18 September 2014

The Hollowness of cheap talk and empty promises

 - Tuesday, 17 April 2012, 00:00

by Leo Brincat

When an administration overplays its hand by trying to cash in on the fear factor about the past, it does not take a rocket scientist to realise that it has been compelled to do so to avoid as best as it can any serious reflection on present day realities and future prospects

This explains the hollowness of cheap talk and empty promises that characterised the pseudo upbeat media conference that Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi addressed last week in order to kick off a series of press events marking this administration’s fourth year in Office.

Usually on the day proper of their electoral ‘victory’ anniversary, the PN media are inclined to celebrate in a big way.

This year given that the occasion coincided with the near climax of their local councils campaign, there was not a single mention of this fourth anniversary.

This happened by design rather than by default, particularly since it was evident that the PN strategy throughout the local council’s campaign was geared at making us forget their various blunders in Office – some tactical, some strategic and others purely administrative and managerial. Building itself instead on the vacuous approach of trying to portray the Gonzi administration as a ‘listening’ party that was interested in making up for not too distant misdemeanours by trying to grow a second skin of newly acquired sensitivity and understanding of one’s concerns, problems and every day difficulties.

Although the PN-friendly media has been trying to turn reality on its head by claiming that the PL is resorting to political gimmickry in its approach, if anybody can be accused of gimmickry, it is the PN itself as evidenced by its arrogant and abrasive flip flop behaviour these last four years. A sad and dismal period where the Gonzi oligarchs literally ran roughshod over the electorate at large and even those who were not lucky enough to form part of the GonziPN inner sanctum and circles.

Rather than Labour being or appearing to come across as intoxicated by the sweet smell of power, it has been far more a case of the Nationalists being so eager to cling on to power at all costs and against all odds, particularly since many of them have been led to believe that a long hot summer of political incumbency might arguably do the trick. And somehow or other help them retain Office by default, even if it might happen by a whisker. In a perfect outtake of all that happened in 2008 when they won Office by less than half a single electoral quota – in terms of the popular vote.

One of the latest PN mantras runs something like this.

While the PN might have allegedly lost ground for failing to communicate with the people, Labour has had no problem communicating with the people since it has been pursuing power with an almost feverish thirst for power.

Reality is far divorced from all this.

With state broadcasting having evidently literally turned itself into a far more aggressive political communications tool, virtually at the service of the PN administration, even far more than the PN’s own party TV station, NET TV and Radio 101 have almost literally made themselves redundant. Farmed out programmes like Bondi+ seem to have become an extension of the days when Lou Bondi himself handled the PN’s communications strategy alongside his cousin Austin Gatt and other party stalwarts. With one twist. That although in the not too distant past they might have played their cards far more diligently and subtly, nowadays the way Mr Bondi and his producer/assistant seem to churn out figures and government spin tends to remind me far more of a slicker version of Radio Tirana and PRAVDA during the worst of the Communist era.

The TVAM breakfast show is hardly any subtler; offering as it does a predictable platform for a number of ministers who turn up with monotonous regularity competing amongst themselves in terms of media appearances rather than with their Opposition counterparts.

As for the news items on TVM, while the presentation style is undoubtedly slick and professional film-wise, it has become a sick joke to see listed among the main items of the day, visits by ministers to jeans shops or other secondary retail outlets as if they had discovered new untapped sources of R & D and innovation that will push us a step or two up the ladder in areas where we have long been considered to be laggards.

Project wise, while the government continues to dupe itself into believing that completing the new parliament and open air theatre in time might help create a new feelgood factor amongst the electorate, one should brace himself/herself for a spate of public announcements in the alternative energy sector implying that we can suddenly catch up with our dismal performance in renewables through the launching of a series of untried and untested multi-million euro projects that could hopefully plug a gap that has been left yawning throughout the whole legislature.

In the light of all this, one is inclined to ask – who is really being gimmicky? The PL or the PN administration itself?

When the PL recently exposed in graphic details cards that government deliberately kept close to its chest – primarily the €40m budget cuts for 2012 when we have already gone well past the end of the first quarter of the new financial year, rather than being praised for its resourcefulness in doing so, our ‘campaign’ was dismissed as being a cheap exercise geared solely at trying to put government in a bad light in such a manner that only the party supporters and rank and file could have been impressed.

To make such an empty and politically perverse claim is nothing short of turning reality on its head since a number of Nationalist MPs, particularly backbenchers and parliamentary assistants, were themselves unaware of the nature and extent of such cuts. So much so that reports that these cuts were not even discussed within the PN’s parliamentary group were never formally denied by the PN’s or government’s communications strategists.

Where I am inclined to agree with certain critics is that the race for the uncommitted voters remains open and up for grabs.

This is where political credibility and consistency will surely come into play.

Both parties will need to marshal their best assets and resources rather than relying on catch penny gimmickry that might fall flat on its face.

While I am in full agreement with the PL having tactically decided to leave its own proposals for the future for a later date, the same way that the PN itself has invariably done in the past – particularly during the last election campaign – although I have always been one inclined to be somewhat cynical and sceptical of party manifestos, I strongly believe that never has there been so much expectation of a manifesto than this time round. And by manifesto I mean the PL manifesto for the 2012 or 2013 general elections.

In these difficult times – both locally and internationally – the electorate expects by right doable and realisable proposals that appeal to common sense, discerning voters and all those with grey matter who might be still a step or two away from having made up their mind where to cast their vote next time round.

From what I have learnt and discussed this is precisely the wise approach that the PL will be adopting in the very near future.

Labour surely cannot afford to commit the same mistakes of the Nationalist Party during previous campaigns. Particularly when it showed crass disrespect for the people’s intelligence by making hollow and unsustainable promises that came to haunt it virtually from day one.

This notion gains in even more importance and gravitas, since right now public opinion regarding politics in general and politicians in particularly happens to be at its lowest ebb in most European countries.

Such a deficit in public trust and confidence can neither be addressed through the hollowness of Gonzi’s cheap talk and empty promises. But rather through a seriously well thought out manifesto that can start being implemented in various phases as from a would-be Labour government’s first days in Office.

Even on this count, a would-be Labour’s first 100 days in Office – if it ever gets round to winning public trust and confidence – will prove to be of the essence.

The major hurdle would be winning the election. But an even bigger one would be that of convincing the people that the PL in Office will be far different from the dysfunctional, greedy Nationalist administrations of the present and the past where the winner takes all. I am saying so because I am fully confident that it will be!

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Leo Brincat is the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development & Climate Change

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