When I was invited to contribute to The Journal, my immediate reply was: “Not a good time!”.
If you were to ask me where my traditional political sympathies are, I would tell you that my political home, the Labour Party, has, for many years now, become unbearably painful. And no, even when Labour is in dire straits, it doesn’t mean that one is likely to be drawn towards the PN, whether it is led by Donald Duck or the latest name bandied about while Bernard Grech supposedly remains leader.
To rephrase something out of Charles Dickens, these are not the best of times for politics in general. This does not mean that the tale has two cities contrasting with each other, where if you are a Labour guy you have to see everything rosy and as a Nationalist, you’re bound to see total darkness.
In terms of political discourse and its impact on society, it is dire. With the cycle of termly Budgets we hear how there is more affluence for a wider spectrum of people than before, and so it seems that feeling good is obligatory, especially for those who claim to support the Government. But it is also true that, despite measure taken in the last Budget to mitigate poverty pressures, poverty is growing deeper. Inordinate growth in Malta’s economy has gradually become a curse on many fronts: from the environment to a deep social divide, from a sense of achievement to a widespread malaise often accentuated by human tragedy. As degrowth discourses have amply shown, the need to radically change how we think and act on the economy is ever more urgent. But in Malta, degrowth is not even whispered anywhere, and if it were, Malta’s political class remains totally oblivious to it.
In case you are so tired that you can’t be bothered, Maltese politics is not unique. In the US, many feel compelled to vote for Biden out of fear for a Trump comeback which would crush any vestige of democracy left, and no one knows how the 2024 Presidential elections will pan out. As I write this piece, the US House of Representatives is without a Speaker thanks to an insane GOP rebellion. As to Britain, the big parties know that they can’t take voters for granted. Keir Starmer may have been jubilant over recent byelections, including one in Scotland, but that’s no guarantee this will repeat Blair’s landslide back in 1997.
My point is that people are suspicious of political parties and for good reason. Back in Malta, if the polls are right, in an election tomorrow, Labour could lose to the Nationalists by a small percentile (which is shocking compared to the huge majorities it held until recently), while at the same time, the PN is—or appears to be—in a mess. As many have noticed, the irony is that Robert Abela seems to have more support than Bernard Grech. The contradictions that these polls reveal is that public opinion is sick and tired and if it were to come to a vote (a big IF for some), it will express widespread disenchantment with both parties.
When, today, most of us in our middle age, witness situations that could even make the 1980s look mild (in terms of how parties today have abandoned their principles and embarked on an era of total managerial quietism), we cannot but return to our critical friendly pen and say it loudly: “This is very bad!” … if not “We feel betrayed!”.
Hardly knowing if the courtesy is ever returned, as Labour’s critical friends, albeit disenchanted we should add that we are not alone. The Labour base is not, as its detractors tend to characterise it, a bunch of fanatics. Loyal they might be, but never blindly. Nor is Labour’s base ignorant or oblivious of the political scenario.
The loyalty that you see coming from the Labour base is not one of ignorance or stupidity, but out of the fear that the weak and the forgotten will lose everything and get even worse if the Labour Movement (which is larger than the Labour Party) is divided.
Not that anyone today seems inclined to speak for the Labour Movement and what it represents. Many know well that what was built over the years could have well been hijacked by economic, social, and political actors who used to abuse our thinking with words like “socialist thugs” as they referred to the Labour government as a “reġim soċjalista”—reġim implying an authoritarian government. Socialism was a dirty word then, even though now we hear the same detractors lamenting over Labour’s “lost socialist soul”.
Even when my father’s generation is now gone, their loyalty was passed on. Bear in mind that that generation was traumatised by a Labour split and then the 1960s, only to see matters dissipate in the 1980s and my generation having to bear that trauma. Yet, this loyalty should not be read by how many of their (and now our) children vote Labour. Many of my generation who came from Labour families often decided to vote other than Labour. Some even voted PN. Yet we all remain conscious of what constitutes the democratic socialist ideals which are still expected from the Labour Party. This might sound strange to those who fail to understand how political formation works—although I know that those who genuinely stand by the principles held by the Nationalist Party would fully understand and share this feeling.
My point about loyalty does not mean voting Labour come what may. Loyalty comes from how, when the Labour Movement is true to itself, many will go back to those principles and support it. But when the Labour Party does not follow its own raison d’être and is seen to be abandoning the Labour Movement, it will lose support. Those who in the current polls are choosing not to vote are significant for a good reason.
So, to find oneself writing for the PL’s English portal online is not to be taken lightly. And those in the PL who seem to think that most of us are blindly loyal, should not take anyone for granted. Loyalty is not something bought by some cheap “pjaċir” or a WhatsApp message to a friend of a friend. Frankly, such practices should have been thrown in the dustbin of history long time ago. They might appear “small” to some, and they might well be a “common practice” on “both sides”, but this culture of patronage has a habit of festering into nastier ones.
As we have seen not in so distant a past, they can easily bring down many a government—Nationalist and Labour.