Adieu Muscat, now for some more fun

We need to calibrate this society, bring things down to earth a little bit. Bring forward some normality, bring communities together, help build a pluralistic society

I purposely did not watch Joseph Muscat’s last speech at the Kordin sports centre. I had expected, and I guess it was, an exceptional speech, with priceless quotes and unique oratory. 

I am and I was too angry to sit down and watch a man I had blind faith in. I knew Muscat when he was a budding journalist: ambitious, intelligent and a good listener. I remember writing an article in 1998 in The Sunday Independent, describing him as a Young Turk with great leadership potential. I recall him telling me that he felt very flattered but it was not for him.

In 2008, when Alfred Sant lost the election, I remember phoning him and telling him that Labour needed a guy “like you”.

“Michelle would not approve,” he said. I remember telling him that Michelle was more ambitious than him and she would support him. The rest is history.

How he won people’s hearts is thanks to his conciliatory stand and Blairite approach to politics. In 1998 he was called Alfred Sant’s ‘poodle’, a typically disparaging tag from the Fenech Adami camp, who looked down at their adversaries just like Labour looks down at Adrian Delia et al. Until 28 November 2019 he was the supreme political lord: unassailable and solid as a rock. It all changed overnight.

I too was discouraged to see how in recent weeks, some Labour party militants emboldened by the commentaries from political dinosaurs like Manuel Cuschieri, regurgitated on MaltaToday after this newspaper did what was correct and needed: called for Joseph Muscat’s immediate resignation after the Yorgen Fenech/Keith Schembri revelations.

For me this whole episode is a déjà vu.

It is a throwback to the times when I was literally abused and attacked by Lorry Sant and his thugs for accusing him of being a crook, ridiculed by the Mintoffian-controlled media in the 1980s for my stand on environmental issues, derided by Eddie Fenech Adami for launching and militating in Alternattiva Demokratika, sneered at for backing EU membership by the Labour media and Alfred Sant’s jockeys, mocked for preferring John Dalli as PN leader and described as a maverick deviant for believing in Joseph Muscat and underlining Lawrence Gonzi’s weaknesses and mistakes. 

Foremost in promulgating this image had been Daphne Caruana Galizia, who served as the PN’s unofficial attack dog, shooting random missiles whenever it mattered. To me it is a case of history repeating itself.  

Seeing an outdated Manuel Cuschieri spewing venom reminds me of the days this old-fashioned shit-stirrer would defend Alfred Sant’s lame political arguments and describe his adversaries as reactionaries in his typically monotone Pravda chant

If I had to be completely sincere, I am getting rather tired of this charade. It comes with age, I guess. Seeing an outdated Manuel Cuschieri spewing venom reminds me of the days this old-fashioned shit-stirrer would defend Alfred Sant’s lame political arguments and describe his adversaries as reactionaries in his typically monotone Pravda chant. 

Muscat realised in 2008 that if he was to win the hearts and minds of those who would cross the border and vote for him, he would have to do away with the likes of Cuschieri.

But as Muscat exits, it is poignant to remind everyone that in hindsight, Muscat’s biggest mistake was Panama, and the fact that he made us believe that this was a minor problem. I know now he knew much, much more than we all knew or know, and if he had taken action then he would not be in this position today. Panama was about kickbacks directly linked to the Electrogas, involving his chief-of-staff and energy minister and big business. That we tolerated this was our biggest mistake.

If the Nationalist Party had not been captained by Simon Busuttil, the Panama scandal would have scuttled Muscat. Instead, the attack on Muscat was spearheaded by Caruana Galizia, whose journalism had been dead-legged by her abuse of Labour voters and other inconsequential nonsense that only helped Labour counter her accusations. It was always a black and white situation, never grey.

To picture Muscat as some kind of altruistic guy who only thought of his political party and Malta would be wrong. If there had been no Panama, no toxicity in the air, no 17 Black and no murder, Muscat could have well exited much earlier and headed off to Brussels to replace Donald Tusk.

Muscat had it all planned out; when he realised that his dream of cutting his reign short had been ruined by the Caruana Galizia affair, he planned to stay on longer. All those aspiring for a leadership bid, put down their hatchets in November and looked for a date much later in the legislature. In their hearts they knew that the time would come when Muscat would find his exit.

Muscat’s achievements are for all to see. I do not need to list them here. He did so in his speech, but they all came with a heavy price. 

Economic growth did not happen without the lasting trauma to the environment by changing policies to suit the building industry. Growth did not happen without opening up citizenship to hundreds of itinerant elites and millionaires who are also associated with tax avoidance. Muscat may well be remembered for his electoral results.

But history is not so kind. Historians always attribute the most colourful parts of one’s life to the biography of personalities. Caruana Galizia will never be remembered for her more flippant work and the way she punched down on people without a voice. Far from it, she will be recalled as Malta’s most courageous journalist. It saddens many but that was her ultimate sacrifice, and even I must bow to this.

Muscat will be remembered for what happened after 28 November 2019. I have now words to describe this horrendous episode. But there are many questions that I would want to ask him.

Today we are facing an uncertain future. A survey published by MaltaToday shows the two contestants are neck and neck, but Robert Abela appears to have made a comeback. The new Prime Minister cannot be a Joseph Muscat. To be a Muscat would be a mistake.

We need to calibrate this society, bring things down to earth a little bit. Bring forward some normality, bring communities together, help build a pluralistic society. I cannot see this happen with the rhetoric of Manuel Cuschieri.

I would hope that this is part of a playful moment to reach out to party delegates who love to bash those pet hates of the party. A new prime minister cannot take Malta back to the trenches. I think everyone shares this one opinion.

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