No quantum of solace
This article appeared yesterday, January 19, on The Times of Malta. You may access the original at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090119/opinion/no-quantum-of-solace
Don’t pretend you don’t know what I am talking about. Anybody with even the most rudimentary of political antennas has intercepted signals that indicate that we are approaching a zone of severe turbulence. The Prime Minister’s disconsolate countenance – a bearing punctuated by brave but brief and, ultimately, unconvincing attempts at a smile – is one of a series of clues of varying significance and magnitude that support the conviction of many that this government may not be standing on solid ground.
The international financial crisis, its repercussion on the real economies of our principal markets for both our industrial exports and tourism, the impact of all of this on our own real economy, our broke government’s impotence in the face of this crisis, indeed its compounding of the effects of the crisis on our economy, thanks to an insane policy dictated by its pre-electoral profligacy and decades of wastefulness… these factors go some way to explain the mood of impending doom, but not all the way.
Governments are made possible by alliances: social and political alliances, by alliances of convenience and, sometimes, of conviction, by strategic and tactical alliances, by long-term and short-term alliances. Many of the alliances that this government is built on are beginning to come apart. This is sending tremors throughout the whole edifice of Lawrence Gonzi’s government. No wonder he looks worried. But this factor too – even when taken together with the economic situation – does not go all the way in explaining the growing uncertainty.
The other destabilising factor is Joseph Muscat. The magnitude of the earthquake he has unleashed within the Labour Party has been underestimated in many quarters. It has been underestimated by Dr Gonzi himself, although his move regarding the Presidency suggests that he is beginning to realise that his political survival might stand a better chance if he were to emulate Dr Muscat and unleash his own – albeit risky – earthquakes. It has been underestimated by almost all of his Cabinet. It has been underestimated by almost all of the Nationalist Party’s general staff and the Nationalist parliamentary group. Almost all. A minority has read and deciphered the signs on the wall and is biding its time. No quantum of solace for the Prime Minister in the new year.
These three elements together will bring about change. In what direction? It is too early to say. I know where I would like it to lead but I am objective enough to realise that there are thousands of other players who will do their utmost to push and pull in directions other than the one I want.
To start with, once it becomes obvious that the PN cannot win another election with Dr Gonzi at the helm, there will be attempts to replace him with a younger person. Indeed, such attempts are already underway.
Will these attempts succeed? Again, it is too early to make any serious forecasts. There are too many unknowns in the equation. Will Dr Gonzi gracefully bow out before the next election? Will Simon Busuttil accept the crown if it is offered to him? Will other young pretenders meekly accept the Busuttil solution? Will older players miss the opportunity of settling scores and etching their name in tomorrow’s history books? What about the king-maker at 25 Rue Archimedes? He will not support anyone opposed to his nomination as EU commissioner but will his support be an asset or a liability in the portfolio of the next Kap?
In any case, will Dr Gonzi’s exit – and, therefore, the end of GonziPN – save the PN? This will depend mainly on the PL’s ability to understand and implement Dr Muscat’s new approach. The statutory modifications that the extraordinary general conference has just approved were a necessary step forward but by no means a sufficient one. Dr Muscat’s “new political season” presumes a radical change of culture within and throughout the party. No mean feat. Meet me here in a fortnight and I’ll tell you why I think it can – and must – be done.