Gonzi and thinking Nationalists

Posted in 1 by Editor on May 24, 2011

I started writing this column at the beginning of 2009. My intention then was to focus on the alliances that make governments possible. I was not new to this theme, having been researching and writing about it for over 30 years. Ever since, in the early 1970s, Jeremy Boissevain knowingly or otherwise nudged one of Fr Peter Serracino Inglott’s philosophy kids towards either sociology or social anthropology, I have been interested in how shifting social alliances impact on how this country’s economy and society ‘develop’.

My observation of how they were decisive in explaining Labour’s loss of a majority of votes at the 1981 election and the loss of government in 1987, sharpened my insights into how relatively dependent Eddie Fenech Adami’s governments themselves were on the social alliances on which they were erected. The lessons learnt indicated that in the case of Lawrence Gonzi’s governments, their dependence on alliances was total.

On January 19, 2009, I wrote: “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.”

Ever in denial, online correspondents of the sort that would sooner believe what they want to believe than accept what they see with their eyes, insisted that Dr Gonzi’s government stood on solid rock. They suggested that I have “a vivid imagination”. At best, one more cautious gentleman conceded that “what we are experiencing are tiny, insignificant tremors”. See www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090119/opinion/no-quantum-of-solace.241342.

The debate on divorce – if of  ‘debate’ one may at all speak – has confirmed that Dr Gonzi’s government does not have the advantage of the classic Nationalist governments of the past. Certainly, it can no longer rely on even a semblance of cultural homogeneity among those that have so far supported it.

The University of Malta’s Centre for Family Studies asked individuals who were either married or previously married at the time of the 2005 census: “If divorce is introduced in Malta and you decide to divorce, would you consider remarrying?” The survey found, among other things, that “Educational attainment is highly related to the consideration of remarriage. Those who have a pre-primary/primary level of educational attainment are less likely to have answered positively when compared to those with a tertiary level of education”.

In other words, the researchers found that among individuals who are either married or were previously married, those with a higher level of education are more likely to consider remarrying if we had divorce in Malta. It would seem reasonable to suppose that these respondents will also vote in favour of divorce (YES).

From this alone, we cannot infer how many of those with a higher education will vote for and against divorce. Nor how those of a lower level will divide on this issue this Saturday. It would seem reasonable, however, to take this finding to suggest that those with a higher level of education are less likely to be easily influenced by the arguments of the NO campaigners than those of lower educational achievement. The survey also found that professionals, managers and senior officials are more likely to consider remarriage than respondents in other occupations. See www.um.edu.mt/news_on_campus/?a=126347.

Now, what has this to do with the shifting sands below Dr Gonzi’s feet? Consider that, traditionally, the Nationalist Party has been keen to present itself as the representative of the better educated and of those in the higher occupational categories.

The findings of the survey strongly suggest that, at least on the issue of divorce, the official views of the PN are not the views of all those in the higher levels of educational achievement and occupation.

One could, I suppose, suggest that those with a higher level education and those professionals, managers and senior officials who are not against divorce are all Labour Party supporters. If this were the case then the PN need not worry that its support base is not solidly behind the party’s stand against divorce. No joy. Everybody knows that many highly educated individuals and persons in the higher occupational categories are for divorce but are certainly not PL fans.

This strengthens my conviction that “many of the alliances that this government is built on are beginning to come apart”. Whatever happens this Saturday, Dr Gonzi will emerge weaker from it and no cohabitation law will make up for the damage, on the contrary. This campaign has distanced many thinking Nationalists from Dr Gonzi and from the “big majority of the members of the PN executive committee” that, on February 12, voted in favour of a motion declaring the party’s position against divorce (www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110212/local/promised-referendum-must-be-held-jpo-insists.349789).

The NO campaigners have certainly not helped Dr Gonzi. Many thinking Nationalists were shocked at the primitiveness of the arguments, the language and the images with which we have been bludgeoned.

A well-known media guru very close to the PN once told me that Dr Fenech Adami never came to terms with the Enlightenment and its idea of reason. I wonder what he thought – knowing his sense of irony – when driving past posters screaming out “Id-divorzju qabża kbira fid-dlam” (Divorce, [a] big leap in the dark) and “Divorzju bla raġuni” (No reason [for] divorce).

The original of this post appeared yesterday, May 23, in Dr Vella’s regular column in The Times. You can access at it at http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110523/opinion/Gonzi-and-thinking-Nationalists.366724


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