Political battles are not won by throwing milkshake

Given a choice between the politician trying to campaign, and the hoodlums trying to silence him… I’d be inclined to support the former (were it not for the fact that I disagree with Farage utterly on so many issues)

Nigel Farage gets milkshaked...
Nigel Farage gets milkshaked...

Election weekends are a crap time to be in the newspaper business.

Take the so-called ‘day of reflection’ last Friday, for instance. There is supposed to be a law preventing ‘the media’ from discussing political/electoral/campaign issues on the eve of an election. But, like so many other laws in our statute books, it was drawn up at a time when ‘the media’ meant something somewhat slightly… different.

Basically, it meant only newspapers, radio, TV (which was still a novelty, back then) and… um… ‘Rediffusion’.

Younger readers will probably have to google that last word. Even I – who have a vague childhood memory of a Rediffusion set crackling away in the background… in what feels like another galaxy, long ago, etc. – felt obliged to look it up, to make sure I at least spell it correctly.

For make no mistake: the media landscape has changed since the early 1960s, when that law was drafted. Rediffusion is no more. Even television has been superseded as the medium of choice for popular debate. Thirty years after ‘video killed the radio star’, social media networks have killed video. It is all online now: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

But – big surprise coming up – while the media landscape has been transformed beyond recognition, the laws supposedly regulating it have remained virtually unchanged. So, on Friday, print editions of daily newspapers could not report on any matters pertaining to the following day’s election. Television and radio stations could not feature political developments (which, I need hardly add, carry on regardless of media blackout laws) in their news bulletins.

And yet, while newspapers and broadcast services were robbed of their main raison d’etre for the space of 24 hours… all the political billboards remained firmly in place: trumpeting out their highly political messages, despite being technically part of the broader definition of ‘mass media’ in the 21st century. Paid political adverts continued popping up all over the social media networks throughout the ‘day of reflection’… and (though I can’t confirm this, as I am writing on Friday) I suspect they will carry on, with impunity, even on voting day.

As for ‘political commentary’, in the wider sense… that continued unabated for every second of those 24 hours. Just not in the papers or on TV. Effectively, then, this ‘day of reflection’ succeeded only in muzzling the so-called ‘mainstream media’ (which, it must be said, is not even all that ‘mainstream’ anymore). We have ended up with an unenforceable law that is applicable only to a tiny fraction of what passes for ‘the media’ today… with another law – the law of the jungle – for everyone else.

But election weekends are crap for other reasons, too. By the time you read this, the first results will probably already have started coming in. We will probably already know (or be able to anticipate) how many of those six seats were won, and by whom; how the national vote breaks down along party lines; who the winners and losers were, by how much, and all the rest of it.

And that’s just Malta. This being a ‘European election’ – and perhaps we need to be reminded of that, as ‘Europe’ was almost nowhere to be seen throughout this campaign – there is also the question of which Europe political formations/groupings will emerge triumphant or strengthened; and which will take an umpteenth bashing from the electorate, and possibly implode.

None of that information is available to me as I write this article. So, tell you what: I’m going to base the rest of it on the following assumptions. One, that the Eurosceptics will register resounding successes across the EU (but nowhere more dramatically than the UK); two, that here in Malta, Imperium Europa will emerge as the third largest political party after Labour and the PN; and three, all the local discussion will be limited only to the implications for the two major parties, with all other considerations simply ignored.

I may, of course, be proved wrong on all three of those assumptions (I’m especially hoping that about No.2). If so, I will happily throw a milkshake at myself before anyone else beats me to it.

Why milkshake? Ah, because that particular dairy product has a large part to play in the formation of those assumptions. This week I was flabbergasted to see so many people – people who seem to think they’re ‘anti-fascist’, if you please – gleefully applauding, as a mob of balaclava-clad, milkshake-armed hooligans surrounded Nigel Farage’s campaign bus, and kept that MEP candidate from stepping out and doing what he clearly had a right to do as a politician: i.e., campaigning during the last week of an election.

To me, that image was not just disgusting, but deeply disturbing. These are the people who are going to ‘deliver us from fascism’? Sure look a lot like fascists to me. And given a choice between the politician trying to campaign, and the hoodlums trying to silence him… I’d be inclined to support the former (were it not for the fact that I disagree with Farage utterly on so many issues. But that is beside the point, for now.).

Honestly, whoever thought this was a clever campaign strategy should be taken aside and gently informed that… well, ‘thinking’ is clearly not his or her strong point. There is nothing remotely clever about throwing milkshake at people. On the contrary: it is ugly, thuggish, intimidating, and – above all – stupid.

It is also why I suspect that Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party will perform even better than UK polls were predicting up until the beginning of last week… when it emerged that it had already overtaken both Labour and the Tories, to become Britain’s largest political force. That’s the thing with campaign strategies, you know: they tell us more about the people using them, than those on the receiving end.
Throwing milkshake during a campaign is the equivalent of hurling verbal abuse during a civilised debate. It only indicates that you don’t have any valid, legitimate political arguments to throw instead.

So how can anyone claim to be surprised, when the only people getting any results are the ones who are actually rolling up their sleeves and doing all the hard work – getting out there, mingling with constituents, talking to and trying to convince people… you know, all the stuff that serious politicians are expected to do, if they want to win elections?

But no. The ‘clever’ ones… i.e, the ones who seem think their own opinions are sufficient to overturn even a referendum result, if it is displeasing to their ears… they think the proper way to win elections is not by arguing or debating, but by throwing things at their political opponents. Like mediaeval peasants throwing rotten vegetables at people in the stocks… only in 2019, instead of 1451.

Then they all scratch their heads, these clever people, and wonder why so many voters turn away from their cause in disgust. For all their presumed intelligence, they seem to never understand why they keep losing this debate to the people who are actually debating, when they are not.

Where the heck is the intelligence in that? What’s so very ‘clever’ about making a public display of your own inability to argue?Perhaps the most disquieting thing about this ugly turn of events – for yes, mob rule is always ugly – is that it seems to be catching on everywhere else.

In Malta, for instance, we throw insults instead of milkshake (though it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Benna starts producing ergonomic milkshake cartons, designed for maximum throwability and aerodynamic ease of flight)… and, oh my, how very surprising. The results to date have been exactly the same.

Here, as in the UK, we have a small minority of self-appointed ‘intellectuals’ who seem to think that repeating words like ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’ will automatically win them political support. One of them, a while back, accosted a politician (PN’s Clyde Puli) at a restaurant and filmed his reaction to being heckled. To his credit, Puli responded to this barrage of (mostly incoherent) abuse with calm, collected arguments. And even if the arguments themselves were far from impressive… (‘Adrian Delia is the best’? Huh? What?)… to me, and to everyone else I know who watched and commented on that clip… Puli came out on top.

And that’s Clyde Puli: secretary general of a political party that is on the cusp of annihilation anyway. Look at Labour, for crying out loud. It has not stopped increasing its electoral lead, election after election, after election… and the ‘intellectuals’ opposing it never seem capable of realising that they are themselves directly responsible for this state of affairs.

Honestly: how many elections does a party have to lose – by ever-increasing margins, too – before it finally learns that political battles are not won by hurling abuse (still less milkshake)… but by bringing intelligent arguments to the table?

In any case: by now you will surely have worked out that this applies just as much to Norman Lowell’s Imperium Europa. Lowell, too, has grown in stature with every European election since 2004. And it’s not because of the strength of his arguments… but simply because he is the one bringing arguments to the table (no matter how weak or bizarre), while his opponents seem to expect everyone to just gravitate to ‘their side’ of the argument…. just like that. On their own. Without being persuaded, convinced, appealed to, or even consulted.

In a nutshell, they expect to win all their political battles… without actually putting up a fight.

Sorry, but it doesn’t work like that. People cannot continue to be ‘surprised’ when their own idiotic strategies keep blowing up in their faces, time and time again.

As I recall, a certain local politician once (long ago) said he wanted to ‘instill a new way of doing politics’. It’s a pity he failed so utterly (though again, hardly surprising: seeing as he never really tried) but then as now, it remains what is truly needed in this country. And in the rest of Europe too.

Arguments. Not milkshake. It is really not that difficult to understand…

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