The future is uncertain... but it won’t be ‘united’

Still, the question remains. Will this last-ditch attempt at populism be enough to win Chris Fearne the support he needs, to go onto phase two of his future plans? You know, the ‘national unity’ part, which Fearne will eventually get round to… but only after totally destroying and burying the Nationalist Party, like he also promised?

The stark fact of the matter is that Chris Fearne hasn’t won the Labour leadership election yet; and my gut feeling tells me he is nowhere near as confident as his public appearances suggest Minister Chris Fearne
The stark fact of the matter is that Chris Fearne hasn’t won the Labour leadership election yet; and my gut feeling tells me he is nowhere near as confident as his public appearances suggest Minister Chris Fearne

This is the first Sunday of the New Year: traditionally, a time for newspaper columnists to make wildly generic predictions about what the next 365 days may have in store.

But it is also the last Sunday before the Labour leadership election that will usher in a new prime minister (and therefore, in theory, also a new direction) for Malta; and by the look of things on my newsfeed this morning, it may even prove the last Sunday before the entire planet is ripped apart by a world war that we seem to be in the process of just beginning (if it hasn’t already been burnt to ashes by environmental catastrophe, of course).

Under such circumstances, you will forgive me for not engaging in the usual bout of newspaper clairvoyance this time round. There have been more than 20 New Year editions since I started writing a regular column in newspapers… but I don’t remember a single one when the immediate future was as murky and unfathomable as the one facing us right now.

Heck, I can’t even predict if the national power supply will last until I finish this article… which is why I’m hitting CTRL+S every fourth or fifth word. Let alone who will win next Sunday’s election between Chris Fearne and Robert Abela, and what changes (if any) either scenario will portend.

Then there’s the question of how the current situation in Libya will unfold… well, OK, at least on this one there’s a simple prediction we can all make: it will result in another refugee/mass immigration emergency, with Malta strategically positioned at the precise epicentre of the crisis zone.

So the question becomes: how well are we prepared to handle it? Better, or worse than how we’re handling the ongoing (and equally unforeseeable) power emergency, that arose after the Interconnector cable mysteriously got damaged 150m beneath the Malta-Sicily channel?

I don’t know: there are just too many variables, in too many equations, everywhere you look.

But hey, that’s just me: and I don’t believe in clairvoyance anyway. Others, however, seem to be undeterred by the sheer fogginess of their crystal ball. Like Chris Fearne, for instance: who felt confident enough to make not one, but two New Year predictions (three, if you include the implied one about him winning next Sunday) in around as many sentences.

In one breath, he foresaw that the Nationalist Party would never win another election for as long as he lives… to the extent that the letters ‘RIPN’ would be engraved on his own tombstone; and in the next, he declared that “if the Labour Party has faith in me to lead the country, my priority will be to unite the nation”…

Erm… not to split hairs, or anything: but the chances of both those prophecies coming true are kind of bleak, when you think about it. For unless Chris Fearne intends to ‘unite the nation’ under a single, glorious and unopposed Labour dictatorship – at least, until his own death (like General Francisco Franco before him) – the outcome of his earlier prediction more or less cancels out the possibility of the second.

To put it another way: I don’t often agree with Simon Busuttil… but when I do, I tend to go out of my way to mention it in an article. “How on earth can Chris Fearne heal and unite our mortally wounded country with this sort of arrogant and divisive spiel?”, he tweeted in response. And he’s right: the two projections are clearly antithetical.

But like most paradoxes, this one exists for a reason. Actually, for several: the simplest being that ‘appeals for national unity’ are a standard, text-book soundbite required from anyone with any aspirations to becoming Prime Minister in this country (it’s right there in the manual, on page 46).

Eddie Fenech Adami promised the same thing before the 1987 election, with his ‘nergghu insiru ahwa Maltin’ slogan. Lawrence Gonzi committed himself to a ‘new way of doing politics’, away from the tribal divisions of old. Joseph Muscat urged us all to ‘love one another’ upon becoming Prime minister in 2013… and my, just look how that went in the end… while Alfred Sant implied national unity with his ‘he is who is not against us, is with us’ pre-electoral mantra.

I’ll leave history to judge the result of their efforts; but from my own perspective, every one of those former (or soon-to-be-former) prime ministers belied their stated intentions in one way or another; otherwise, we quite frankly wouldn’t still be such a divided nation today.

So it would be unrealistic to expect anything different from Chris Fearne – or Robert Abela, for that matter: who also raised hackles with his ‘tolerance of protests’ remark – when, like all contenders for the throne, they are ultimately reciting from the same old script we’re all used to anyway.

But there is another aspect to this particular paradox; one which also helps explain precisely why this blessed national unity ambition has always proved so elusive.

The stark fact of the matter is that Chris Fearne hasn’t won the Labour leadership election yet; and my gut feeling tells me he is nowhere near as confident as his public appearances suggest.

Let’s look at his second prediction again. “if the Labour Party has faith in me to lead the country, my priority will be to unite the nation”. There is a rather explicit clause in that contract: before being able to take decisions on a national platform, Chris Fearne has to first win over the confidence of the Labour Party rank and file.

And to be honest, he wasn’t making much of an effort before that ‘RIPN’ comment this week.

All his former public statements had been geared in the direction of ‘repairing Malta’s damaged reputation’, and addressing all the problems dogging our rule-of-law situation: both of which are tacit acknowledgements that the present Labour government had screwed up… and screwed up badly.

Conversely, he also claimed to be in an optimal position to understand the dilemma facing the Labour electorate as a result of all the recent political revelations. In an interview with his newspaper he claimed to have his finger on the pulse of the party grassroots: “I have been in the Labour Party for 40 years […] I know exactly how Labourites are feeling; they are hurt, betrayed… and also afraid. We remember what happened in 1996-8; and many are asking, ‘Are we Labourites not capable of doing a single five-term in government…?’”

Presumably, then, he should also know that the one thing the Labour crowd most keenly wants to hear right now, is reassurance that… no, actually: things aren’t as bad as 1998 – when the collapse of the Sant administration’s condemned the Labour Party to another 15 years in Opposition.

And yes, the winning streak of the past seven years can still be projected into the future… indefinitely, even.

It isn’t even that difficult, either: all it takes is the utter annihilation of the Nationalist Party (what else?)

Something tells me that that – and not self-flagellating ’mea culpas’ – is what the Labour Party officials who will be voting next Sunday really want to hear from their prospective future leaders. And until Fearne’s foolhardy ‘not while I’m still alive’ boast this week, it had only ever really come from Robert Abela: who, unlike Fearne, has been promising ‘continuity’ – as opposed to ‘change’ – from day one of the campaign.

So for what it’s worth, my own take on Fearne’s prediction is that he either realised, too late, that he had to change rhetorical tack, and change it fast… or someone in his advisory team took him aside by the ear, and gently reminded him which audience he should really be making his pitch to: i.e., not the wider audience that can be wooed with promises of ‘peace, love and reconciliation’… but the narrower, partisan audience which – after an unprecedented slide into opprobrium and humiliation on an almost intergalactic level – now hungers for REVENGE.

Still, the question remains. Will this last-ditch attempt at populism be enough to win Chris Fearne the support he needs, to go onto phase two of his future plans? You know, the ‘national unity’ part, which Fearne will eventually get round to… but only after totally destroying and burying the Nationalist Party, like he also promised?

Hey, don’t look at me; I’ve already said I won’t be making any predictions of my own. Except for one, which by now should be obvious to everybody.

‘National unity’ cannot ever realistically be built on foundations like those. Not in a million years… still less in the course of the next 365 days.

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