Tuesday 22 October 2019

The lure of the political limelight

This article first appeared in Malta Today

“I’m up close with politicians all the time and it is true that they are weirdos. Who would go into that job? You’re not paid very much and that old saying is true, it is show business for the ugly. They’re narcissistic, egomaniacal and with absolutely, and invariably, very little interest in the country or its welfare, I find.”

The above quote is taken from an interview with British actor Hugh Grant.

Of course, on reading this quote, many politicians will be mightily offended, not only for being described as weirdos etc, but also for being described as ugly. But let us tactfully assume, for the sake of argument, that Hugh Grant was speaking about the lack of attractiveness among politicians in his native UK, rather than anywhere else. One cannot deny, however, that the rest of his description could be applied to just about anywhere, including Malta.

I have often wondered what spurs people to enter the cutthroat, ruthless world of politics, and while sometimes it is a genuine wish to serve and improve the country, in other cases – not so much. The lure of the limelight, coupled by a big ego and expecting everything to revolve around them are certainly among the most common traits. Just took at Berlusconi, 82 years old, and still going at it (politics I mean), having just been elected to the Euro Parliament on the Forza Italia ticket. He is a billionaire, so it’s not like he needs the MEP salary to make ends meet; it will probably be just pocket money to him. He says that he can still make a difference, whatever that means, but it is also clear that after being forced to resign in 2011, he missed being among the movers and shakers, But like a lot of politicians he lacks a certain self-awareness, as pointed out by The Independent (UK) just after he was elected MEP:

“Berlusconi sees himself as an elder statesmanlike figure with experience in international relations. But in reality, and while in power, he frequently embarrassed Italy on the international stage, and horrified Eurocrats with his puerile jokes.”

As I look at the world of politics, there are more than enough examples of similar inflated egos who cannot recognise their own limitations but who have steamrolled ahead regardless, convinced that they have what it takes. Even a cursory look at the bloated field of candidates from the Democratic Party who are hoping to clinch the nomination for US President, beggars belief. Only a few are really worth their salt, while others like Marianne Williamson make me wonder what made them wake up one day and think, “I should run for President”. I realise that Trump has lowered the bar to impossibly low lows, but what we do not need is his female equivalent. When she looked straight at the camera and addressed the New Zealand Prime Minister, “girlfriend, you are so on…” I cringed on her behalf.

Closer to home, we have the elected MEPs from the Brexit party, which is an oxymoron if I have ever heard one. Why contest to be elected to an institution with a party which is determined to leave that institution? If you hate the EU so much, what are you even doing there in the first place? They seem to be as confused as we are, because they decided to make their debut by turning their backs while the EU anthem was being played during the first Euro Parliamentary sitting. It was such churlish, childish behaviour that it only served to draw much-deserved derision, with most people pointing out that they should turn their backs on their MEP salary as well. As so perfectly put by James Felton in The Guardian, they behaved like attention-seeking toddlers:

“When the 29 Brexiteers were elected to the European parliament, many were concerned that they wouldn’t represent the UK properly. And yet here they were on day one already crapping themselves for attention – and as such were representing the UK better than we possibly could have imagined.”

There seems to be a general sense of exaggerated self-importance everywhere you look and our little island is certainly not lacking in that department. According to reports, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat seemed to actually think he was going to be appointed to one of the four main EU posts, specifically that of President of the European Council, to replace Donald Tusk. A few media outlets said he was shortlisted and that it was “close” but this could not be verified. But after the damning Council of Europe report published a mere week ago, and the lingering shadow of corruption allegations, surely he must have realised that his chances for any such post had been torpedoed? Even without these stains on his reputation, one also must face reality that as the PM of a tiny island state, the probability of heads of state from other large European countries nominating him was quite slim. As we say in Maltese, “kien qed jara naqra kbir” (he was acting rather full of himself).

On the other side of the fence, his political adversaries need to make up their mind: on the one hand Simon Busuttil was openly gloating because Muscat had been spurned, but on the other hand this also means that Muscat is not going anywhere and will remain Prime Minister. So does this mean Busuttil prefers to have his nemesis, who has been described as leading “the most corrupt Government in Maltese history” to remain in his post to continue inflicting, presumably, even more corrupt practices on the country? Surely if PN exponents truly have Malta’s interests at heart they would have been glad to see the back of Muscat, even if it meant giving him a kick upstairs?

As it is, such blatant schadenfreude just comes across as an undisguised, deep-rooted grudge which has nothing to do with politics at all.

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