Dickens’ best-known work of historical fiction, A Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859, is claimed to be one of the best-selling novels of all time. The novel has been adapted for film, television, radio, and the stage, and has continued to influence popular culture.
Its opening paragraph has become synonymous with depicting contrasting outlooks and views on the same subject matter, albeit seen from a different perspective:
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’
One does not need a huge leap of faith to tag the above Dickens quotation and frame it on how the Maltese electorate is looking at the two main political parties who are jousting for their votes come Election Day. Hence the depiction of this article title as a tale of two parties instead of a tale of two cities.
Last week we analysed the first days of the electoral campaign and how it immediately starting going south for the opposition as soon as the Prime Minister announced the election date. This article continues exploring what the general consensus is for week two of the electoral campaign.
1. Are we really in election fever mode?
This campaign has been described as the quietest electoral campaign to date. Some attributed this eerie unobtrusiveness of this campaign due to the war which is slowly unravelling in Ukraine and which might have serious consequences worldwide, including Malta. This reasoning could not be farther from the truth.
The Nationalist Party has been trailing Labour since day one of the electoral campaign. By thirteen percentage points. Which has now increased. In fact, the opposition party has been trailing Labour since the announcement of the electoral result of the 2017 general elections. Every single month. For five years.
So, you tell me… if you’re a football lover and you are at the stadium where your favourite team is playing. But you already know for a fact that your favourite team is going to win. Handsomely. With a minimum result of 2-0 and a possible result of 4-0 or even 5-0. How excited and into festive mode can you get if the result has been public knowledge for months on end?
2. Leading by Arrogance and Improvisation
Opposition Leader Bernard Grech has demonstrated, in week two, that if left on his own to improvise, he will fail miserably. A one-off TV orator wearing a ‘God Bless, he’s neutral imma jxaqqleb lejna’ aura is a hell of a difference than a leader of the opposition who has to be on the ball every single second of an electoral campaign.
His ridiculous gaffe related to ODZing the Labour Party headquarters was not only in bad taste, but provocative and needlessly arrogant. As was his off-the-cuff remark that he has an expensive car (remember, he used to declare minimal earnings as a lawyer and had to get financial aid from his own son in order to pay his bills) and that he would not consider an environmentally friendly initiative that his own party was recommending in order to reduce cars on the roads.
Bernard Grech has demonstrated, in week two, that if left on his own to improvise, he will fail miserably.
His improvisation must also be added on his own party’s lack of knowledge of what is out there already. The opposition has been so carried away by its need to promise everything to everyone during the campaign that not even the most basic of due diligence is being effected by them before their leader utters even more outrageous observations. Like Bernard Grech’s announcement that he will open a Malta Enterprise office in Gozo. Which has already been there for donkey’s years.
Most of the PN speakers, from the Kap down to the last candidate, have projected electoral discourses during these last days which were riddled with uncalled-for rhetoric, outdated catch phrases, a melancholic wish and need to revisit the eighties… all signs of electoral fatigue and unpreparedness even though the campaign still has twenty more days or so to go.
3. No costings, no manifesto dissemination
True to form, the PN’s electoral manifesto is riddled with promises which have not been costed (with the PN deputy leader stating that it doesn’t matter that we do not know their costs but they will be revealed nearer to the election date!) and their communal benefit has not been properly analysed. More importantly, these electoral pledges have not been disseminated properly among the PN candidates, who have been caught repeatedly struggling to get their message across on electoral promises simply because they know fuck-all about the pledges in the first place.
There is a reason for this. Most of the PN candidates are green (not ADPD, but when it comes to experience of electoral campaigning and public communications) and have had no form of training or mentoring whatsoever before being pushed forward as potential MPs. Simultaneously, veteran shadow speakers of key subjects, such as finance, education and others have resigned from being parliamentary candidates. Compare this to the smooth projection of Labour manifesto promises delivered by tried and tested ministers and MPs mixed with brand new blood, all keen in being seen as go-getters.
One only has to look at the key pledges related to environment to see the huge difference on this subject matter between Labour and the PN. Even the PN leader’s immediate entourage consist of person/s whose past sins against the environment when working closely with ex-PN minister George Pullicino is more than enough to disqualify the PN leader as a serious believer in the need to invest in the environment. Contrast this to the series of serious environmental proposals fielded by Labour, including a seven hundred million spending tag on the subject matter.
4. Ghost Tents and Ghost Candidates and Ghost Meetings
The opposition party’s choice of localities in which to pitch its electoral tent and its organisational skills to bring out the crowd has struck rock bottom. This became even more evident in week two of the campaign with dismal attendance records in Msida, Cospicua and elsewhere. The Spartan electoral tents hosting the leader of the opposition looked rather like ghost tents – empty, forlorn and living symbols of how far detached the Nationalist Party has become from its own grassroots.
Simultaneously, week two saw Labour Party tents being erected in sites such as B’Kara with humungous numbers of the electorate filling them all up. The B’Kara Labour activity this week, was held at precisely the same place where Labour had held its 2017 B’Kara tent event. This week’s event witnessed an even bigger crowd turnout that that of five years ago. The day after the Labour B’Kara tent event, B’Kara Minister Zammit Lewis launched his campaign at the same area in B’Kara and managed to fill the area again in just 24 hours.
Week two saw the adding on of more PN personalities who called it a day. After the resignation of four PN members of parliament, this week saw the resignation of another PN front liner, this time a Gozitan mayor. Instead of sackcloth and ashes and the need for redemption and recovery, PN activists within the puppet Repubblika and Occupy Justice hounded this poor chap and ‘good riddanced’ him to kingdom come. No wonder these latter pseudo-organisations have become Labour’s secret weapon for the campaign: every time their extreme comments and negative spouting of one-sided opinions, Labour’s numbers climb higher. Meanwhile, week two of the campaign has also given us the opposition leader’s various meetings with the constituted bodies. It would have been much better for the former to have utilised the latter’s expertise when formulating a serious electoral manifesto.
Back to the title of this piece and its allusion to Charles Dickens and his historical novel. A Tale of Two Cities was written by a well-known author who was a champion of the poor in his life and in his writings. His childhood included some of the pains of poverty in England, as he had to work in a factory as a child to help his family. His father, John Dickens, continually lived beyond his means and eventually went to debtors’ prison. Charles was forced to leave school and began working ten-hour days at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, earning six shillings a week.
The book’s main theme evolves around the concept of resurrection and the perennial struggle between darkness and light.
Whilst taking out the doom and gloom bit of such statements, the concepts mentioned here tellingly fit the situation we have in hand: an opposition in desperate need of resurrection and redemption and their eventual embracing of positive politics instead of negative campaigning which has kept the Nationalist Party as the political leper ostracised by the vast majority of the electorate simply because its leaders refused a cathartic renewal and an apologetic revitalisation with the local body of voters.