No cure for the summertime blues

If the government is serious on national reconciliation it cannot go after the protagonists as if they were criminals

They met at Charles Grech and exchanged pleasantries
They met at Charles Grech and exchanged pleasantries

It is summer, it is stiflingly hot, and the last thing on people’s minds should be politics.  

Well, that is what everyone hopes for but the minute you take a break to talk to people they automatically turn to the subject.

And naturally their radar is fixed on the candidates bidding to be the next leader of the Nationalist Party (more on this later). We know now that there will be four candidates and that Simon Busuttil will not stand again, even though he feels that he should go on and play his part. 

But it seems that life has not quite changed.  

The same protagonists who dominated the election campaign are singing the same song, as if the general election of June 3 meant zilch, as if it did not happen.

And we are still hearing the same narrative: that votes were acquired by corrupt practices and that the government is the most corrupt one can ever imagine. And that Labourites are divided between those who are genuine and those who are not.

This is the language of Simon Busuttil, who lost so badly after calculating so wrongly, and it is this language that motivated a silent mass of voters to vote Labour. 

I believe that most of the swing to Labour materialized because:

1. When Busuttil talked of a corrupt government they could not get themselves to erase the image of a party that had had its fair share of seriously corrupt practices when it itself held the reins of power.

2. When they listened to Busuttil they could hear only anger and a repetitive discourse about corruption that had no end and nothing new. This was not inspiring to them.

3. They dreaded the fact that Busuttil was firmly associated with Caruana Galizia, David Thake, Salvu Mallia and Marlene Farrugia.

4. They found Joseph Muscat inspiring.

5. They feared the PN, which seemed bent on settling scores.

I could of course be wrong in my interpretation. The Nationalist Party still led by Busuttil is so cocky that it has opted not to carry out a post-mortem on its performance at the hustings. As if it does not matter what the reason was for the second humiliating electoral loss in a row, in spite of the claimed rampant corruption.

Having said this, it is important to emphasize one important point.  

It is very true that many people are hurt with what was alleged in the run up to the election. Busuttil acted as judge and jury and trumpeted whatever unverified allegation came his way. He did worse – he said that people should be thrown in jail and he tolerated the worst kind of conduct that one could possibly imagine – wildly promoting fiction not fact.

Busuttil did not respect the difference between fact and fiction, acting as a rabble-rouser, and though he was correct in pointing out the disgustingly unethical behaviour of some senior government officials, he made unfounded allegations without presenting any proof. 

And yet, if the government is serious on national reconciliation it cannot go after these protagonists as if they were criminals. Politics is the art of compromise. The fact that their political career is practically over should be considered to be good enough reason for common sense to prevail and to let them be.

If I had to pluck a feather out of my own experiences, I have to say that I have done this with those who have waged a war of attrition with defamation cases in court. Life goes on even when you are a politician and a journalist.

Which brings me to the four candidates for the Nationalist leadership. Of the four candidates who are in the election arena, it has to be said that the most glaring outlier is Frank Portelli.

Adrian Delia seems to have attracted the wrath of the discredited Daphne Caruana Galizia, who now seems to be justifiably ignored by the PN hardcore after leading them and a good deal of the press down the Egrant hole.

Yet it is Frank Portelli who really makes waves. In Korea, there is a tradition that people who are in financial debt and cannot pay back their dues rush off the mountains and enter a monastic order. Portelli, as someone who ran a private hospital and also ran a personal election campaign, also had to contend with a mountain of debt at the St Philip’s Hospital.

Sometime before 2013 a proposal for the PN administration to take over his hospital fell through. Somehow the PL administration must have given him the impression that they would entertain this proposal. They did not.

But he did land himself on the PBS board, as a member. Closer to the election he started firing salvoes against the Labour administration and pontificating on the moral high ground and on good governance. So typical of Frank Portelli.

I guess paying one’s debts is also part of good governance. But to hell with that.

What I do know is that Frank Portelli is old hat. He holds court in the lobby of a hotel that happens to be the feeding ground for his close friend Richard Cachia Caruana. Now he wants to become leader of the Nationalist party, aware that he has no chance of a snowball in hell. Which arguably makes one ask – why did he put his name forward?

Some kind souls suggested that he had nothing better to do. Others pointed out that he must have slept on the wrong side of the bed.

The truth is that with this talk of good governance and being upright in politics, the PN election commissioner, the former EU fisheries commissioner Joe Borg, would have been correct in carrying out a due diligence on all candidates before waving the green flag.

As it happens, politicians scream wolf when it suits them about companies being screened for their misdemeanours and financial standing, but when it comes to themselves they always opt for the easy way out.  

Such is life, and we should not be surprised with the outcome of the result. Life is full of surprises and I am looking forward to 16 September for the day of the Oscars.