Ingrid was right

It was a bad start for the PN’s European parliament election campaign made worse by the party’s inability to instil hope

A PN billboard: Is it the 2017 election campaign all over again?
A PN billboard: Is it the 2017 election campaign all over again?

It is never a good thing when the secretary general of a political party has to explain the reasoning behind an election campaign message.

It is even worse when the explaining has to be done on the very first day of the campaign when the first billboard messages are put up for public consumption.

The Nationalist Party hit the ground running on Monday by unveiling its campaign for the upcoming European parliament and local council elections but stumbled at the starting line.

A spelling mistake on the very first billboard that went up attracted ridicule. The party could have at least bounced off its message with a Maltese language proof reader but it appears attention to detail is not the PN’s forte these days.

But it is not the language blunder that raised eyebrows. That may be forgiven within the grander scheme of things.

The real problem was with the message itself. The billboards appeared to be a continuation of the same negative message of the 2017 election campaign.

Now, I am not one to champion the mantra that a political party should simply espouse a positive message at all costs. There are times when strong criticism is warranted and needed.

A democracy can only function well if people are free to be critical and offensive. But the PN is more than just your average Mary. It is a political party that wants to be in government someday.

And because it is a political party, people also expect it to be forward looking, come up with proposals and deliver a message of hope.

The PN MEP election campaign so far does none of this.

It was former PN candidate and activist Ingrid Brownrigg, who explained this well in a Facebook exchange with PN secretary general Clyde Puli.

She asked why the PN chose to kick-start its campaign by focussing on corruption when it is evident that the trump card failed miserably in the last general election.

To boot, the corruption billboard was pinned to Konrad Mizzi, quoting the cost of corruption determined by a report compiled for the European Green Party, which looked at the Maltese system irrespective of who was in government.

Like Carmel Cacopardo rightly pointed out: If corruption was simply one person’s problem it would be easily solved.

Puli’s response to Ingrid’s critical appraisal of the PN campaign betrayed a sense of resignation.

It is obvious and expected that the PN should be critical of government corruption and cronyism. How credible it is in doing so remains questionable unless the PN is critical of the root causes: A culture of entitlement, nepotism and the expectation of impunity.

Putting aside the credibility issue, the PN’s decision to simply extend its 2017 negative campaigning into the European parliament election campaign remains an act of desperation.

Even in the dark days of the 1980s when the PN campaigned against corruption and violence it also had a message of hope and change
Even in the dark days of the 1980s when the PN campaigned against corruption and violence it also had a message of hope and change

The PN need not look beyond its own walls for inspiration. In the 1980s, the PN carried out civil disobedience, constantly criticised violence, corruption and cronyism in a very active critical campaign. But the PN of the 1980s was not just about negative campaigning.

Justified as it was for highlighting the abuses of the time, it also put forward a message a hope. It presented an alternative. It had a vision and people voted for that vision as much as they voted to stop the violence and corruption.

The first message should have been one focussing on the PN’s aspirations for this country by also using the European stage. It should have been a message focussing on the qualities of its candidates and how they will work for Malta in Europe by also being watchdogs on the government.

Admittedly, the PN has a problem with countering the PL’s narrative that David Casa and Roberta Metsola undermined their country at every step. The party should have set down with its MEPs months ago and decided on how best to deliver a critical message of Joseph Muscat’s government in the European parliament without going so far as undermining the country.

The association of Casa and Metsola with MEPs like Sven Geigold and Ana Gomes did little to help their cause. Geigold and Gomes are after Malta’s tax system, something the PN MEPs do not agree with.

But the inability of the PN administration to effectively communicate with its MEPs has now left it exposed to the powerful counter message that in Europe, it is the Labour MEPs who can best defend Malta.

Another PN billboard targeted pensioners
Another PN billboard targeted pensioners

And in the face of all this, what does the PN do? It chooses to be the harbinger of bad news.

It is fine for the party to point out the difficulties pensioners face, the problems created in the housing market by the influx of foreigners but people also expect solutions and proposals on how the party expects to change things.

People want hope but unfortunately the initial campaign message is bereft of hope. It lacks inspiration. And the PN’s constant nagging that it is outgunned by the PL’s depth of pocket wreaks of someone who is desperately trying to paint himself as a ‘miskin’.

There is a crucial difference between playing the underdog card to lower expectations, while still believing that you could give anyone a good run for their money and constantly seeking pity.

People do not associate themselves with ‘miskin’ but with someone who is ‘kapaċi’ and ‘bravu’. People want someone they can trust to deliver hope.

And with all its warts, the PL is still the party that can deliver hope, even to pensioners who are struggling to make ends meet and young couples finding it hard to enter the housing market.

“Uffa Clyde, why, why, why?” Ingrid asked at the end of her critical message. She was right.

More in Blogs