This article first appeared on Malta Today
Our partisan politics can never be looked at in a vacuum. Where we are today has to be seen within the context of past events, which is why it is often so difficult for outsiders to understand the passionate, visceral response so many people have against their political adversaries and the fierce, blind loyalty towards their own party even when it falls flat on its face.
It is a complex, volatile history and trying to peel away the many layers to explain the extent of the anathema which many Labour and Nationalist supporters have towards each other would make a fascinating subject for a thesis (if it has not been done so already) or perhaps even a documentary. The challenge of course, would be to have just the right producers who would be capable of looking at the topic dispassionately and fairly, which can only come with the passage of time. Or can it? After all, over 50 years have passed since the 60s and the Labour Party will still dredge up the Catholic Church’s overt campaign against Mintoff (who was seen as a heretic) any time the Archbishop dips his toes into political issues. And over 35 years have passed since the 80s, yet the Nationalist Party invariably brings up what happened then, any time there is a whiff of what it perceives as authoritarian leadership or “trouble”.
What mostly dominates however is the respective way the two camps look at each other (and here I am speaking mostly of the staunch, diehard supporters rather than the more moderate voters). I happened to tune into to Radio 101 the other day, and heard a caller who had just phoned in saying “jaqq il-Labour, jaqq, jaqq” (which, as you can guess, translates to “yuck”). The terminology used is one I have heard all my life: that PL (and everyone associated with it) is somehow second-class, and can never make the grade so it will always be looked upon with undisguised contempt. Labour sympathizers on the other hand, still tend to describe Nationalists as insufferable snobs who think they have the divine right to rule. You can still here the echoes of this when PN supporters speak about Simon Busuttil as the person who is going to “save” them from another Muscat administration, with plenty of references to “God willing” and various calls to prayer.
Inevitably, both perceptions end up perpetuating the other in a never-ending cycle of “I told you so”. The more Nationalists you have who sneer and look down their nose at Labour supporters, the more the latter will embrace their own lack of airs and graces, proudly insisting that they are happy with being just “common people” with no pretensions. Capitalizing on this ever present social class prejudice there are those who keep deliberately instigating the issue, because it understandably touches a raw nerve, and neatly divides the country into ‘them and us’. Like silly schoolgirls who always want to be liked by the most popular crowd at school, many feed into this high class/low class rigamarole without bothering to look at people more deeply, but simply make snap judgements based on a superficial veneer.
In between these two extremes, of course, you have those who are neither one or the other – it is quite a large swathe of people actually, but because they don’t go to mass meetings, or call into radio programmes or get into endless, hot-headed often irrational debates online, you would be forgiven for thinking they do not exist. But they do – they just tend to stick to each other and shy away from all the incessant cyber shouting, mindless bigotry and insults.
They are the ones who have most accurately grasped the crux of where we stand now: that when it comes to being in the pocket of big business, especially construction magnates and developers, both the PL and the PN eventually end up being in debt to them one way or the other. No matter how much you try and spin it, they are financing you and if they are financing you, there is a reason behind it. Everyone eventually wants payback and it would be naive of the parties to expect us to believe otherwise.
It is also useless to try and continue to persist in the myth that any party in Government will act any differently because history has shown that once in power, they both have resorted to the same old, same old. They both have promoted canvassers and party activists to jobs beyond their capabilities, they both have given top posts to people who formerly worked with their party media. And as we have seen in the classic example of Silvio Debono of the DB Group, they both are quite willing to accept funds from anyone, to keep their considerable party machinery going, and to finance their campaigns. The moral high ground has turned into quite a slippery slope.
Rather than resort to arguing about whether Labour’s brazen and in-your-face approach is preferable, or worse, to the backroom deals which the PN tends to enter into (and which we only find out about later), the bottom line is that the scrutiny needs to be equally intense on both parties. I have never felt comfortable with putting any political party, let alone any leader, on some kind of pedestal in the belief that like a knight in shining armor, he will come to save poor Malta in its role as a damsel in distress. Bestowing a cult status on anyone is always rather dangerous and foolhardy. It is we the voters, if anything, who need to “save” Malta, and we can only do this by holding the whole political class to account, rather than by squabbling with one another on their behalf.