If the Labour Party were a student, its report card at the end of this semester would probably read, “must try harder”.
Wherever I go, whoever I meet, although there is obvious disenchantment (and in some cases, downright disgust) with the Nationalist party, when I ask what they think of the Labour Party the reaction is a shake of the head, a shrug of the shoulders and a look of exasperation. Here I am not speaking of those who will vote Labour no matter what, because as we all know, those are not the people who swing any election.
At this point in time, with x number of months to go before the election campaign officially starts, there is a tangible air of disappointment at Muscat’s leadership among those who had hoped that this time, with a new fresh face at the helm, things would be different. What started off so promisingly seems to not so much as fizzled out, as deflated. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the spark has gone. I have read political analysts who say that the problem is that Muscat peaked too early. That may be the case, but after reflecting on this, I’m not so sure that is the real reason.
For surely, if you have tapped into a strong following, lured back those who had strayed away from the party for various reasons, and have shown people that you have a definite vision, you should be able to carry them with you to even greater heights. A politician who starts off with an early momentum, if he plays his cards right, should only see this momentum snowball into even more support.
So, what happened?
In my view, there are two problems: the lack of real media savvy and the lack of concrete policies.
Let us take the second issue first. At this point, the time for vague statements is well and truly over. People are now impatient to know what the PL will do in each and every sector of the country. Put bluntly, how will it fix what has gone wrong in the way the country is run? How will it ensure that the infrastructure of the country works properly and is not a hit or miss affair? How will it make Malta a place where social justice prevails rather than a nation which is once again slipping into the ‘us’ and ‘them’ of social class division and hatred?
For example, Muscat said that, if elected, his government would give women incentives to make it viable for them to go back to work – OK, that sounds great, but what exactly will these incentives be? Give us the nuts and bolts please, because we want to be able to compare what you will do, what what has not been done by this administration. That’s what it boils down to – we need to have all the facts so that we can compare and contrast each party’s policies on each and ever issue. As a recent study has shown, it still does not pay most women to work after they have had children because of the costs involved in paying for childcare. So what would a Labour government do?
We are all getting pretty tired of the squabbling over trivial details between the two parties while the most important issues which directly affect our quality of life continue to be swept under the carpet. In fact, most people have made a deliberate choice to avoid political discussions on TV completely because they have simply had enough of all the blah, blah, blah and scoring of silly political points with politicians trying to appear on as many programmes as they can in order to hog the media spotlight.
Really, gentlemen (it’s usually the men) from both sides of the house, try and understand that it is not always about you. Take a break and go for a long hike or something because we are going to be seeing more than enough of politicians begging for our vote in the months to come. Gesu giez, even the thought of what’s in store for us in the coming election campaign is enough to fill me with ennui and dread.
Which brings me to the PR issue.
Let’s say it like this – when it comes to marketing itself, the Nationalist Party is tops. Which often makes me wonder why they cannot apply the same fervour, professionalism and extreme efficiency to the way they govern. (Now, that would really make Malta a great place to live in huh?)
The action plan falls into place through long-term strategic thinking involving experts in the field of PR – nothing is left to chance, no loose cannon is left to shoot his mouth off, loopholes are plugged and everything and everyone is given a nice, bright, shiny sheen. I would not be surprised if handouts were given out to all prospective candidates on what phrases to use, which words to avoid and what they should wear at each public appearance. [In fact, maybe the reason Manuel Delia has not yet been approved as a candidate has to do with all that alarming facial hair and erm, general chubbiness.]
It all works with the precision of a Swiss watch as everyone involved takes up their respective post and sees to it that all the party members are clear-headed and focussed on one aim and one aim only: “we have to win this”.
OK, now that I’ve painted that scenario, cast your mind back to the latest few forays in the media by PL representatives and it is easy to see the difference. I’m going to take a wild guess, but I am pretty sure that there is nothing approaching a comprehensive PR and marketing plan which relates purely to image for all the Labour candidates. Everyone seems pretty free to do and say what they like in whichever public forum they choose. As for their general appearance, let us just say some have better style than others. (And yes these things do matter – we have to be honest with ourselves and admit that the minute we see someone on TV the first thing we assess is what they look like.)
On the one hand the Labour approach sounds pretty democratic, and there will be those who argue that they prefer candidates who are colourful individuals in their own right, rather than robots who seem to have all been churned out by the same Candidate Factory after being handed out a 1000 page rule book.
And yet, on the other hand, it just takes one poor media appearance by a Labour politician to make those who are still wavering about whether to vote PL , step firmly back onto safer ground. If they truly cannot stomach the Nationalists any more they will not vote PN, but the only other option is to stay at home (you can be sure that voting AD will once again be trumpeted as a sure way of getting Labour elected by default).
So there you have it.
A Labour Party which has still not yet managed to convince enough floating or disenchanted voters to give it a chance, and a Nationalist Party which, to quote a choice phrase told to me recently by a former PN supporter, “qazzu lil kulhadd” (they’ve made us sick to our stomachs).
No wonder so many people prefer to watch Rai Uno and Canale 5.