Sunday 17 February 2019

Learning to pick your battles

Simon Busuttil and the rest of the Opposition made a grand gesture yesterday and flounced out of Parliament in protest against a ruling made by the Speaker. The ruling was that the Leader of the Opposition was in breach of privilege because he said Joseph Muscat had interfered in police proceedings against John Dalli.

Today, it has been reported that the walkout is not a permanent one, and that the Opposition MPs will be returning to their seats in Parliament this evening.

The problem I see with this dramatic walk-out is that it has rather limited Busuttil’s options for the future. Because, you see, the issue over which they walked out was not nearly as alarming as they are making it out to be. Sure, the PN is busy trying to spin the line that the breach of privilege ruling was tantamount to trying to silence the Opposition, but, here again, they are going overboard with the drama.

First of all, Busuttil made a very, very serious accusation; probably the worst thing you can say to a new Labour Prime Minister who is still trying to emerge from the shadow of his party’s dubious past. So I can fully understand why Muscat was quick to nip this accusation in the bud by challenging Simon to prove it or else withdraw his comments. Busuttil’s defense was that he was simply repeating people’s perceptions, and that it was “a political judgment”.

So what it boils down to is basically this: “he said it, make him take it back – no I won’t take it back – you were out of line and shouldn’t have said it – OK that’s it, I’m walking out”.

If it sounds puerile, that’s because it is, and here lies Simon’s problem. What is he going to do next time he disagrees with the Speaker’s ruling? Will he walk out again? Just how many times will he walk out before people stop taking him seriously?

Walking out like he did yesterday, as I see it, is the equivalent of a man telling a woman (or vice-versa), “That’s it I’m leaving” only to come crawling back the next day. When the tactic is used too often, it soon becomes an empty threat, and nothing has been achieved.

There is another niggling little problem with this decision to walk out. From what I can gather online and from speaking to people in person (I hate to break this to you, Simon, but) – no one cares.

And I don’t just mean no one cares about this particular incident; no one cares about the political bickering which continues unabated.

Even on issues where the PN was right to object (such as the direct appointment of Konrad Mizzi’s wife – some things are just not done, period) I have detected a distinct lack of interest from the average voter. Sure there are the diehards busy wailing “oh my God! X’biza! Back to the 80s” (which frankly has now become a rather stale, worn-out refrain and has completely lost its punch) and sure there are the usual, predictable pro-PN pundits desperately trying to whip up some fragment of hysteria against the Labour government.

But guess what? No one cares. People are talking about other things, such as the abysmal standards of Maltese and English, the monopoly on school uniforms, the nightmare chaos of rush hour every morning and just the general things which aggravate our daily lives.

My impression is that after a summer of being spoken of in disparaging terms even by his own party supporters, Simon is now anxious to show everyone that he is one tough cookie after all. I doubt he is going to achieve this by walking out though. You show your mettle by standing your ground, not by slamming the door. He has to learn to pick his battles, so that when there is really an issue worth walking out for, he will find that he has a groundswell of support.

Unfortunately, the only reaction he got from the public out of yesterday’s walkout was a shrug and a yawn before people went back to arguing hotly about how one should write the word ‘boots’ in Maltese.





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