Spelling mitsakes are the least of the prolbem

If the PN’s strategy to win an election is to simply metamorphose into the Labour Party… then there’s no real reason for the PN to even continue existing, is there?

So much so, I’m willing to bet that 90% of you failed to spot at least one of the two in the headline. If so… well, join the club. I shall have to admit that I didn’t immediately spot the mistake in the Nationalist Party’s first billboard, either. I read the sentence right through, and… no, the lack of a ‘double-L’ in ‘tghola’ did not register in my mind at all.

This may be down to the simple fact that I don’t read (still less write) anywhere near as much Maltese as I probably should; but it may also have something to do with the fact that, for most of my day, I find myself looking at nothing but words. Words, words, words. And one thing I’ve noticed about words is that… the longer you stare at them, the less certain you become: not just about their spelling, but also their meaning.

Even the word ‘word’, in itself, can have this effect. Stare at it for long enough, and you will eventually find yourself thinking: “But… is that really how it’s spelt? How can I be certain it’s not… ‘werd’… or ‘wird’… or ‘wurd’…?”

Weird, huh? But that’s the English language for you. Four out of only five vowels can produce the same phonemic sound, when placed before the same consonant cluster. And I didn’t bother including ‘wyrd’, because.. well, you’d have to be an Anglo-Saxon philologist (or a Doom metal fan) to even think that one up in the fyrst place.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that this form of lexical uncertainty grows in direct proportion to the weight and meaning you intend (as a writer) to give to that word. You are unlikely to agonise too much over the choice between ‘you’re’ and ‘your’, in an SMS to a friend who couldn’t give a toss about grammar. But if you’re writing a job application letter, or a newspaper article, or (ahem) a political slogan on a billboard… anything where the message is ultimately going to be judged, and maybe criticized… it automatically becomes a whole different bawl-game.

Ironically, the more important the word, the greater the uncertainty as to how to actually write it. And it gets a whole lot weirder when you catch yourself in the act of (almost) looking up the word ‘word’ itself in a dictionary, just to be sure.

When that happens: my advice, from long years of personal experience, is… go for a worque. Get some fresh er. Teak your mined off righting for a cupple of ours… and thrust me, it will parse.

So looking back at that billboard, it becomes easy to see how these things happen.  After all, the people who came up with that slogan have been staring at the same words for years now, if not decades. Hardly surprising that they’d eventually forget how to spell them, or what they even mean.

This, indeed, is another reason I didn’t spot the mistake. When I looked at that billboard, the feeling I got was more like stepping back in time. Right back to June 2017, in fact. It is almost as though the Nationalist Party dug up the same billboards it had used in that campaign, gave them a (very hasty) make-over, and just slapped them back up again. Like, nothing happened between June 2017 and today…

Even the imagery is exactly the same. How often have we seen that picture of Konrad Mizzi carried shoulder-high at a mass-meeting in the past three years? Isn’t this just the same old mantra that already cost the PN so dear at the last election? Or, to put the same question differently: if this strategy failed so spectacularly two years ago… what reason is there to suppose it will succeed today?

I’d say there are plenty of reasons to suppose the opposite: not least, a plethora of polls and surveys that place the Labour Party at anywhere up to 40,000 votes ahead of the PN in this election. Strange, isn’t it, that the same electoral strategy would yield the same (dismal) results, election after election after election…?

But that’s me, and I’ve been saying this for a while now. The interesting thing about this latest ‘War of Billboards’ is that the same thing is now being said by members of the same party: this time, not because they belong to a faction that is inimical to Adrian Delia… indeed, the complaints are coming directly from the heart of the Delia faction itself.

Some even took to the comments boards of the PN’s own Facebook group: “Embarrassing… we’ve ended up with no ideas,” wrote one follower. “So much for Simon [Busuttil] being negative and us changing tune,” wrote another. “We’ve remained the same”.

Now: leaving aside the niggling detail about ‘negativity’… face it, guys: you can’t base an entire electoral campaign only on roses, unicorns, and fluffy little pink bunny rabbits. There has to be a bit of aggro in the mix… otherwise, quite frankly, there’d be no point in having an election at all.  

But it is the repetitiveness of the approach that is clearly now irking even the Opposition leader’s remaining allies within the party. The above-quoted internal critics are entirely correct. The Opposition is bereft of ideas; and the ‘new’ leadership has failed to instil any new life or vision into the party… which was the whole point of electing Adrian Delia as leader – as opposed to the ‘continuity’ candidate, Chris Said – to begin with.

That the PN is bereft of ideas has now even been confirmed by its secretary-general Clyde Puli, who – astonishingly – said in his party’s defence that: “Labour used to discuss the oil scandal, Arriva, etc. And they won”.

Sorry, but this is precisely what those disgruntled Nationalists were all along trying to tell you. If the PN’s strategy to win an election is to simply metamorphose into the Labour Party… ‘because it worked for them’… then there’s no real reason for the PN to even continue existing, is there? We could cut out the middleman, and just vote for the original instead of the copy.

But that Delia has failed to turn things around… this emerges directly from his own campaign promises almost two years ago. Remember? He promised to ‘restore the PN to its rightful owners’, and to chart a new course for the party.

All three of the PN billboards I have seen to date – mistakes or no mistakes – point very clearly in the opposite direction. From a campaign strategy perspective, there is simply no difference at all between Delia’s approach, and Simon Busuttil’s before him. Except perhaps that, where the ‘Panamagate’ battle-cry was still topical and current in June 2017… it’s now April 2019. There really is a limit to how much you can continue flogging a horse, you know… especially when it not only fails to die, but actually grows stronger the harder you flog it.

And besides: it’s not as though there aren’t any other topical current issues an Opposition party can build a campaign out of. In a roundabout way, this becomes evident even from Labour’s tongue-in-cheek billboard response.  

So far, the “oh-look-we’ve-spotted-another-mistake” billboard is the only one I’ve actually seen from the other side. And just look at it: entirely responsive, as if to impart the message… ‘hey, we no longer need to even come up with our own slogans. You’re doing that for us yourselves…’

Clearly, then, the Labour Party hasn’t even begun campaigning in earnest yet… and there may be a perfectly good reason for that. It doesn’t need to. All it has to do is take pot-shots at individual billboard messages, et voila; not only is Labour’s political objective easily (and cheaply) achieved; but – very conveniently for government - all the real topical, current issues are automatically swept under the carpet: completely ignored by both parties, in an election campaign where both also claim to represent ‘the national interest’.

What can the Opposition say on a billboard, about a Gozo-Malta tunnel link that it has only just approved itself in Parliament? What is it going to say about the rampant destruction of the environment by construction? The loss of public space to undisguised greed? The unsustainability of the present economic model? Heck, what can it even say about corruption… when Clyde Puli himself seems to suddenly be acknowledging that there’s no real difference even on that score? (Seriously, Clyde: like many others, you should really think a little before publicly posting on Facebook).

This, to me, is a far more grievous flaw than a mere typo on a billboard. It tells me that neither party can even talk about any issue of direct relevance to people anymore, because – when push comes to shove – they both always gravitate to exactly the same position on EVERYTHING.

Viewed from this angle: no wonder the Opposition cannot seem to break out of this election-losing strategy-loop it has gotten itself stuck in. No wonder the Labour Party is so confident of winning this election, that it doesn’t even bother spending money on a few measly billboards here and there.  If you block out all the serious issues from the debate, you’re only going to be left with trivialities to discuss.

And oh look: another election, and yet another childish, schoolyard billboard squabble… only with typos, this time. You know, just to remind of us all of what’s truly important in this election…

More in Blogs