Of Political U-Turns

When a lepidopterist observes the insects he is studying, one expects a ground of momentum or suspense. However, all too often in academia, our desired expectations can take an unprecedented turn, perhaps in a completely uncalled-for direction which our deepest imagination could ever envisage. This behaviour sounds all too familiar for political observers and opinionists, as perhaps this is the sentiment one feels as they observe closely the steps and patterns of the Leader of the Opposition.

Since the start of his leadership bid till now, Bernard Grech has never been one to consistently stick to the talking points of the agenda. While this is perhaps not necessarily a limiting factor, if you could extract, bottle and market the Opposition leader’s positions, you’d end up with a conservative, anticlimactic and monotonous essence. Remarkably, the lawyer and opinionist-turned party leader is remembered for his spontaneous u-turns on, not just matters that require serious reform, but his whole tenure in general. 

Let us start on a more general note. The majority of the population drives, now whether that is a sign of dependency, we will discuss on another day. When you drive to a certain location, and you realise you have taken a longer route, some might choose to keep going, so long as they get to their final destination, others prefer to do a 3-point turn and change the route completely, whether that means comfort or misfortune.

Parliament is currently reading and debating the proposed amendments to be made to Maltese IVF legislation, as was clearly promised in the Labour Party’s manifesto. Whilst this is a sign of relief for those whom this law will directly affect in the long-run, inevitably, one must look at Parliament through a prism as a whole, and that includes the Opposition. 

Remarkably, the lawyer and opinionist-turned party leader is remembered for his spontaneous u-turns.

So far, while in certain instances it is obvious, it takes an extra effort to decipher where the Opposition stands on a majority of issues. A term often used to describe the Nationalist Party’s golden years in government is the term ‘track record’. This is very well the case. However, its ‘track record’ in opposition so far, when considering serious reform, has been anything but with positive connotations. Anyone following Malta’s road towards equality will remember how Nationalist Party members were booed after washing their hands from voting for legislation that would pave the way to a more equal Malta in 2014. 

But now, we look through Bernard Grech’s leadership. After all, he promised a new chapter for the PN and a more palatable balance which will see the PN’s prodigal sons return at its helm. Grech did not start on a politically advantageous note after all, he only had about a year and a half to make considerable outsized influence on the electorate. So are Grech’s manoeuvres a victim of poor planning or by reason of his own misfortune?

For anyone following the run up to Grech’s leadership in 2020, one will remember the debate between Grech and former leader Adrian Delia, whereby Grech seemed to be a more appealing candidate than his counterpart. Primarily, because he was adamant on unchaining the PN of its losing status and offering a leadership that contents, not just PN members, but the whole electorate. 

Those who heralded for a progressive candidate in the leadership election looked up to Grech for his balanced positions on issues such as soft-drug decriminalisation, as well as abortion and euthanasia. This answer sounds idealistic for both sides, for it is not an introduction of any sorts, but rather, an open forum. Although he could not, in good conscience, morally support such procedures, he was open to a discussion. Yet, every time the PN was remotely teased with abortion or euthanasia as an olive branch, the Party, and Grech, outright said that they can never stomach the introduction of abortion in the slightest, or debunked that Labour is simply using politics of distraction.

The first remarkable Grech U-turn was the recent recreational cannabis legislation. Grech initially hinted at being in favour of the bill, however when the White Paper was put forward, possibly coupled with pressure from certain MPs, Grech came up with the excuse that the White Paper was never released, describing it as an alienation, all the while refraining from proposing any substantive amendments. Grech also went one step further by crediting the PN for cannabis legislation endeavours.

Although COVID-19 is still present and we now live in a regulation free-world, the thought of restrictions might be a thing of the past and alien for some of us. One particular u-turn which still puzzles a few till this day, was when the Opposition initially supported regulations issued by the Health Authorities in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic, however withdrew support and opposed these very same restrictions. Some observers dubbed this u-turn as one for the sake of flirting and sympathising with certain rhetorics rather than a change of opinion on a point of substance.

Presently, the subject of contention is the proposed amendments envisaged for Maltese IVF Laws. In a recent interview on national television, Grech hinted that while he agrees with IVF, the Nationalist Party may very well not support the proposed legislative amendments.

 

Shadow Health Minister Stephen Spiteri, during the second reading of the Bill, held a staunch position against the amendments and opined that the method of testing to be introduced somewhat discriminates and breaches the rights of embryos developed in the procedure. However, Grech later stated that the Opposition will back these amendments, instead proposing that polar body testing is given more limelight, a procedure which is already envisaged under the current framework. 

The above would be that this all leads back to one train of thought, that the PN does not intend to welcome any change, simply because it fears it will cost them their credibility. 

This philosophical divide may actually be harming the PN more than attracting people for it. On the one hand, there are socially liberal members who wish to keep the door open and are not afraid to discuss issues that may or may not require a fundamental wave of change. On the other hand, there are those who prefer to stand on the more conservative side of the fence, and more often than not, this generally means outright refusal. 

And yet, Bernard Grech was meant to bring a general harmony in the PN as a whole, however his attempts at refocusing things on a thriving opposition that is open to discussion, may have been short of this. 

While changing a position on a few particular issues upon new information and evidence is to be welcomed, in the PN’s fissiparous case, its endeavours could very well be interpreted as an inability to renew and regenerate.

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