Wednesday 20 March 2019

The benefit of the doubt?

Ask anyone at random right now and I bet they will know what you mean when you say ‘interconnector’.

This object, it seems, belongs personally to Tonio Fenech: “I will give it to you” he said generously to Konrad Mizzi (who has now become to the Labour Party what Simon Busuttil was to the PN a few weeks ago). This relatively unknown politician has been a shot of  adrenalin which has the Labour party’s hopes flying sky high.  You can tell he has been effective by just how many swipes are being made at his appearance and manner of speaking.

Yes, Konrad may have a habit of rushing his words and fixing his intense stare rather unnervingly on the person he is speaking to, but there is no doubt that the man knows his subject thoroughly. And despite his quiet spoken demeanor he has quickly learned how to shoot back with zinging replies. The coup de grace on Xarabank was when Tonio handed him a file containing a template contract from the World Bank, only for Konrad to flick through it disdainfully and then walk over to hand it back to him.

The programmed phrase on Friday was “Alice in Wonderland”, and before you ask me who the bleep is Alice, this is the expression the PN is using to describe Labour’s proposals.

Fair enough, I agree, we do need to know the nuts and bolts of the costings and I concur with AD that it is impossible to either dismiss or lavish with praise Labour’s energy plan purely on what we have been given so far. I also agree that there needs to be very careful scrutiny about this direct order business.  We don’t need another BWSC mess.

But you know what I have noticed?  The general public (as opposed to the diehards) is being very benevolent towards Labour on this issue and it is ready to give Muscat and his energy guru the benefit of the doubt. I have been wondering about this for the last few days, because this indicates a very significant shift in the public mood. Whereas in 2008, anything Labour suggested was shot down, ripped to shreds, twisted and regurgitated into unrecognizable spin before we could even digest it (remember the infamous “reception class” which was unfairly but successfully turned into “repeater class”?), this tactic is not working as well this time round.

There are several reasons for this, one of them being that people, now more than ever, are obtaining information directly for themselves because of the accessibility of video footage through Youtube and innumerable sources of reference on the Internet. So rather than relying on heresy or someone else’s interpretation of an event or a “fact”, they just Google it, sit back and be their own judge.  News bulletins and TV programmes all have their slant of course, but with intelligent analysis such as that of Carmen Sammut and Michael Falzon on the Malta Today news portal, the unblinkered voter is at least being respected. As a result, the stranglehold which the mainstream media and a few carefully positioned pundits had on public opinion on 2008 has been diluted.

Today, anyone with a Facebook profile can sound off on their own soapbox, much to the exasperation of those who would prefer that their newsfeed is kept politics-free.

Another thing which has changed is that there has been a reversal of roles: suddenly it is the Nationalist Party which is being scoffed at, practically at every turn. Much of the time, it is self-inflicted (I mean did Gonzi really need to be shown admiring a patch of ripening tomatoes as if he had never seen anything like it in his life?).

At other times it is because the PN comes out with statements which would be acceptable except for the fact that what it is saying now jars considerably with its actions (or lack of) during this past legislature. How can Gonzi actually keep a straight face when he self-righteously questions Muscat about where he is getting his campaign funds from?

Finally, after just one week (yes, I know it feels much longer), I think the palpable change in the air is also due to the fact that people have been caught by surprise that the Labour party does have actual, concrete proposals after all. We have been conditioned for so long into dismissing Labour as being “rubbish”, “losers” and other throwaway adjectives that were repeated over and over again until they sunk into our subconscious, that many had their doubts.

These doubts were reinforced by a couple of weak performances during TV debates prior to the official start of the campaign.  During the Simon Busuttil/Louis Grech encounter, Simon was definitely prepared, reeling off statistics, facts and figures like a schoolboy who had spent all night cramming for his exams.  In contrast, Louis Grech, who could not reveal much without undermining his own party’s strategy, often took too long to get to the point. He opted for a soft, homely approach towards his MEP counterpart which frankly, in a debate situation like that, doesn’t get you anywhere. There were moments when Louis was visibly taken aback by the way Simon sliced ruthlessly through Louis’ leisurely preambles to score some political point. It was only much later that Grech realised he needed to change tack, and started to score some points of his own. By that time, however, the damage had been done.

Simon vs Toni Abela saw the latter openly admitting that the energy issue is not his field, which is no excuse. Shouldn’t you always be briefed properly by your party before you appear on TV about any potential questions which may be asked?

On Friday though, it was the Labour politicians who won during the Konrad Mizzi/Tonio Fenech and Leo Brincat/George Pullicino encounters.   When Leo presented George with a cylinder of thick, black HFO, the visual impact of this symbolic gesture struck home.

The Marlene Farrugia/Beppe Fenech Adami encounter is best left out of the equation because all I heard was noise.

Now that we’ve discussed the energy issue to death can we please move on to another topic?


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