The other ‘message from the electorate’… and what the PN can do

The PN could become the party to propose a radical new approach to pressing environmental problems. But can it? Will it? No prizes for guessing my prediction on that one… 

You may have missed them amid all the clamour of the (oh, so melodramatic!) campaign… but shortly before last month’s EP elections, I made a few small predictions.

Well, I am happy to report that some of them turned out to be spectacularly… wrong. The growth of the xenophobic Far Right, for instance, was not as pronounced as I had feared: neither in Malta, nor in the rest of Europe. And even this smaller swing towards Nazism – though still worrying, in itself – has to be counterbalanced by a modest rise in support for Green (or Green-ish) parties: a fact that may be linked to a noticeable increase in youth voter turnout across the board.

In the rest of Europe, anyway. Here in Malta, it was quite the other way round (which reminds me: this was the first-ever election in which 16-year-olds had a vote. In all this electoral post-mortem analysis… has anyone asked how many of them actually voted? Or what they voted for? No, I didn’t think so either…)

It might be a coincidence, but this might also tie in with the emergence of increasingly vocal style of European activism, mostly among young people, concerning climate change issues. That this movement is fronted by a 16-year-old schoolgirl named Greta Thunberg only underscores the connection. After all, the under-25 bracket should be (and apparently is) more au courant with the precise nature of this global environmental threat than their elders… a category that also includes the entire generation of European politicians who have ignored (or downplayed) the problem for far too long.

A lot could be read into that, I’d say. It suggests that there is a wave of cognizance, in around 27 of the 28 member states, that the environment should be number one priority…. on a planet that is slowly cooking itself to death. And – more significantly – there are indications that young people across Europe are now impatient with the consistent failure of elected representatives to ever take the matter seriously. There is disillusionment with a system that has made radical change impossible; and there is also growing demand, especially among the young, for a radical new political approach that might actually make a difference.

Sadly, however, there was one other prediction I got right. Not that I foresee being inducted into the ‘Nostradamus Hall of Fame’ for it, mind you. My prophecy was (let’s face it) pretty damn obvious from the start: “all the local discussion [about the election result] will be limited only to the implications for the two major parties, with all other considerations simply ignored.”

And oh, look: two weeks later, all the media analysis and discussion is still all about the implications for Adrian Delia, for the future of the PN, for the prospect of Malta becoming a ‘one-party state’ (another small prediction I made more than once, by the way. But no matter: I also predicted that my predictions would be predictably ignored… and what do you know? I got that one right, too…)

Nobody, as far as I can see, has tried to analyse why environmental concerns have yet again simply failed to register anywhere on the local political radar. Or why it doesn’t seem to bother anyone that our own European elections yielded not just a different, but the complete opposite result of elections everywhere else in Europe.  

The Green Party shrunk almost to nothing, while the party in government - despite steering an entirely mercenary construction machine, that is now almost literally wrecking the entire country – just carried on its exponential growth as usual.

Which also implies that the ‘youth vote’ – if there even was much of one at all – only served to solidify the status quo.

All this, at a time when Malta is arguably the single most exposed EU member state to the actual threat of climate change: not just because it is a small, arid island facing imminent desertification, with historical problems generating its own water supply; but also because rising temperatures can only mean dramatically increased mass-migration from Africa towards Europe in the near future… and in case no one’s noticed, we’re kind of ‘in the way’.

Yet for all this, we evidently remain the European member state that gives by far the least of a toss about climate change. Which, very helpfully, also explains that earlier prophecy of mine: yes, of course we’d only discuss the election result exclusively from the perspective of the two parties. They don’t give a toss about climate change, either.

But then again: this is also why a serious analysis of those results is required in the first place. Without an in-depth statistical analysis of the data, I cannot realistically conclude that voters are simply ‘not interested’ in environmental issues.

The way they voted could just as easily be explained by a simple recognition of the sheer hopelessness of the situation. It was painfully obvious that only half an already microscopic Green Party stood no chance at all of winning a seat in Brussels… and with no other viable option, they either did not vote at all (the turnout was, after all, on the low side) or simply said, ‘screw it: I’ll base my vote on other issues.’

Or perhaps… yes, the study will indeed show that the Maltese people, in general, really and truly don’t care a hoot for the environment.  In which case, I’d be worrying for nothing… as there very clearly will not be a Malta to worry about for very much longer.

Either way, we need to know. Even for the sake of addressing at least one of those ‘two-party’ concerns: the apparent inability of the PN to pick itself up off the floor, and re-propose itself as a credible alternative government.

I’ll keep this part brief, because – as I may have mentioned earlier – it’s what everyone else is discussing anyway. So here goes:

Labour has now been in government for six years, and whatever credit it can claim for boosting the economy, job-creation, civil liberties, and all that… its environmental record has so far been atrocious. Despite promises to improve standards across the board, the construction lobby has spiralled wildly out of control… and is now (quite literally) in free-fall.

Labour has to be honest and admit that its reforms of the Planning Authority have been a manifest disaster. There has been a collapse in standards – and I’m choosing my words with care – when it comes to permit approval conditions; coupled with a slump in enforcement, and a dramatic increase in construction activity all over the island.

This may not have any direct relevance to climate change, in itself; but the same ‘economic-growth-at-all-costs’ approach underpins all aspects of the environmental degradation we are currently witnessing.

Just like the Nationalists before them, Labour did not prioritise reaching (or even trying to reach) our official climate change targets. The switch to natural gas from heavy fuel oil may have been a promising start; but the government is now resting exclusively only on that small, one-off contribution, alone.

It has done nothing in the meantime to stem the unstoppable increase in vehicular traffic on the roads; and it has done absolutely nothing whatsoever to safeguard against future water shortages that are now inevitable.

This is where the Opposition could (and should) step in. Bizarrely, all we have heard from the PN leadership, since that umpteenth electorate massacre, was how it now suddenly understands the need to provide a different political approach. Yet all along – down to yesterday, when it voted against the reforms it had previously insisted on so vehemently – it appears doggedly determined to stick to the only strategy it knows.

Opposition for its own sake; with not even the shadow of the ghost of a single, fleeting ‘idea’ it can call its own.

Meanwhile, we have a new wave of internet outrage about Malta becoming a ‘one-party state’ – mostly coming from the very people who made sure that happened, by gleefully scuttling their own party’s chances of survival over the past two years – and with it, the belated realisation of just how important it is to have a decent, functional Opposition party for a change.

Oh, and let us not forget the central message of the MZPN’s fiery condemnation of its own party’s leadership last week: “The PN has yet to say what it stands for […] This is the very basis of what is to happen next if we are to return the party to the people, as the name itself states clearly.”

Put it all together, and… well, there you go. One simple way the PN can give itself a new identity; which doesn’t even clash in any way with any part of its former (official, at any rate) ethos.

It could become the party to propose a radical new approach to pressing environmental problems. It could discuss with all relevant stakeholders, and come up with a serious proposal for a new, meaningful planning reform.

It could develop policies which acknowledge the link between over-development, lack of public space, and mental health issues (which, so far, only Miriam Dalli seems to have done). It could formulate a strategy to actually reach (or approximate) those blasted targets, one way or another, by hook or by crook, or perish in the attempt.

The PN ‘could’ do all these things - which I somehow think would be far more help than hindrance, when it comes to reclaiming its lost voters - if only its members would stop publicly eviscerating each other for long enough to see the opportunity for themselves.

But can it? Will it? No prizes for guessing my prediction on that one… 

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