The Prime Minister as victim?

Posted in 1 by Editor on April 26, 2010

It has been suggested that we find ourselves in a political situation characterised, on the one hand, by the “dimming of (Lawrence Gonzi’s) charismatic image” and, on the other, by the Leader of the Opposition’s endeavour to mobilise a movement of all moderates and progressives. The same commentator also suggests that the “dimming” of the Nationalist Party’s leader is “a symptom” of his party’s failure to promote an inclusive movement that would have transcended traditional political polarities.

The dimming of an image ?

If I read this commentator correctly, he is suggesting that had the PN done in 21 years what Joseph Muscat is attempting to do today it would, presumably, have broadened and strengthened its support base sufficiently to enable it to make a real difference. Had it broken out of its mould and abandoned the rigidly exclusivist everyday practices of its leaders and henchmen, the PN would have been able to take this country much further forward the road of progress than it could possibly do with its stubbornly and narrowly partisan mindset.

The commentator, again if I do read him correctly, may therefore be understood to be suggesting that because of its “reluctance to re-grow things from fresh roots”, the PN has not really made a difference to this country. Nationalist governments have, inter alia, presided over controversial pharaonic projects, bought grand properties abroad (expensively) and sold precious national assets (cheaply), took the country into the European Union, adopted the euro and, under their watch, the number of students at the University expanded greatly.

And, yet, the country has not progressed from its state of provincial anything-goes mediocrity, of hypocritical whitewashed-grave bigotry. Indeed, our statesmen (yes, statesmen, because stateswomen are, in 2010, still more conspicuous by their absence than their presence) strut among the great of Europe but have yet to impress anyone with their ability to think as European statesmen. One dreads the very thought of our turn at the presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2017, unless, meanwhile, our whole political class goes through a veritable cultural revolution.

Bear in mind that the presidency is not an individual’s job but rather a multiplicity of very complex tasks undertaken by an entire national government. In Malta’s case, given our limitations, the government concerned will need to rely on the best resources the whole country can provide if it is to cut a good figure. The year 2017 will be the real test of our membership. Not only for whoever will be Maltese head of government in that year. Nor only for the government of the day. But for the whole country.

But let’s get back to what I think is the commentator’s central point and again I stand to be corrected by him if I have completely missed the said point.

Dr Gonzi’s weakness, we are told, lies in not having a political project that can compete with the Leader of the Opposition’s attempt to win “the hearts and minds of all moderates and progressives”. Clearly the “flimkien” (together) that makes “kollox possibbli” (everything possible) of 2008 may have contributed to rallying disappointed Nationalists to the PN flag, thus helping to win by a narrow margin, but it did nothing to win the hearts and minds of a much broader body of opinion that is beginning to despair that this country will ever go anywhere worthwhile. These are the moderates and progressives that together can indeed make everything possible.

Perhaps, however, Fr Peter Serracino Inglott – for, as I noted in this column on March 29, he is the commentator we are referring to – is being (unintentionally, perhaps) a bit too hard on the present Prime Minister. Fr Peter seems to argue that Dr Gonzi’s “reluctance to re-grow things from fresh roots” – a trait that is contributing to the “dimming of (his) charismatic image” – is an inherited trait whose roots may be traced back to an original sin, to something someone failed to do (also) in this country since1989!

The global cultural and political conditions that brought the Wall down, he argues, provided a “flash of hope” for inclusive political strategies bringing together “moderates and progressives” into a common front to face the burning issues facing humanity today. But should Dr Gonzi alone bear all the blame for what Fr Peter calls “the non-adoption of the 1989 flash of hope”? Was/is he the only one reluctant “to re-grow things from fresh roots”? Eddie Fenech Adami was Prime Minister from 1987 to 2004 with a brief interruption in 1996-1998. He was certainly in a better position to appreciate the “1989 flash of hope” than Dr Gonzi. He certainly basked in its powerful glow during the Bush-Gorbachev summit of 1989.

I think it would be more correct to attribute what Fr Peter calls the “dimming of (Lawrence Gonzi’s) charismatic image” to a widespread weariness with a political culture (understood as an ingrained way of doing things and justifying them) that increasingly fails to impress and inspire. Failure to observe how deep the roots of this political culture are suggests that merely replacing Dr Gonzi with someone with a brighter “charismatic image” will do the trick. The present Prime Minister is a product of this culture and, although he cannot be absolved from the responsibility of not having done anything to, at least, attempt “to re-grow things from fresh roots”, he is also therefore in a sense its victim.

This article appeared in Dr Vella column on The Times of Malta, April 26, 2010.  The original may be accessed at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100426/opinion/the-prime-minister-as-victim


12 Responses

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  1. Michael Mifsud Brown said, on April 26, 2010 at 10:48 am

    Did Professor Serracino Inglott really speak of the “dimming of (Lawrence Gonzi’s) charismatic image”? Unbelievable. Truly unbelievable.

  2. Rachel Borg said, on April 26, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    @ Michael Mifsud Brown

    Indeed he did!

    Here is an extract from his regular column on The Sunday Times of Malta aptly called Fr Peter’s Perspective. You can check it out at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100321/opinion/what-is-joseph-muscat-about

    “On the other hand, Lawrence Gonzi is suffering from a dimming of his charismatic image. It is tempting to think that this partial eclipse is due to his not having dealt with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in the obvious radical way – like abolishing the bureaucratic case officer structure and making architects themselves responsible for observing the set guidelines, subject to authoritative monitoring.”

    “But could this not be a symptom of non-adoption of the 1989 flash of hope? There is a reluctance to re-grow things from fresh roots. Thus, there is clear recognition that Malta’s future depends on finding a fitting niche in the global digital economy. But we keep getting enmeshed in the old-style Capitalist folds of Microsoft. What about the electoral promise to make Malta a Centre for Open Source Systems in line with our proposition of the Common Heritage of Mankind and the great 1989 flash of hope?”

  3. Ninu Carabott said, on April 27, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Tinten din!

  4. Lara Metelli Xuereb said, on April 27, 2010 at 11:20 am

    @ Rachel Borg
    Thanks for the link. OK, confirmed. Fr Peter did say that “Lawrence Gonzi is suffering from a dimming of his charismatic image”.

    @ Ninu Carabott
    Let’s go beyond our sense of smell, Nin. Fr Peter’s role in the ideological reinvention of the post-Borg Olivier PN is well known. His admission that Gonzi’s ability to lead is declinining (what else can he mean by saying the PM’s charismatic image is dimming?) suggests that he is involved in another attempt to reinvent the Nationalist Party…without Gonzi!

  5. Hugh Zammit said, on April 27, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    @ Lara and all of you elves
    Or Mario Vella, the communist who is being allowed by some misguided editor at The Times of Malta to write on that otherwise excellent newspaper, wants us to think that Professor Peter Serracino Inglott has turned against the Government. By the way my name is not really Hugh Zammit. You don’t think I’d be so daft to give the marmalja my mail and address, do you?

    • Editor said, on April 27, 2010 at 2:03 pm

      We’ll resist the great temptation to trash this correspondent’s comment. Our decision to upload an effectively anonymous comment ought not to be taken as a precedent.
      The Watersbroken Team

  6. Gianfranco Vella said, on April 27, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    @ all except Hugh Zammit

    I think that what Fr Peter is saying is that all the PN needs to do to survive the next election is to replace Gonzi with a new face. Dimwitted Nationalists will reason (true, an inappropriate verb to describe the thought processes of dimwits) that this is a small price to pay for the PN to cling to power. But not all Nationalists are dimwitted. Some have realised that removing Gonzi will make no difference at all. They know that the country is in the clutches of a network of cliques and for the good of the country the PN must bow out with grace and dignity. This will give a new government time to flush out the cliques that have been gorging themselves for 21 years. It will also give time to the many Nationalists who truly love their country and their party, to flush out out of their party the few amongst them who have made pigs of themselves (and their families, friends and cronies) at everybody’s expense.

  7. Lara Metelli Xuereb said, on April 27, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    @ Gianfranco et al

    I agree with you Gianfranco. Fr Peter’s is a salvage operation. Offer the electorate Gonzi as a sacrificial victim for the salvation of the Nationalist elites.

  8. Rachel Borg said, on April 27, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    @ Gianfranco, Lara and all except Hugh Zammit

    No I disagree with you my friends. I believe that Prof Serracino Inglott is doing something far more courageous than what you are suggesting. The article quoted by Mario Vella shows quite clearly that PSI thinks that the “reluctance to re-grow things from fresh roots” is not limited to Lawrence Gonzi but has been a trait of Nationalist governments since 1989…practically as soon as they came to power. Ideologically PN governments were born old. I believe PSI is deeply unhappy and dissatisfied with the present PN leadership but this is leading him to finally see the PN in its pathetic nakedness.

  9. francesca debono said, on April 27, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    ‘Re-grow things from fresh roots’. May I remind all that you might get fresh roots but these still need to grow from a seed which needs to originate from a grown plant. And if it is the budebbus seed it will grow new budebbus roots and will develop into a new budebbus plant – you will not get an apple tree. Yes, Dr Gonzi’s charisma has been engulfed by the plants which grew from the new roots and which originated from the seeds sown by the same PN administration.

  10. Patrick Brincat said, on April 28, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    Hi guys,

    I think you should read this and smile. One Christopher Ripard posted the following comment on Mario Vella’s article (above) on The Times of Malta online (http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100426/opinion/the-prime-minister-as-victim). Here it is:

    Christopher Ripard(2 days ago)
    “has not really made a difference to this country” ?

    apart from the world’s first fully digital ‘phone network, a new airport, power-station, Freeport, Hospital, Schools, Ferries, massive REAL investment, killing Socialist white elephants/lame ducks like Kalaxlokk, Drydocks, Metalfond, Desserta . . .

    It’s exactly like the famous “What have the Romans ever done for us” scene in ‘Life of Brian’. Hilarious stuff, Dr Vella! You should do stand-up.

    Mario Vella replied as follows also on The Times online:

    À propos Life of Brian. Your comment reminds me of the crucified lead singer who consoles Brian as follows:

    Cheer up, Brian.
    You know what they say:
    some things in life are bad.
    They can really make you mad.
    Other things just make you swear and curse.
    When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble.
    Give a whistle, and this’ll help things turn out for the best.
    And … always look on the bright side of life!

    Anyway, Chris, I am glad we do have something in common. We both seem to appreciate a vintage Monty Python and the fine art of stand-up comedy generally. It may not be much but it may be just enough to start a dialogue unmarred by our absurd humourless tribalism.

    The Author

  11. Ninu Carabott said, on April 28, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    @ Patrick Brincat

    Cool !

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