We are slowly but surely reaching the end game of this year’s general election. A unique electoral campaign which incorporated surreal COVID-19 circumstances that dampened the normally festive, celebratory and upbeat campaign style of both parties, and reduced the trail to somewhat boring monologues of the Party leaders.
Notwithstanding such tedious and dreary campaigning, the Labour machine again showed its mettle and its inbuilt professional methodology in getting the message across. Thus Robert Abela’s daily rhetoric was finely buttressed by a slick and up-your-face campaign which basically ensured that most of what was being projected by Labour would be THE talk of the day. Labour has become an expert in agenda-setting and giving the electorate what they want. The Nationalist Party in opposition, on the other hand, continued stumbling through week 4 with no end in sight for the perennial campaign gaffes, amateurish projection of manifesto pledges and the shock addressing of a Labour Party event by former PN officials Mario Galea and Roselyn Borg Knight.
Thus, Week 4 saw Bernard Grech limping through the targeted attacks against a PN electoral manifesto riddled with inconsistencies, uncalled for repetitions, pledges which are already in place and, most importantly, pledges which have no holistic relationship to one another. The cost benefit analysis of the manifesto has yet again been kept hidden from the public: the electorate does not yet know (it will never know, of course) how much the PN electoral pledges will cost the government coffers. Labour’s costings and dead-lining of each and every manifesto pledge have been clearly delivered and projected by tried and tested party representatives.
Week 4 saw Bernard Grech limping through the targeted attacks against a PN electoral manifesto riddled with inconsistencies.
Week 4 also saw even more debates being held: debates between the key Party leaders and debates which included also the minor fringe political parties. The latter also included Zaren tal-Ajkla’s promise of €4,000 to every woman who wants to enhance her breasts and Arnold Cassola’s incessant and tragi-comic bid to steal at least a daily mention on the 8 o’clock news by projecting a non-conventional twist to the campaign as a whole. We also witnessed the rabid, church party ABBA demanding criminal investigations against pro-choice activists. As if!
But back to the mainstream debates between Abela and Grech. After a resounding performance at the University debate, Labour leader Abela also kept the lead in grace, projection, interlocution and delivery in the other debates organised by the Chamber of Commerce. Bernard Grech has been yet again found wanting in this fourth week of the campaign and has not been able to close the gap when it comes to sensible oratory based on numbers, examples and a positive delivery. In these debates, both leaders threw punches, and while Abela seemed the more energetic overall, Grech was far more subdued.
Week 4 also saw each and every household receive a couple of cheques from the Central Bank, courtesy of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance. The cheques in question had been announced many moons ago and the tax refund cheques have been a commonplace measure throughout Labour’s administration. Naturally, the opposition cried foul and described it as clientelism at its best, conveniently forgetting when they were busy distributing lightbulbs to each and every household since that was the nearest one would get as a government handout during the PN administration.
Week 4 also saw each and every household receive a couple of cheques from the Central Bank.
There was one PN electoral pledge which kept itself buoyed up in the news throughout Week 4, albeit not for the reasons which the PN wanted. The PN’s trackless tram promise took a lot of heat specifically because it was found out that such an idea had been thrown out of the window in Australia due to the Chinese tram company involved in such an initiative did not give the officials there the full story and financial commitment needed. Architect MP Anthony Bezzina found himself in a very uncomfortable situation when this factor was outed by journalists during a press conference.
So there we have it. Week 4 was basically more of the same for Bernard Grech and the Nationalist Party. No headway in the polls, no ‘bomba ta’ qabel l-elezzjoni’, nothing really which might have altered the electorate’s impressions of an undeserving opposition who failed to regenerate during its time in opposition.
But Week 4’s appearance of Mario Galea at a PL event addressing mental health which was hosted by the PM’s wife personally brought me a bout of nostalgia at the good old days when politics was all about principles and morals and doing what is best for one’s country. It was a time when one volunteered one’s services to the political parties. A time when one would fight tooth and nail with your political opponent but then would go for a beer with the same pundit from the other party simply because there was respect. And a boundary line which was seldom crossed by both sides’ representatives.
In the eighties, nineties and the first years of the new millennium, I occupied a number of positions and roles within the Labour Party. After a number of years serving as Assistant General Secretary, I was a Labour Parliamentary Candidate for the general election of 1996, when Labour was returned to office after nine years of PN rule. My 1705 votes on the fourth electoral district were not enough to land me in parliament, thankfully. But my article in the Union’s daily newspaper, l-Orizzont, and its sister Sunday paper it-Torca were apparently quite sought after.
On the PN side, there was also an up and coming prolific writer from the South who was making a name for himself. Mario Galea had one hell of a pen and every Sunday, on Il-Mument, his Cirasa article was much in demand. The gods of that period decided on many a time to pair me with Mario on dozens of radio debates and we would both go for it during the years coming up to the 1996 elections; the debates were basically political slugging matches with no holds barred. Irrespective of our positions within opposing parties, our respect towards each other never faltered.
After the 2022 elections, a huge chunk of PN activists would not remember or would not have been old enough to remember the good old days (for the Nationalist Party) of ex PN leader Eddie Fenech Adami. The same can be said of Labour activists after the elections, who mostly would not remember the Mintoff and Mifsud Bonnici era. Some would not even know what it meant to be a Labour activist and spend nearly a quarter of a century, bar two years in 1996-1998, in opposition.
Malta’s social and economic progress has witnessed positive changes and injections which have completely altered the social fabric of these isles in these last decades. Let us hope that nothing is taken for granted by the new kids on the block on both sides of the political divide. It would not augur well for tomorrow’s budding political animals if political change and initiatives are not seen as an interlinked momentum of progress, regeneration and trail blazing vision set through the course of time. As Aly Raisman stated, ‘you have to remember that the hard days are what make you stronger. The bad days make you realise what a good day is. If you never had any bad days, you would never have that sense of accomplishment.’
Great accomplishments within society should not be the end of the road. They should just be the starting point for the next leap forward. This is the main reason which differentiates Labour from the conservative opposition party. Labour has always been Malta’s catalyst for change. Hopefully, the representatives which will be elected in next week’s elections on behalf of the Labour electorate will ensure a bright future for Labour in the months and years to come.