Saturday 16 February 2019

Bored of the billboards

There is a moment in any political campaign when it becomes apparent that one’s tactics are not working – and that they are backfiring instead.

I think this moment was reached in the last week with the proliferation of billboards from the Labour party and the PN who seem to have plenty of time on their hands to come up with “replies” to each other, using Malta as its landscape and us as its exasperated audience.

I admit, there was a point when the billboards were amusing – some of them even quite funny, like the “Austin went to London and all he got was a Bendy bus”. It was timely and it worked.  Lately though, there has been a billboard overkill which proves that politicians are completely out of sync with public sentiment.

This was brought home to me quite sharply when in view of yesterday’s impending storm, I wrote on FB, “If we’re lucky this storm will blow away a couple of billboards”. The reaction was swift and immediate with many people agreeing with this statement and quite a few others pointing out that the whole thing has become a joke. The billboard campaign started far too early in my view, which means it peaked too early as well.

When your billboards are being dismissed as pathetic and childish (and I think it is fair to say that now both parties have crossed over to this description), it is time to realise that people’s patience has finally snapped.

And it’s not just about the billboard mania either. It is because I feel most of us just now want the election to be over and done with. Let’s get it out of the way, let’s decide who will run the country for the next five years, and let’s get on with our lives.  The billboards are now serving as a rude reminder that this campaign which is not yet a campaign, because we do not even know the election date yet, is unnecessarily prolonging a situation which we have lived in for the last year.

How long can we read Franco Debono’s continuous attacks against the Prime Minister, and how long can the PM continue to pretend it’s not happening (until this week when Debono called him Hitler)?  It would be an untenable situation for anyone, so I am not surprised that every time I see Gonzi on TV he is looking more and more strained and weary.

Another thing which I cannot understand is how we are expected to drag this whole thing out until March (according to what I have heard)? This basically means stopping this ridiculous pseudo campaign because of Christmas and restarting the whole thing again in January.  So why all the billboards, leaflets, home visits and other election signals NOW?  What is the point?  It certainly is not helping to get out of the vote. Those who have been saying all along that they refuse to vote, just point to all the childish pettiness taking place and say, “you see what I mean? THAT’s why I’m not voting.”

Let’s face it, Gonzi covering his ears and now his eyes did work for a while to drive home the point that (in Labour’s view) he doesn’t want to listen and doesn’t want to see people’s concerns. But apart from this negative campaigning, where is Labour’s real political message? Is it that pretty little girl looking wistfully into  “a future which unites us?”  That might give us all a nice, cozy feeling sure…but the floating voter needs more than just a “feel good image” to be persuaded to cast his/her vote.  To quote a famous advertising slogan from a fast food chain, “where’s the beef?”

Meanwhile, the Nationalist Party has really surprised me this time round with its lack of slickness when it comes to political messages.  Remember how Labour was slaughtered in 2008 because “it couldn’t even get its billboards right”?  Well, here we are almost five years later and it’s the PN which seems to be floundering around.  Its last billboard of Muscat covering his mouth and saying “Muscat ma jghid xejn” (Muscat doesn’t say anything) might have a message but visually the whole thing is a photoshopped mess which looks like it was designed by a teenager still studying computer graphics, who did it for free.

I find this curious because that is one thing the PN has always been good at – selling us an appealing, well-thought out vision which just looks good and gives you that undefinable feeling that this party knows what its doing.  So something has gone wrong somewhere; it is, perhaps, symptomatic of a party machine which has run out of steam. Or perhaps it simply no longer has enough good people on board willing to contribute with their ideas and creativity.

Meanwhile we are all still waiting to learn the election date – because as happens each time, this country has a habit of grinding to a halt until this blessed date is announced. People don’t make plans, they postpone important occasions and business people become wary of taking certain decisions. Everyone is in a “let’s wait and see” mode.

The risk which the PM is taking, in my view, is that the non-voters will increase in number the longer he prolongs the election.   And no amount of billboards is going to drag them out of their house on D-Day either.

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