This article first appeared in Malta Today
I realise it is not easy to come up with snappy, snazzy slogans which fit on a billboard. In fact, to be done well it usually takes a lot of thought and marketing expertise to decide on how best to deliver one’s political message. The phrase has to be short enough to be remembered, and not too distracting as people drive by and crane their necks to see what is written there – although with the bumper to bumper traffic I reckon this is not really a problem as we all end up staring at the same billboard for at least ten minutes each time.
When it comes to brevity both parties have kept things short. But as the various billboards keep changing from week to week I still haven’t found anything which impresses me much. “Il-pajjiz fgat, Gvern li ma jimpurtahx” (the country is choking, a Government which doesn’t care) the PN tells us, with a photo of a car emitting exhaust fumes. Yes, PN, we know this, we are the ones breathing in the toxic fumes every day, but what is the point of telling me something I already know without telling me how you are going to solve it or change things? Are you going to lobby to stop further car imports, are you going to make arrangements to limit car use as other countries do, are you going to impose something like a congestion tax as they did in London, making it too expensive to run a car? Are you going to make public transport so fantastic that owning a car becomes a thing of the past? Inquiring minds want to know.
The PN say they have 1000 proposals for every locality in Malta and Gozo, but the substance of these proposals has yet to come across. The truth is that people have become too lazy and impatient to leaf through too much material at once but want the pertinent information delivered to them directly in simple terms.
But instead of focussing on bread and butter issues, this week the PN has resurrected the usual abortion scare with a photo of a newborn baby with the slogan, Il-Hajja, dritt tieghi (Life, it is my right), while claiming during political activities that the European Socialists are going to impose abortion on Malta. I am not even going into the arguments of why bringing up this old chestnut is so completely misguided. It just is. Meanwhile the flurry of press statements go back and forth between the two parties while the rest of the country yawns. Is it too much to ask to concentrate on real, more pressing topics rather than fabricated ones?
Now let’s turn to the Labour Party slogans. Nghaqqdu pajjiz, mhux nifirduh (We unite the country, not divide it). OK, a nice enough feel good message, but what does it really mean in practice? Especially in the light of the recent gaffe by the Prime Minister himself who talked about wanting foreigners rather than the Maltese to pick up our rubbish. Despite the fact that he eventually realised (four days too late) just how really, really terrible that sounded, and despite apologising, well, the fact remains that he said it. That’s the problem with gaffes, no matter how bravely you try to save face and backpedal, it will always stay there, lingering in mid-air like a cartoon balloon, which will come back to haunt you time and again. Who can forget former PN Leader Simon Busuttil’s infamous “wicc ta’ Nazzjonalista” (the face of a Nationalist) in reference to former Nationalist supporter turned Labour candidate Deborah Schembri or former Labour MP Charles Mangion and his “dawn ghandhom xi haga hazina fid-DNA” (something is wrong with their DNA) in reference to Nationalists?
Four days of that (literally) rubbish remark floating around online was enough to infuriate and offend every single person of non-Maltese nationality with many Maltese people also voicing their disbelief and dismay at such a sentiment. On the plus side, with so many people posting about how much they appreciate those who do the thankless job of trying to keep Malta clean, it at least restored some of my faith in human nature.
The slogan which the PL probably thought would go down extremely well is the short and sweet Malta f’Qalbna (Malta in our hearts) inserted inside the emoji sign which represents love. Again, it’s all fuzzy and warm and transmits a lot of good vibes with the added bonus of being a sly dig at the PN MEPs who have been constantly accused of working against Malta’s interests. The problem is that, much like other slogans which have been conjured up in the past, this can be very easily twisted to mean something else. It is being used sarcastically on a regular basis to criticise Government policies, much like the much-vaunted “L-Aqwa Zmien’ (the best of times) and “Malta Taghna Lkoll” (Malta belongs to everyone). It also lends itself extremely well to variations on the theme, such as “Sandro f’Qalbna” (referring to construction magnate Sandro Chetcuti, who seems to be the one in charge of the country). “Malta f’buthom” (Malta in their pocket) is another good one, in reference to politicians who are up to their neck in corruption allegations.
The possibilities are endless, but are surely the opposite of what the PL intended. It is all very well to claim love of one’s country when your actions and decisions point to something else entirely. How can this administration look around at the havoc caused by unregulated and rampant construction and the nation-wide lack of enforcement and tell us, with a straight face, that it loves Malta? Children and adults are gasping for breath as they suffer asthma attacks due to the dust from the numerous construction sites. The authorities are chopping down old trees, encroaching on agricultural land and giving permission for beautiful old houses to be torn down and in exchange for what? Sterile, artificial, manufactured ‘parks’ where there is more concrete than there is grass.
“Noffru Tama mhux negattivita” (We offer hope, not negativity) says another Labour billboard. A message that cannot be faulted, especially since the PN persists in mounting billboards which criticise but do not offer solutions. But a nice touchy feely slogan with a photo of a cute child is not going to make us forget that our quality of life is suffering. Pointing out what is blatantly wrong is not being negative, it is being real.
Back to the PN and another slogan tells us that the Government gave us a 40 Euro cheque while Konrad Mizzi is pocketing 5000 Euro daily. While this is true, the relevance of such a message to the MEP and local council elections is debatable. I realise that political parties use any election as a barometer of public trust ratings, and that people do tend to use their vote to ‘send a message’ to the Government, but I still think the PN is lost in the wilderness when it comes to the zeitgeist. Frankly, the Konrad Mizzi issue is old news and using him in a billboard just makes them look hopelessly out of touch.
I have yet to see a PN billboard which tells us how their prospective MEPs and local councillors will make a difference in our everyday lives. Meanwhile the Labour Party is busy telling us that we have prosperity and have never had it so good…even though the reality is that we are soon going to end up having to wear those surgical masks like the Japanese every time we venture outside our front door.