The story behind the story

The recent revelations about a very recent rising ‘star’ whose blog became notorious for its stances against Adrian Delia were no surprise to me. Changing loyalties for pecuniary reasons is as old as the hills

Pierre Portelli revealed in court that blogger Manuel Delia was a ghostwriter for Adrian Delia at the start of his leadership bid
Pierre Portelli revealed in court that blogger Manuel Delia was a ghostwriter for Adrian Delia at the start of his leadership bid

Taking things at face value has always been a dangerous track in politics everywhere. Certain notorious traits in the Maltese psyche make this statement even more realistic.

The recent revelations about a very recent rising ‘star’ whose blog became notorious for its stances against Adrian Delia were no surprise to me. Changing loyalties for pecuniary reasons is as old as the hills and there is often a story behind the story, as MaltaToday famously puts it.

From personal experience, everytime I criticise someone or show disagreement with them, I meet people who ask me when and how I was slighted by those with whom I would have shown my disagreement.

People do not believe me when I reply that my opinion on certain issues has nothing to do with whether I was slighted by the person with whom I show disagreement, or that I have some personal resentment and am out on the vengeance trail.

In fact I fancy myself as an exception to the usual trend. As I write this I can hear the sniggering of many who will be reading my piece and who do not believe that I can publicly disagree with decisions of people without some personal motivation that has nothing to do with my public disagreement.

The most common reaction to some piece criticising ‘X’ for something or other is people asking me what happened in my personal relationship with ‘X’ and when did they slight me! Express a disagreement with some action or decision and people react by trying to find the ‘real’ reason for my criticism, which they fancy involves something that ‘X’ must have done to me.

Criricism in Malta is, more often than not, looked upon as the result of some personal tiff and when I ‘explain’ that this is not true in my case, the look of disbelief tells it all. In the minds of many, every politician and every political observer is out on a personal vendetta.

I can be tempted to say that this is the result of small minds in a small island – but this phenomenon exists everywhere. People are people whether they are Maltese or belonging to the rest of humanity – that is often conveniently lumped into one group in contrast to the Maltese, yet another Maltese idiosyncrasy – and whether they belong to the chattering classes, or the hoi-polloi and great unwashed.

But with the size of Malta being what it is – in contrast with what the national fancy perceives – everybody practically knows everybody else and personal tiffs are the order of the day: not just in politics and journalism but eveywhere, including the much abused respect for ‘ethics’ and ‘rule of law’, besides business, sport, NGOs, ‘religious’ stances and a host of other circumstances where humans react with humans.

Every report or article in the media is looked upon as some personal vendetta: when I criticise some government-subsidised project as a matter of principle, the real beneficiaries of the project keep on asking whatever they did to me. Everything turns out to be personal.

At the risk of being laughed off, I must reiterate that I criticise ideas, actions and decisions and not the persons responsible for them. But people keep on asking for the story behind the story, even when it does not exist. I do not blame them because in the majority of media reports and comments there really is a story behind the story.

It’s not the first time, either, that when this sort of background is revealed, a rising star turns out to be nothing but a damp squib.

The mother of all messes

This is the title of a recent leader published in The Economist and refers to the role of the British Parliament – the mother of all Parliaments – in the Brexit fracas.

After spending almost two years trying to thrash out a ‘deal’ with the EU to facilitate Brexit, Theresa May found that this deal was rejected by a massive majority – 432 to 202. The next day the same members of the House of Commons voted to refuse a vote of non-confidence in the May led government by 325 votes to 306.

Barely a month earlier, Tory MPs had rejected a no-confidence motion in the embattled Prime Minister’s leadership by 200 votes to 117; a contest that exposed the bitter split in her party over Brexit.

This looks like crazy mathematics as it means that 117 MPs who voted for a non-confidence motion in May as the Conservative leader then voted against a non-confidence motion in May’s government.

The thinking must have been that the party comes before the government. A non-confidence vote in the leader would keep the Conservatives in power under a new leader but a non-confidence vote in the leader’s administration would lead to a new election that could see the Conservatives thrown out in the wilderness of the Opposition benches.

Meanwhile, while Tory MPs play these games, March 29 – the date Britain leaves the EU – looms nearer.

The Economist explains the mess is the result of two years of political misjudgement, implying poor leadership in the British political class. Suddenly May’s doggedness has become May’s pig-headedness – not an uncommon evolution in politics.

But The Economist also adds that “Brexit has exposed two deeper problems. One concerns the difficulties that will face any country that tries to ‘take back control’, as the Leave campaign put it, in a globalised, interconnected world.”

The second problem that Brexit has exposed concerns democracy: “MPs are elected by voters to take decisions on their behalf. The referendum of 2016 was a rare dash of direct democracy, when the public decided on a matter of policy. Today’s crisis has been caused by the two butting against each other.”

Ignoring the referendum result would mean subverting the will of the people. But MPs feel that Theresa May’s deal is not in the interest of their constituents and “To sideline MPs, as Mrs May has all along tried to do, would be no less a perversion of democracy.”

How this mess will unravel is not just something that the British people look forward to; with The Economist insisting that the voters must be involved in the eventual decision.

It is also a lesson to all in what democracy really means in practice.

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