With ‘star candidates’ like that...

The only thing that can really make a difference in Maltese politics is an evolutionary quantum leap among the younger generations of politicians - and that is precisely what we will NOT get in the next election

Salvu Mallia’s maiden speech as a PN candidate was no different from any local political speech we’ve ever heard before
Salvu Mallia’s maiden speech as a PN candidate was no different from any local political speech we’ve ever heard before

I suppose we all ought to be grateful to the Nationalist Party’s new candidate, Salvu Mallia. With that ‘plague’ comment of his in Gozo, he really told us everything we need to know about Maltese politics in the 21st century... in a way that even the biggest dimwit among us can actually understand.

It’s all about name-calling. Nothing more, nothing less. One progresses up or down the ladder of political success, not on the strength of any actual convictions or policy proposals... but only as a result of how grievously (and frequently) one insults the detested ‘other side’. 

By an interesting coincidence, that is the precise equivalent of the classic ‘Beavis and Butthead’ dichotomy: a term now used by psychologists to describe a general tendency to oversimplify complex realities into two diametrically opposed viewpoints.

From this vantage point, there can only ever be two value judgments: something is either ‘cool’, or ‘it sucks’. There is no in between. 

OK, by this point you might well be thinking... but we already knew that. It is, after all, the way politics has unfolded in this country since any of us can remember. Ah, but this is also what makes Salvu’s outburst so very enlightening. It comes from someone who is a newcomer to the political game... and even more specifically, from one whose declared reason for entering politics in the first place was (get this) to ‘change’ the way it actually works.

Well, that explains why it never seems to change at all. What else can we expect, if the people committed to bringing about this ‘change’ don’t seem to know any tactic other than the ‘same old, same old’? Ultimately, Salvu Mallia’s maiden speech as a PN candidate was no different from any local political speech we’ve ever heard before. More dispiriting still, it also followed in the sorry tradition of up-and-coming ‘rising stars’, who automatically feel they have to show their mettle by outdoing all their predecessors at the only two political strategies this country has ever known. 

Lick, lick, lick your own party’s backside... while hoping to rise in its esteem by publicly vomiting on the current ‘public enemy number one’. How very original...

Right: before turning attention to what Salvu actually said, let us briefly go over all the things he is reported to have said, but didn’t. He didn’t say, for instance, that all ‘Labour voters have the plague’. That was a deliberate misrepresentation by the Labour propaganda machine: and as such, it naturally falls into the ‘same old, same old’ category I’ve just outlined for you. 

Glenn Bedingfield is, in fact, a prime example of the same political pattern he now complains so bitterly about. Read his blog any day of the week, and all you will ever find is ‘lick, lick, vomit vomit’ with every single post. Same goes, of course, for Daphne’s blog... only in her case, there is conspicuously more vomit than spittle. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that both serve the same general political purpose: to keep alive an archaic culture of hatred and mistrust, precisely to ensure that the ‘lick, lick, vomit, vomit’ strategy keeps working. (For let’s face it: without that culture, what would there be left to actually read in either blog?)

But in any case. What Salvu Mallia actually said was this:  “Joseph Muscat is the worst disaster to befall Malta ever since the 1813 plague. He is a parasite created by the Labour Party. Under his leadership, the Labour Party is devoid of a moral compass and a social soul [...]”

Later, he added: “Simon Busuttil’s principles, his conscience and his love for the country brought me closer to him.  The decisions made by Simon Busuttil are wise, are not determined by partisan politics, and reflect his love for the country.”

It’s just as well my stomach has hardened over years of digesting precisely this kind of drivel, otherwise I’d be reaching for the sick-bag under my seat. But there you have it: newcomer to politics or not, Mallia followed the same old predictable script to the letter. It was exactly the sort of thing that gets you applauded at these awful party meetings... which is another way of saying that it’s precisely the sort of unintelligent rubbish that will not – and cannot – change a goddamn thing.

And this is why Labour was unwise to distort his words. Anyone familiar with the basic Maltese idiom – which incidentally doesn’t change when translated into English – would automatically know that ‘the worst thing since the plague’ is simply the converse of ‘the best thing since sliced bread’. Neither expression is meant to be taken literally, nor even metaphorically. It’s just a way of saying ‘really, really bad (or good)’.

The reason Mallia’s comment was... let’s just say, regrettable...  is not because it was offensive. For one thing, it wasn’t; and for another: even if it was... so what? It’s not as though Labour has never personally insulted anyone before, you know. Starting with Glenn himself. In fact, if Salvu Mallia really did insult Labourites the way he was made out to have done... I wouldn’t be writing this at all. Let him insult them. Let them be offended – very offended – and hurl back insults of their own.

It’s only what both sides have been doing for generations anyway... why stop now?

No, the real problem is how Mallia’s oration sounded to former Nationalists who might (until that point) have been considering a return to the fold. It was a timely reminder of how little the PN has actually changed since the last elections... and more to the point, how sorely it needs to change, if it ever wants to win another.

I mean, honestly. That’s the quality of contribution we can expect from a ‘star PN candidate’ these days? ‘Boo sucks to Joseph, all hail Mr Nice Guy Simon’? I reckon even his dog would have come up something a little more insightful. ‘Woof woof’ not only sounds better, it actually makes a lot more sense.

Leaving aside the criticism of Labour – which may have been a slight exaggeration, but ultimately remains what it is: i.e., legitimate criticism of a government, which Mallia has every right to make. 

Even if we do accept that... yes, Malta is currently worse off than when rotting corpses were carted through the streets by people shouting ‘Bring Out yer Dead!’... it still doesn’t automatically make the PN the better option.

Ironically, Mallia himself points out precisely why not, too. Look only at the ‘lick, lick’ part of the equation: “Simon Busuttil’s principles, his conscience and his love for the country brought me closer to him...”

Hmm. Funny, how these ‘principles’ and ‘conscience’ struck no chord with Mallia when he voted Labour in the 2013 election. After all, Simon Busuttil was both deputy leader of the PN at the time, and also the man fronting the PN’s electoral campaign. Has Simon Busuttil himself changed in any way since then? Apart from the occasional haircut here and there? Not that I can see. His style of Opposition leadership is exactly the same as when he described Deborah Schembri as having ‘the face of a Nationalist’ in his first televised debate. 

Then as now, Simon Busuttil embodies the same simplistic ‘Beavis and Butthead’ dichotomy, whereby all things Nationalist are ‘cool’, and all things Labour ‘suck’. Mallia wasn’t impressed by that at the last election. Why is he suddenly impressed by it now? And besides: isn’t he labouring (ahem) under the same delusion that made him choose Muscat over Busuttil just three years ago? A blind, irrational belief that if one politician ‘sucks’... the other one must automatically be ‘cool’?

This raises a rather self-evident question. Who will be ‘cool’, and who will ‘suck’, in the unlikely event that Busuttil does indeed win the next election... and goes on to disappoint Salvu Mallia in exactly the same way as Muscat did three years ago?

That, by the way, is not a mere possibility, but a dead certainty. Even if we limit ourselves only to Salvu Mallia’s own examples of why Muscat is a ‘parasite’ – the whiff of corruption and nepotism that has permeated his first three years in office – what makes Salvu Mallia so certain a future PN government will smell any different?

To my nostrils, they’ve always stunk in exactly the same way before. We tend to forget that the same Panama papers which exposed Konrad Mizzi, also revealed secret bank accounts, containing undeclared millions, belonging to at least one former Nationalist minister. And if Muscat’s closeness to businesses resulted in the Cafe Premier scandal... how are we trust the leader of a political party that ‘borrows’ millions from undisclosed sources – to service a debt that has never been publicly quantified – while simultaneously lecturing us about ‘transparency’ and ‘good governance’?  

The real issue is that Simon Busuttil cannot ‘clean up’ corruption in this country, because his own party is plugged into the same machine that perpetuates Malta’s culture of political patronage. The only thing that can really make a difference is an evolutionary quantum leap among the younger generations of politicians... i.e., beyond the ‘cool/sucks’ paradigm, and into a more mature and less simplistic approach to politics.

And, well, that is precisely what we will NOT get in the next election... at least, not if the current crop of ‘star candidates’ is anything to go by. 

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