Monday 20 August 2018

Our relationship with politics: it’s complicated 

This article first appeared on Malta Today 

It is, I think, physically impossible for two people no matter how much they get along, to agree on every single issue, likes or dislikes.  Imagine your very best, closest friend and I am sure there is bound to be something niggling which just does not quite gel with you and vice-versa. But that’s OK, you are hardly going to ditch a longtime friendship over one or two disagreements.  

Even your soulmate, the man or woman of your dreams will, on certain days, cause you to grit your teeth as you try to stifle your exasperation, or make you blow a fuse, because you simply cannot see eye to eye about something.  That’s OK too, we are not clones of one another, programmed with robotic precision to nod our acquiesce at every turn.

And yet here we are, for some reason, assuming that as a country and a nation, every controversy or news event will be digested, analysed and perceived across strict, obedient political lines which will never waver.   

A description which never fails to make me laugh is Laburisti/Nazzjonalisti sal-mewt.  (Labour/Nationalist till I die).   That is quite a tall order, and very ambitiously optimistic too. These days people are even loath to vow eternal loyalty to their significant other (or else they make the vow, but don’t really mean it, as the escalating rate of broken marriages consistently shows us), so it is quite impressive that they are so willing to profess such unwavering allegiance to something so intangible as a political party.

It is this which is at the root of our malady. Obviously I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to point this out.  Emotional and psychological distance from the party they vote for is very hard to achieve for many people, and they invest so much of their core identity in the label of Labour or Nationalist supporter that it dictates their every take on every subject.   So ingrained is this automatic, knee-jerk Pavlovian response that those who are outside of this rigid box still end up being swept along by this dire need to pigeon-hole everyone, no matter how much they protest to the contrary (“oh, that’s your view? So you must be Labour/PN”).  The blind, unquestioning loyalty of fervent supporters would not bother me so much if they did not try and demand it of the rest of the population.

It is easy to assume that everyone is like this, and conclude that the whole country belongs firmly to one camp or the other, were it not for the fact that I am constantly meeting people who are not like this at all.   

It is possible to have voted for this administration, but be in complete disagreement with some things it has done (or more crucially, has failed to do), while praising it for certain major projects which it has managed to get off the ground, which had been left by the wayside.  This kind of thinking, however, is viewed suspiciously. It is all or nothing for some people; you either completely denounce the Labour Government or you are in cahoots with them, a kind of mindset which is very difficult to reason with. 

Similarly, you either support every single statement or initiative announced by the PL or else, at the slightest hint of criticism, you are viewed as the ‘enemy’.  The same goes for the Nationalist party (or to be precise, the various splintered fragments of what once was the PN), where one is not allowed any room for manoeuvre.  Everyone has to fall into line like good little soldiers, and mimic the same clarion call (whatever that may be on any given subject), or else you are subjected to what is considered to be the ultimate insult, “what are you Labour, or something?”.   In the current climate, where admitting to having left-wing sympathies is tantamount to saying you support corruption (or worse), many are falling silent, preferring to disengage rather than having to combat continuous hostility.  

This black or white dogma, where there is no room for grey areas, is not only tiring, it is unrealistic.  The truth is that no one at the moment from our political class is really offering the full package of what people want.  There are certain areas which cross party lines, such as the IVF amendments which, much like divorce, cannot be said to have the support of everyone in the party.  As with all highly personal matters which have legal as well as ethical implications, each person views it from the lens of his own experience.   

The over-development and doling out of building permits to whoever wants one is another issue which is striking at the heart of every citizen in every neighbourhood, irrespective of one’s politics.

The list of issues over which there is divergence and which cannot always be divided neatly into “us” or “them” continues to grow, and that makes politicians nervous, for obvious reasons. For us, the people, however, that is good news, because it means that while there are many who are happy to be led by the nose, the number of those who are demanding accountability, and who refuse to lend their support no matter what, is growing. 

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