Sunday 17 February 2019

Ordinary people

Between the two extremes of Laburisti iffisatti and Nazzjonalisti sal-mewt there is a large swathe of ordinary people who do not fit into either one of these stereotypes.

They are not fanatics of any party but are common folk who go about their business quietly; who simply want a good life for themselves and their children. They can laugh and joke about the absurdities of this campaign no matter which party is the culprit because no one ever has ever given them any handouts or political favours, and they have worked hard for everything they have accomplished. They do not defend “their” party to the death right or wrong, because they have a clear vision unobstructed by the blinkers which come from decades and generations of political brainwashing.  Unacceptable behaviour by a politician is branded as such, no matter which party he/she pertains to, and they do not check whether he is PN or PL before pronouncing themselves.  Deceitful, dishonest and downright corrupt actions do not suddenly become justifiable because the politician is “one of ours”.

I meet people like this all the time, and when I do, it is like stumbling upon a fellow survivor from a horrible calamity. The signs of recognition are immediate, and the ability to actually discuss and debate calmly and rationally, interspersed with a lot of humour, is such a relief that it is like being able to breath fresh air after spending too long in a congested, smoke-filled room.

With every election this group of ‘ordinary people’ continues to grow, and it is the percentage which is probably giving both parties sleepless nights. For despite the fact that Labour continues to lead in the polls, the votes in that chunk of 26% who have answered “don’t know” or “undecided” are still up for grabs.  They might not vote, they might vote AD, or they might cross vote, giving AD their number 2. They are the ones everyone is watching.Are you receiving countless emails, text messages and phone calls pestering you about your vote? Then you are probably in this percentile.

Of course, the worst possible thing you can do to someone who is a floating voter is to harass them to vote for your party, but I guess political activists will never really understand why this intrusion is so infuriating. I would certainly not wish to be at the receiving end of the expletives which are often hurled towards canvassers who have been entrusted with the unenviable job of phoning undecided voters.

Here’s my advice to the two parties: leave undecided (or undeclared) voters alone and stop all this badgering (which by the way is breaching data protection) because, ultimately it is counter-productive, and you are only digging your own hole.

Malta is not just hamalli and tal-pepe’

Mintoff has often been blamed for fomenting class hatred among members of the working class who were encouraged to regard those who spoke English (the classic Maltese social class indicator) as the ultimate snobs who looked down upon Labour party supporters.

Despite the passage of time, this inferiority/superiority complex which seems to have been handed down from one generation to the next within the respective social groups, is still very real in this country.

Ironically, however, now that so many from working class backgrounds have climbed the social-economic ladder and aspired to break free from their roots, they are sneered at for being ‘wannabes’ and mocked for trying to ‘fit in’ by adopting the mannerisms and language of the middle class.

All this, of course, is just plain idiotic.

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It is like an adult version of that high school chick flick Mean Girls where the most popular girls in the school never allow those who are on the fringe into their coveted circle. According to this code of behaviour which seems to exist in the mind of the (mercifully) few, no one else is ‘allowed’ to slip into English, dress fashionably or send their children to private schools, because no matter how hard they try, they will never ever be “one of us”.

My question to this is, just who is the arbitrator of who’s in the ‘circle’ and who’s not? Because if we are going to take this ridiculous state of affairs to its natural conclusion, everyone is scurrying around trying desperately to be accepted by everyone else, which means that ultimately there has to be the final, deciding judge who is the oracle on who gets the stamp of approval. But wait, who is going to approve the judge?

I remember at school, the harder some girls tried to fit in with the impossibly “cool” crowd, the more the cool crowd relished shutting the door in their face. It quickly became apparent to me that the power of social exclusion is only really powerful if we ourselves feed into it. The answer is to be comfortable in your own skin and create your own social circle of like-minded individuals who have no desire to be ‘accepted’ by anyone because they have long ago accepted themselves, warts and all.

Transposing this to the local political situation, it has been clear throughout the years that, apart from those who switched because of genuine policy issues, many drifted towards the PN because they were desperate to belong to what was considered cool and trendy, as opposed to the ‘loser’ tag which had been successfully attributed to Labour.

In the last 25 years, the Labour party’s image in the media has been so battered and bruised (with much of it being self-inflicted) that its supporters had come to genuinely believe that they were inferior. It is also the reason so many successful young people with Labour-voting parents did everything they could to distance themselves from the PL, while denying and being ashamed of their roots.  (As an aside, this is something which I will never be able to understand – why should a working class background be a source of embarrassment? It is easy to do well when one is born into a privileged environment, but I find people who have made a success of themselves despite their disadvantaged upbringing, even more worthy of admiration.)

With every election, stereotypes were reinforced and labels duly attached according to party allegiance. But Malta is made up of more than the two polar opposites: hamalli and tal-pepe. Unfortunately, I too, have sometimes bought into the stereotypes and have to mentally slap my own wrist when I jump to the wrong conclusion. It happened to me the other day while talking to two well-dressed, well-educated and well-spoken young women who told me (yes, to my mild surprise) that they have always voted Labour but have not always been open about it.

“But finally I decided, why should I try to hide who I vote for and why should I be embarrassed?” one of them told me.  “The more the PN tries to portray Labour supporters as ignorant and hamalli, and the more they try to ridicule the party, the more I became firm in my convictions to vote PL”.

As I said earlier, Malta is not only made up of extremes – there are a lot of ordinary people out there who fall somewhere in between.





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