Wednesday 16 January 2019

Those elusive 33%

You see? It is quite possible to hold a debate without the booing and the cheering of an ill-informed, partisan audience which claps like trained seals.

No matter how sarcastic Peppi Azzopardi tried to be on Friday, expressing his disbelief that the Broadcasting Authority had dared to impose some ground rules on his home turf, the formula saw a much improved form of political discussion. Rather than playing to the gallery with some choice phrase guaranteed to elicit the roar of the Roman arena, Muscat and Gonzi actually had to leave the theatrics at home and concentrate on deflecting and rebutting each other’s arguments. You know, like in a real debate.

Perhaps rather than trying to be clever, the thought should have hit home to Peppi that he had brought these directives on himself – he and the other producers at WE have proven that they are simply not able to control themselves when it comes to conducting their programmes during this campaign.

From Norman “earpiece” Vella, to Lou “Jimporta? Jimporta?” Bondi we have watched incredulous from our living rooms as our national station was reduced to a circus with presenters acting like ringmasters as they tried to whip (certain) guests into submission.

It is for this reason we have come to the sorry state where the BA has had to step in like a strict nanny. That’s what happens when grown adults who should know better act like unruly children.

It also goes without saying that, if they wish to hold viewers’ attention, political parties need to start instilling a similar decent code of conduct into their candidates. They could start by asking them to reign in their verbal diarrhoea. I cannot, for example, listen to Marlene Farrugia for more than ten seconds without getting a numbing headache as the effect of her voice is like a persistent jackhammer drilling away at an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning.

But back to the debate.

Is there any doubt who won it? Despite the off-the-mark analysis by some sources that “there was no clear winner”, I think that those who are objective could see that Muscat was superior to Gonzi.  If I had any doubts, the fact that there was a stony silence on Facebook from certain quarters confirmed it.

It was not so much that Gonzi said anything “wrong” but that his whole demeanour was wrong. Wearing a clouded, thunderous look on his face practically throughout, the PM was clearly in confrontational mode, but because Muscat refused to be confrontational in return, it just made Lawrence Gonzi look petulant and bitter.

In contrast, Muscat came across as positive, confident and at ease. He has also ditched the half-smile which used to come across as a kind of smug smirk and replaced it with earnestness instead.

Sure, it is tempting to make fun of this Kumbaya, “let’s all love one another” approach, but if you had to ask me which of the two is best reflecting the mood of the country, and especially those elusive 33% “undecided” who will decide the election, I would say people will choose upbeat and optimistic rather than doom and gloom any day.

The irony in all this, of course, cannot be ignored. In the past, it was always the PN who used to correctly assess and exploit just why Alfred Sant’s Labour was not attractive to the electorate. Sant liked to harp on the negative albeit realistic scenario of a country which was full of corruption, debt and ‘barunijiet’. The PN on the other hand used to paint a sunny portrait of a country with full trolleys, smiley families with no problems or woes, and the comforting tune of “wouldn’t it just be peachy keen to keep us in government so everything stays the same’?

Where has that Nationalist party gone? It sure is not recognisable in the half-hearted campaign we have seen so far and it is certainly not evident in the face of an exhausted-looking Gonzi who seems angry every time he makes an appearance. He even seems to be shouting at the diehard supporters ‘taht it-tinda’ who are braving these chilly evenings wrapped up in their coats and mufflers to show their support.

The Xarabank debate was not won on image alone however. When he was not blaming the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of Malta’s credit rating on the Opposition (che?) and criticising the PL’s energy plan, Gonzi was heckling Muscat for not coming forth with his proposals for the country. Uhm, what? Every day since the campaign officially started the Labour party has announced one or two new initiatives – now irrespective of what you think of them, they are coming out with concrete proposals.

And yet the PN so far has come forward with what exactly? All I’ve heard so far is that hidden somewhere in the budget figures is their political manifesto for the country. All I’ve heard so far is that the PN expects people’s vote again because Labour’s energy policy is going to drive us straight into a brick wall (“gas down ghal gol-hajt” was the  catchphrase this week).  All I’ve heard so far is that people should vote PN because it has created jobs and our finances are on a sound footing (sure, ask those who have lost their jobs or whose businesses are suffering from a severe lack of cash flow).  All I’ve heard so far is that Labour is the wrong choice and voting PN is the only right choice because, well, just because.

Is that enough information for those 33% to come to any sort of educated decision?

There is still a long way to go before voting day and anything might happen. I’m still expecting the PN to emerge from what seems like a deliberately slow start, and dazzle us all with a brilliant plan for the future of the country which will knock our socks off.

So far, their strategy seems to be to tear Labour’s energy proposal to shreds to such an extent that the party will be utterly discredited so that they can turn around and tell those 33%, “You see? Labour cannot get anything right!”

The problem is that, to date, this strategy has not worked, and not through lack of trying either.

From what I can see, by reverting to the same old tired tune of scaremongering, the PN is simply reinforcing the impression that it is out of touch with the national mood and has run out of steam.  So far, with its blame game and negative campaigning, it has not managed to convince enough people that come 9 March they should trudge to the polling station to vote PN yet again simply to keep Labour out.

We will just have to wait and see what other kind of tactics are in store.

Sense of humour award of the week:

A group of Labour supporters have created a new Facebook page called Tort tal-Lejber (“It’s Labour’s fault” complete with self-depecrating spelling). Everything that happens in the country, including a freak hailstorm is immediately tagged with the name of the page.  Chapeau.

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