muscat and deny him a second victory come 2018.

This has been obvious for a long time. But now it has been taken over completely by Simon Busuttil. His closing speech at the Independence anniversary celebrations told it all: he assured everybody that he can deliver what Maltese politics sorely needs at this moment – honesty.

Simon is on the right track on this, and his cry is credible. People might judge Simon to be somewhat naive and sometimes overly simplistic, but not even the most avid Labour supporter can say that he is dishonest. At the same time, I seriously doubt the weight that the Maltese people give to the notion of honesty in practice and whether this is valued more than material gain. People who complain at the dishonesty of others are not automatically paragons of virtue. The key factor seems to be the answer to the question: what’s in it for me?

The argument has been going round that all politicians are corrupt and so one should choose the side that assures a better personal standard of living and a better quality of life. This is the dangerous way of thinking that could undermine Simon Busuttil’s aims. 

At this juncture, Labour wants to reinforce the perception that a future PN administration would be no better than the current administration as far as ethics and morality are concerned. That is why it defends its ‘wrongdoing’ by giving examples of ‘wrongdoing’ under the PN administrations. This seems a silly way how to fight a political duel – all of us believe that one wrong does not justify another. But the underlying threat is palpable: if people keep on believing that both parties are morally bankrupt, Simon Busuttil’s promise of a new honest way of doing politics will not win the day. 

During the 2013 election campaign, it was obvious that the PN had lost the moral high ground and this was one of the reasons that led to the unheard of proportion of its electoral rout. The PN was perceived as having lost the moral high ground – not because some minister was corrupt but because a network of corruption and shady deals thrived during the PN’s tenure of office. 

Like many, I never doubted Lawrence Gonzi’s personal integrity but people still judged his performance as one leading to a situation where this network blossomed under his very nose. With the PN losing its moral leadership and the ordinary citizen being lured by Muscat with the promise of meritocracy and transparency, opting for the PN on moral and ethical grounds was no longer a consideration in 2013.

Having won the election, Joseph Muscat did not then seem to worry much about the moral high ground! He did not take long to ditch his promises on transparency and meritocracy. Under his leadership, the Labour administration soon managed to forget that the moral high ground ever existed. People were talking of ‘a scandal a day’ – with one more serious than the other. Muscat had to fire a Minister and a Parliamentary Secretary and then fabricated a so-called ‘reshuffle’ that was anything but. 

But this does not mean that the PN automatically regained the moral high ground. 

People do change their minds – but not overnight. Labour had to suffer many electoral defeats before people forgot the tribulations they had to endure during the time Labour were in power. Muscat’s promise of a new way of doing things might have disappointed many switchers but these are still to be convinced that a PN victory will lead to a new reality with a fresh, differently focussed administration – rather than to a superficial cover-up of the old regime that would be simply a cosmetic change.

Moreover, Simon Busuttil has the difficult job of presenting this new reality without rubbishing the Lawrence Gonzi administration. It is a political tightrope walking exercise.

On the other hand, if Muscat keeps on making the same type of mistakes that have led to so many disappointments, he could be in trouble by early 2018. That would indeed be a self-inflicted mortal wound.

Joseph’s perfect timing

Joseph Muscat chose Independence Day last Thursday to announce from Boston that a US currency printer is going to open a $100 million facility in Malta – an investment that will create 200 jobs, rising to 300 over time. Even so, there is no such thing as unemployment nowadays and I wonder where the workers will be coming from!

But this is of course good news – more so to ensure that Malta does not have all its proverbial eggs in the same basket. Light manufacturing industry has been steadily losing its share of GDP over the years while more jobs were being created in i-gaming and financial services. 

Restoring the balance with investment coming from the US is ideal.

Choosing Independence Day for the announcement was no coincidence. It was a transparent ploy by Muscat to steal the headlines when the country was talking about the PN mass meeting the day before. 

When it comes to managing public relations, Muscat is miles ahead of the PN.

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