Reflections of a progressive on the eve of the European Parliament election

Cracking the whip on the government in a mid-term test has been shackled by the Opposition's reactionary attitude on issues like abortion and foreign workers

Adrian Delia, Norman Lowell and Joseph Muscat
Adrian Delia, Norman Lowell and Joseph Muscat

The mid-term elections next Saturday may be seen as an opportunity to clip the wings of a government whose track record on the  environment and good governance cries out for the electorate’s whip.

Within a context where one can do this in the safe knowledge that it won’t bring the PN back in power could have provided the opportunity for delivering a message.

But the Opposition’s posturing on various social issues like abortion and foreign workers was so outright reactionary that it will be very hard for progressives to consider the PN as being worthy of their vote.

The latest pledge to entrench the ban on abortion in the Constitution follows a pattern firmly entrenching the PN in the conservative side of the spectrum. If Trump was Maltese he would be eating popcorn. Pity that not all PN candidates fit the stereotype.

Other definitive turn-offs in the campaign were the stereotypification of foreigners by both Delia and Muscat, the presidential posturing by the Prime Minister, who is presented as God’s gift to humanity, and the lack of nuance in the defence of the Maltese tax regime by all parties and candidates contesting these elections.

The message of hate

Yet the most unsavoury aspect of the campaign was how a self-avowed white supremacist was able to use these elections as a platform to spread his message of hate.

The most positive aspect was Muscat’s conversion from his push back days to his new-found enthusiasm for integration. Back in 2014 it was the push back legacy which had catapulted Lowell to nearly 3% of the European election vote.

Another unsavoury aspect is the nationalistic narrative which has filled the vacuum left by the lack of focus on social justice.

I do not subscribe to the view that elected MEPs should not use their platform to criticise and scrutinise the national government. Muscat is only to blame for international criticism after Panamagate simply because he is the only EU prime minister with a serving minister mentioned in Panama Papers.

But when criticism by Maltese in international fora is done with the single-minded purpose of undermining the partisan enemy, I shrug, especially when this is done by people who did not lift a finger on anything when the PN was in government.

Moreover some of those campaigning for good governance are mainly concerned by the damage to the reputation of the financial services industry of which the PN was an architect, rather than by any ethical vocation.

Ultimately it is difficult to reconcile the Maltese tax regime with social justice. Sure enough this is tricky, as Malta’s economic model supported by both PN and PL would suffer under tax harmonisation. This may result in a loss of tax revenue which penalises the Maltese working class which has been thankfully spared from austerity.

That is why at a European level tax harmonisation needs to be accompanied by a revamp of fiscal policies, which limit the choice offered to countries like Malta to one between austerity and piracy. Instead, throughout Europe we need greater leeway for public expenditure for the much-needed investments in ecological conversion and universal welfare.

Fortunately these elections are not about choosing the lesser evil and all European families except, unfortunately, the European Left are represented.

The Greens have unapologetically presented themselves as left wing
The Greens have unapologetically presented themselves as left wing

Unhappy times for progressive third party politics

It was not the best of times for progressive third party politics in these elections. In a media landscape dominated by sound bites for people with restricted attention spans, the fragmentation of the third party vote is bound to confuse.

The positive news is that this time round the Greens have unapologetically presented themselves as left wing and progressive. Mina Tolu’s call for a respectful debate on abortion may have lost the party one of its best communicators (Arnold Cassola) but it opened a new chapter in the way such an issue is debated.

Carmel Cacopardo has also left his mark by focusing on local elections which he is also contesting.  AD remains an option for progressives who want to send a message from Labour’s left on environmental and social issues.

The environment was a major concern before the election to the extent that Muscat felt obliged to throw a couple of bones. But the question is; will it be back to business as usual the moment Labour increases its majority?

One notable aspect of these elections in Malta is that potentially each single vote can be useful in electing a candidate. One may well send a message by expressing a first preference for a third party candidate while cross voting across different party lists to help elect the best candidates.

Yet beyond the present, the gap on the Left is crying out for something new which is able to speak out loud on issues like low wages, high rents and over development. But this raises a major question: Is the prospect of offering a political alternative worth the cost of losing the advantages of operating from outside the political fray in terms of building inclusive alliances at community level?

This is a pertinent question,  especially for  those who constantly lament about the lack of political alternatives.

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