The Prime Minister as victim?
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.
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