Last call for the gravy train

Loyalty is like convenience, and when the time comes they will both dump Muscat and Delia if it suits them

Cyrus Engerer (left), and Michael Briguglio (right) will be contesting MEP elections
Cyrus Engerer (left), and Michael Briguglio (right) will be contesting MEP elections

Age begets some wisdom... and also the ability to start seeing through people. Terms such as ‘loyal’, ‘principled’, ‘ideological’, even ‘friend’, become rather irrelevant as people change, and I guess that’s something we get to accept as adults. Everyone changes even if there are a few of these characteristics that stick for life.

Indeed, some people can be intrinsically disloyal, egotistic, sanctimonious, judgmental, frivolous, cruel or simply opportunistic.

The news in the last two days that the European elections will be seeing two candidates who once shared the same local council is perhaps a perfect illustration of what I mean.

I am referring here to the candidature of Michael Briguglio with the Nationalist Party and Cyrus Engerer with the Labour Party. Their candidature is perhaps a reality check of the problem with Maltese politics and the quandary that party politics finds itself in.

Cyrus Engerer started off in politics in the Sliema constituency as a local councillor for the PN. In 2009 like many faithful he said that “Lawrence Gonzi’s government built the solid foundation and thanks to that Malta was saved from the ravages of the global economic crisis.”

But Engerer also had a moral issue, feeling ostracised by the conservative politics of the PN when it came to gay rights and his own sexual orientation. One cannot accuse him of eloping to Labour to only jump on the bandwagon. Way back before 2013, he crossed over to Labour where Muscat truly took him under his wing, and indeed Engerer changed Muscat’s views on gay rights and equality.

Engerer certainly has won himself access to some high-profile jobs. Everybody can get comfy wth the good life, a perfect suit, and good food. Champagne socialism is all the rage anyway. A European posting has always been his dream. In 2014, his MEP candidate was ruined when he was convicted for a revenge porn charge. He was then hailed by Muscat as a ‘soldier of steel’ (suldat tal-azzar) – hardly
the right title for a Labour convert from Sliema who actually moved in the shadows of Nationalist bigotry.

After that, he was kicked upstairs to a comfortable post at the Maltese permanent representation in Brussels, but only recently was miffed that he did not get the top job there. Rumour has it he was rather abrasive about this.

So he will now stand for Labour and hope to get elected to Brussels. Last time around in the 2014 campaign he did everything to garner votes, even aligning himself to the hunters’ lobby instead of moving towards the middle-ground.

On the other side of the political spectrum, yet another candidate, Briguglio, hails from a left-wing (whatever that means) family from the heart of Sliema. His first years were in Moviment Graffiti, a left-wing organisation he helped found that has campaigned against the land-grabs of the rich. In its first phase of its existence, Briguglio was always at the forefront.

Always outspoken, in 1996 he drifted towards muted support of Alfred Sant’s Labour but was quickly inside the Green Party, Alternattiva Demokratika’s folds, and was eventually elected in the Sliema council. He had serious clashes with many AD leaders, including Harry Vassallo. As AD councillor he was transparent about having voted for Labour in the past.

In 2013 he led the Green Party, Alternattiva Demokratika its best ever electoral results, articulating a political message which was by far the most credible ever for a third party. But internally he was criticised for his egocentric style. He left soon after, miffed at internal antagonism, and clashes with people like Carmel Cacopardo and Arnold Cassola.

He chose his new battleground carefully by writing in The Times, and captaining a number of NGOs he helped launch like from Front Harsien ODZ or Civil Society Network.

When the Panama Papers broke, he aligned himself closer to Simon Busuttil and finally in the run-up to the election he became a main speaker in the PN club. Firmly in the PN fold, he was now praised even by Daphne Caruana Galizia, who often took him to task for being anything but Nationalist… whether he was being a socialist militant, flirting with Labour, or simply doing his job as AD chairperson.

Briguglio worked the crowds well, earning respect for his lambasting of Joseph Muscat’s administration. After that election, in the run-up for the PN leader’s campaign, he said publicly that Adrian Delia should withdraw from the race and that he supported the honesty of Chris Said. And then all of a sudden, Briguglio dived deep into what was then a very conscious decision. Before it was even announced that he would stand, everyone in the media had figured out that he would be standing for the PN.

This saga is all about the fact that this quest to get elected seems to have very little do with principles or beliefs. It has more to do with getting elected and when it comes to the European Parliament, it is about salaries and perks and getting away from here to live in the grey metropolis of Brussels. Both Cyrus and Michael cannot deny this is their goal.

They knowingly let down many people, most of all those who had believed in their arguments at some point. This is not important for them. Loyalty is like convenience, and when the time comes they might both dump Muscat and Delia if it suits them. Politics is very much like that and when it is all over we are none the wiser.

I can see both candidates agreeing to all the arguments presented respectively by Muscat and Delia now, but we all know that this is simply a case of convenience. Most probably, what they stood for before was all part of a well-choreographed performance. Whether the electorate will be fooled will only be seen after the election results are made public in 11 months’ time. Until then, sit back and enjoy the show.