The party that cried wolf

People did not believe the boy who cried wolf simply because he had lied to them once too often. Perhaps Dr Simon Busuttil should consider explaining to the electorate why his own party should be treated any differently.

Cartoon by Mark Scicluna
Cartoon by Mark Scicluna

At yesterday's mass meeting in Naxxar, PN deputy leader Simon Busuttil admitted that the Nationalist Party had made mistakes and that it had allowed itself to become disconnected from the people.

Significantly, he added: "Although we will not be able to make amends by 9 March, but after the election we will make sure to remain close to the people and listen to what the people have to say."

At face value, it makes a refreshing change to hear such a candid 'mea culpa' from the spokesperson of a party that has spent so much of this campaign insisting it has always been right about everything - to the absurd extent that the PN secretary general even argued that his party's female candidates had more 'substance' to them than their Labour equivalents. (One almost expected him to burst into a rendition of 'Anything you can do, I can do better', from the musical Annie Get Your Gun.)

Likewise, the Prime Minister has also invested much of his energy in a rather boastful approach to electioneering: constantly arguing that he has always been 'on the right side of history'... despite the fact that the same PN found itself historically outmanoeuvred on the divorce issue less than two years ago.

From this perspective it is reassuring to discover that there are still some exponents of the PN who understand that the people are disillusioned of a party that has always promises so much immediately before an election, but rarely delivers on its promises.

Yet at the same time there is so much wrong with Busuttil's statement that it is difficult to even know where to begin analysing the implications.

Let us start with the idea that the PN no longer has enough time to do all the things it wants to do before March 9. To hear this complaint from the deputy leader of a political party that has spent almost a quarter of a century in government almost beggars belief.

If the PN no longer has time to get closer to the people, it is precisely because it spent years on end without ever pausing to consider just how disconnected from the same people it had become.

Even worse, Busuttil's admission is not exactly the first time the PN has made much a similar promise. Even before the last election, Prime Minister Gonzi had given an almost identical reassurance that his party would pay more heed to popular concerns after the election.

That election came and went, and his party won... and it might not be an exaggeration to say that the belated 'mea culpa' on that occasion also helped to secure the result.

In other words, people believed Gonzi when he promised to be 'closer to the people' before the last election... and now, five years later, we have his own deputy admitting that Gonzi reneged on this promise (while, incredibly, making the same promise again).

This would be bad enough if that was all there was to say about the matter. But there is more. The PN may have emerged victorious from the 2008 elections, but it was a costly victory. For the first time since Independence, no party gained an absolutely majority. Gonzi became the Prime Minister of a minority government, after an election in which more people voted against the PN's than in favour.

And yet, in spite of the warning shot fired across the Pin's bows by the electorate, Gonzi spent the next five years similarly ignoring popular concerns - lost in private obsessions such as hiring the world's most expensive architect to build a lavish and unnecessary Parliament building, at a time when people were being told to make sacrifices (and that's just one of a number of equally symptomatic decisions).

And that's not all: the same PN (under Eddie Fenech Adami) had made the exact same promise before the 1998 election, too (i.e., the last election the PN contested as an opposition party). Indeed it formed the bulk of the PN's entire campaign at the time, culminating in a billboard showing all the party's candidate's as a single group looking upwards towards the electorate: in a graphic admission that the same party had too often looked down on the same electorate in the past.

This in turn means that the Nationalist Party has developed something of a habit of making precisely this kind of assurance before every single election... only to belatedly remember its own commitment to the electorate only a few weeks before election day, at a time when polls suggest it is heading for defeat.

These are not exactly the conditions that inspire thorough confidence that the Nationalist Party really will deliver on its umpteenth promise of "listening to the people".

One is in fact forcefully reminded of Aesop's fable about the boy who cried wolf - so many times, in fact, that when a wolf really did materialise threaten the boy's flock, nobody came to his rescue when he shouted.

People did not believe the boy who cried wolf simply because he had lied to them once too often. Perhaps Dr Simon Busuttil should consider explaining to the electorate why his own party should be treated any differently.

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