Five have a wonderful time (at Castille)...

We are no longer allowed, it seems, to remind people of what they used to be and do until… oh, just a few short years ago

OK, folks, you all remember this one from your distant days watching outdated British children’s entertainment on your black and white TV sets in the 1980s… so all together now:

“We are the Faaa-mous Five…! Marion, Rob and Sam, Karl, and Manuel the Blo-o-og-(ger)!”

Ouch! For some funny reason, every car alarm in the radius of five miles just suddenly went off at once. We’re going to need a little work, if we’re to even survive bootcamp this year (let alone win the X-Factor). But then again… it’s been such a long time now that some of you might have forgotten the tune; and others may not even have been born when Enid Blyton’s ‘The Famous Five’ ruled the airwaves (and dinosaurs roamed the earth, etc.)  

So here is what you need to know. We’re in the key of C-major, and the chord progression is: C, Em, Am, G, F, C, D, G. It’s in 4x4 timing, with chord-changes (mostly) on the second beat of each bar. Oh, and there are a few dead beats in there – in the song, I mean (why, what were you thinking?) – so use them to catch your breath for that rousing uplift on the final ‘G’, OK?

Alright, let’s try again. Pay attention to the dead beats this time: I’ll mark them with an (x). Ready?

“We (C) are the Faaaa-(Em)-mous Five (Am)! (G-x-x-x) Marion (F), Rob and (C) Sam (x), Karl, and Man-(D)-uel the Blo-o-og-(G)-ger…”
Whoah, that’s much better! It harmonised beautifully with all those car alarms in the background. That Sony record deal is almost ours for the taking… and we’ll be representing Malta in the Eurovision in no time at all, too. All that remains is to keep singing the same tune – ‘when-(D)-ever there’s ti-ime (G); time (D) after ti-ime (G); (x) after TI-I-I-IME! (C)’ – until we finally drive every last inhabitant of this country (including Timmy the Dog) up the frigging wall…

Which, incidentally, is what the Famous Five having been doing ever since they got back together for a whole new series of adventures… in around five different guises, too: all claiming to be somehow representative of this thing called ‘civil society’.

Exactly how they can claim that is something of a mystery unto itself. But hey, isn’t that exactly what the ‘Famous Five’ was all about? It’s all there, in the verse section of the same theme song: ‘When-(Am)-ever there’s a (G) mystery to be (C-F) solved…” (And I’ll stop there, before all the car alarms go off again). So I guess it falls to us to solve this little mystery. Who are the ‘Famous Five’, anyway? And how, exactly, do they get to speak on behalf of all Malta’s ‘civil society’?

As with the best of Enid Blyton’s children’s fiction, the mystery only deepens the moment you start trying to unravel it. We’ve already been over the names of the protagonists… or at least, those five out of an estimated seven members (the Secret Seven, perhaps?) who even bothered attending their own, very first public event. But what does this latest organisation – mysteriously named ‘Repubblika’ (from the Latin ‘res’ + ’publica’: ossia, ‘that which represents the general public’) – actually represent?

According to its own press statement, it claims not to be “affiliated” with any political party, and that it does “not consider that civil society should be the battleground for politicians, elected officials, or candidates”.

Hmm. Let’s take another look at those names, shall we? By my count, only one – Sammi Davis – does not appear to have ever had any form of affiliation or association with any political party. So at least one (out of five) actually fits the description on the packet.

To be fair, that’s not even a bad start. It works out at 20% of the entire organisation: which is already a good deal higher than the percentage of Labour Party affiliates who can actually be described as ‘Socialist’ (last I looked, around 0.08%); or Nationalists who still have a clue what their own party is even supposed to represent at all (a tidy 0%, if I ever saw one).

So – just like our earlier rehearsal of the theme song – I do see some potential here… but also some minor scope for improvement. And… well, that’s the whole point of bootcamp, innit? So allow me to slip more completely into the role of ‘X-Factor’ judge here (I hope you’re taking all this down, Howard) and start brushing up the act a little.

The other four – not Sammi, who’s already through to the next round – might need a little extra work. I would start by either changing the wording of the organisation’s mission statement… i.e., remove the ‘non-party affiliation’ part, and simply admit that it’s a purely political organisation, with purely political objectives (nothing wrong with that, as far as I can see)… or just resign from the group altogether, on the basis that: well, you don’t actually meet your own job description, do you?

Repubblika’s ‘interim chairperson’ Marion Pace Axiaq, for instance. She is a former PN administrative council member, and president of the PN’s women’s section. On the flipside, she was also my former Italian teacher at school… and she can’t have been too bad at it, seeing how I can still conjugate irregular Italian verbs in the subjunctive mood (‘che io fossi, che tu fossi, che egli fossa’, etc.) So like I said earlier: this is not an outright rejection.

There is still hope. But… ‘not affiliated or associated with any political party? Davvero? Ma mi sta prendendo per il…’
Oops: just as well I accidentally set the buzzer off at that precise moment. Where was I? Ah yes. Robert Aquilina. Now, I know it’s not exactly fair to drag in family relations, and all that… but come on. His brother Karol is a Nationalist MP, not to mention a former president of the PN’s administrative council. His own Facebook wall reminds me of that lyric from a certain Domenico Modugno song: ‘nell blu, dipinto di blu.’ So don’t let me accidentally hit that buzzer again…

Meanwhile, Karl Camilleri was a member of the Democratic Party council, where he played a role in fielding the party in the 2017 elections… at a time when it was still part of a coalition with the PN. And as for the fifth member of the group, Manuel the Blog(ger)…

Erm… this is the awkward part of the judging process, where you are faced with contestants who just… don’t… take… kindly… to criticism.

Each time Manuel Delia’s past political career has been brought up in public, he has responded by throwing massive, all-guns-blazing tantrums all over the place. He did it with me some time back – but that’s OK, because my skin has thickened somewhat of late – then again with former Sunday Times editor Steve Mallia… and most recently with former Malta Independent journalist Karl Schembri: who reminded Manuel of a time when he himself was part of a government which used to hand-pick journalists for Cabinet briefings… among other ways the former administration had also made a mockery of ‘press freedoms’ in its own day.

We are no longer allowed, it seems, to remind people of what they used to be and do until… oh, just a few short years ago. Not even when that recent past was (and still is) of the utmost relevance to their new choice of career. Odd, huh? Anyone would think that ‘having a political past’ had no bearing whatsoever when it comes to joining (if not co-founding) a ‘non-political NGO’ which claims to represent ‘civil society’.

And please note: I haven’t even reached the part where Repubblika’s demand for political resignations were immediately echoed by another ‘civil society NGO’: Occupy Justice, chaired by none other than Manuel Delia himself, and sharing several of the same members.

But in any case: let’s just say the buzzer would not be quite as ‘accidental’ in Manuel Delia’s case, and move on. By now you will surely have noticed that we are still no closer to figuring out how, exactly, this group can qualify as a ‘civil society organisation’. If we accept the traditional definition – i.e., “social action carried out by individuals or groups who are neither connected to, nor managed by, the State” – what is all this ‘social action’ in which ‘Repubblika’ is supposed to be involved?

Occupy Justice, at least, could answer that question. It was formed specifically to demand justice for a particular crime, and to encourage widespread institutional reform. Both are perfectly legitimate ‘social actions’ in their own right; both are the stuff of which ‘civil society’ is supposed to be made.

‘Repubblika’, on the other hand, seems to be focused exclusively on forcing an incumbent government out of office. That, too, is a perfectly legitimate goal… but it is a political, not a ‘social’, objective.

And it can only be achieved by political means: like contesting elections, for instance… or presenting a motion of no-confidence, as the PD just did in parliament.

Certainly, it cannot be achieved just by organising a little picnic outside Castille, in which five, solitary individuals – one less, and it would have been a classic case of ‘erba’ qtates’ – ‘have a wonderful time’ calling for the Prime Minister to resign. Especially not when the Prime Minister in question happens to enjoy the support of anywhere between 52 and 54% of the population… while your own ‘civil society NGO’ doesn’t actually represent anybody at all.

All the same: call me an optimist, but I can still see ways in which this car-crash-in-the-making can be salvaged. The original objectives which gave rise to Occupy Justice – especially the ‘institutional reform’ part – are still in place. It is still important for civil society to organise itself into something that looks less like a contorted, many-headed and utterly toothless deformity. And above all, there is still plenty of room for a serious new political movement to fill the Opposition void…

But you need to be more than just five people (I mean, did I really have to point that out? Just look at the picture, for crying out loud…); and you need to project a clearer idea of who you are, what you represent, and how you intend to achieve your goals.

There, I’ve given you all you need to turn this act around. Now get on that stage, and knock ‘em judges out once and for all. (We’ll all do our bit by singing the theme song in the background. Ready? “We (C) are the Faaaa-(Em)-mous Five (Am)…!”)

Justice, chaired by none other than Manuel Delia himself, and sharing several of the same members.

But in any case: let’s just say the buzzer would not be quite as ‘accidental’ in Manuel Delia’s case, and move on. By now you will surely have noticed that we are still no closer to figuring out how, exactly, this group can qualify as a ‘civil society organisation’. If we accept the traditional definition – i.e., “social action carried out by individuals or groups who are neither connected to, nor managed by, the State” – what is all this ‘social action’ in which ‘Repubblika’ is supposed to be involved?

Occupy Justice, at least, could answer that question. It was formed specifically to demand justice for a particular crime, and to encourage widespread institutional reform. Both are perfectly legitimate ‘social actions’ in their own right; both are the stuff of which ‘civil society’ is supposed to be made.

‘Repubblika’, on the other hand, seems to be focused exclusively on forcing an incumbent government out of office. That, too, is a perfectly legitimate goal… but it is a political, not a ‘social’, objective.

And it can only be achieved by political means: like contesting elections, for instance… or presenting a motion of no-confidence, as the PD just did in parliament.

Certainly, it cannot be achieved just by organising a little picnic outside Castille, in which five, solitary individuals – one less, and it would have been a classic case of ‘erba’ qtates’ – ‘have a wonderful time’ calling for the Prime Minister to resign. Especially not when the Prime Minister in question happens to enjoy the support of anywhere between 52 and 54% of the population… while your own ‘civil society NGO’ doesn’t actually represent anybody at all.

All the same: call me an optimist, but I can still see ways in which this car-crash-in-the-making can be salvaged. The original objectives which gave rise to Occupy Justice – especially the ‘institutional reform’ part – are still in place. It is still important for civil society to organise itself into something that looks less like a contorted, many-headed and utterly toothless deformity. And above all, there is still plenty of room for a serious new political movement to fill the Opposition void…

But you need to be more than just five people (I mean, did I really have to point that out? Just look at the picture, for crying out loud…); and you need to project a clearer idea of who you are, what you represent, and how you intend to achieve your goals.

There, I’ve given you all you need to turn this act around. Now get on that stage, and knock ‘em judges out once and for all. (We’ll all do our bit by singing the theme song in the background. Ready? “We (C) are the Faaaa-(Em)-mous Five (Am)…!”)

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