Return to Ranier Fsadni.
Just over a week after Joseph Muscat’s election as leader, Ranier Fsadni published an interesting article in this newspaper, entitled The Liberal Turn (June 19, 2008). In it, the author – a social anthropologist – inaugurated what I believe is an on-going project, the study of the “moves and slides in Dr Muscat’s rhetoric and its likely future force“. In this article, Mr Fsadni used the term rhetoric in its technical sense of the strategy and tactics of persuasion.
Mr Fsadni wrote: “While in the name of openness Dr Muscat is proposing to dissolve political polarisation in Malta, what he in fact wants to do is replace one polarisation with another: the PN-MLP divide will be substituted by a ‘conservative-liberal’ divide. He has already accused Lawrence Gonzi of being a conservative. It is a label that might stick. If so, the MLP will make inroads among some of the demographic groups where the Nationalist Party has in recent elections registered significant strength: youth and the middle-aged professional class.”.
Mr Fsadni’s argued that Dr Muscat aimed at broadening Labour’s support base by reinventing it as a party with an inspirational appeal to all those who think of themselves as progressives, regardless of their political roots. Should Dr Muscat’s strategic project succeed, Mr Fsadni reasoned, the PN would lose its cutting edge among certain socio-economic and age groups and, therefore, its electoral majority. To succeed, however, Dr Muscat must beat Dr Gonzi (or any other Nationalist political figure) as the champion of a progressive vision.
The main subtext of Mr Fsadni’s article was that the PN’s survival in government depended on its ability to reject the label ‘conservative’. The secondary point was that Dr Gonzi’s conservative outlook was “a label that might stick“. This was understood by many to mean that unless Dr Gonzi reinvented himself as a progressive then he should go for the sake of his party.
These points were dubbed Ranier’s Thesis in a detailed review (labourinlabour.wordpress.com/2008/07/09/raniers-thesis/) in Labour-in-labour, an ‘unauthorised’ blog that managed to irritate conservatives in both parties. It has since ceased publication but is still accessible online. Now, nine months to the day after that remarkable article, Mr Fsadni writes another related and interesting piece in this newspaper. In his Return To Sender (March 19), I detect a note of irritation.
The author is peeved at Dr Muscat’s impertinent refusal to stick to the lines allotted to him in his own (Mr Fsadni’s) screen play featuring a wannabe-statesman with a dream. Go on, keep your eyes wide shut and imagine him: a young ‘liberal’ (in the US sense of the word, synonymous with the more European ‘progressive’), uttering utterly predictable abstract first principles.
The problem with Dr Muscat is that he will not conform to paradigms of political culture. Real-life political success, in the sense of successful implementation of a political project that brings real and sustainable benefits to a country’s citizens and to their guests, requires much more than the repetition of first principles. It is not enough to proclaim that all men and women are equal and that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are their inalienable rights, nor to proclaim that the truth of these propositions must be held to be self-evident. Their truth depends on concretely constructing the economic, institutional and cultural conditions that make them achievable.
In Return To Sender, Mr Fsadni argues that in his proposals on illegal immigration in Parliament of March 16, the PL leader overplayed the ‘legality’ element and ignored ‘integration’, adding that the emphasis on legality is typical of conservative views whereas integration of immigrants is more popular with progressive politicians.
I invite Mr Fsadni to read all the actual transcript of Muscat’s speech and to reflect on its context; to go beyond sound bites from Gordon Brown, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and David Cameron and revisit the various policy documents he refers to in their entirety and context. This conversation with Mr Fsadni does not end here.
Meanwhile, permit me to quote some of the final lines from Dr Muscat’s speech: “The PL could have chosen to do nothing. We could have sat quietly on our opposition seats and avoided all political risk by pleasing everybody and upsetting no one. We could have taken political advantage from a situation that is certainly not an easy one for the government and, especially, the Prime Minister. We could have accused it of being inhuman and racist. We could have accused it of being weak. Weak in the face of illegal immigration. Weak in the face of those that are certainly making money out of this situation. Weak with the European Union and weak with Libya. We could have decided to run with both hound and hare. But […] we decided to offer to share the risk with the government“.
This article appeared on March 30 in Dr Vella’s column on The Times of Malta. You can access the original at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090330/opinion/return-to-ranier-fsadni