The Malta Independent 16 August 2017, Wednesday

A bridge too far

Michael Asciak Sunday, 18 June 2017, 08:40 Last update: about 3 months ago

I think that the loss of the recent election for the PN has set off a mass of speculative reasoning to explain away the loss. In my opinion, there are two tranches of reason that led to the loss or rather the electoral victory of the other Labour Party. In the first tranche are issues that were beyond the PN’s control, and in the second were issues that we could control but opted not to or failed.

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Under the first tranche, I would slate two headings: the first being that since the economy was doing well, it was too early to change the government. Many people opted for continuity of the current political order in order not to upset the apple-cart! It was not yet a time for change and we have to stop beating ourselves on the head for this because there is nothing anybody could do about this affair. The second issue of the first tranche is that the incumbent Labour government used the power of incumbency to a severely abusive degree. Jobs, promotions and social security cheques were used to a severe degree to win voters over. This government has no ethical qualms about abusing its powers for political benefit. It figures that everyone has his price and having discovered what it is, then sets about paying it at public expense. A substantial number of votes were bought in this way, especially from the large sector of floating voters for whom it made no difference who was in government. However, were it not for the first factor, I do not think that this would have been enough to stop changing the government. The time factor, like the lost Battle of Arnhem in the Second World War, was against the success of the whole enterprise. It was in fact a bridge too far!

However, I also believe that there were other factors that we could control and from which we should learn. This is not a criticism of anyone in particular but I will mention certain issues which bothered me.

First of all, there was no real dialogue in the party as most decisions were top-down affairs and there was no real debate amongst the grass roots. In future, the leadership should seek to design policy through a greater collegiality of the party’s structures and supporters as the former attitude smacked of a paternalistic form of arrogance.

Secondly, there was a lot of potential and experience in the party’s membership and candidacy rank and file that was not used properly. When there are experts in one’s midst and one does not use them, they are wasted assets.

The third issue is that we were weak on issues on which our electorate expected us to be strong. On certain issues, especially those regarding human life, we dragged our feet: sometimes we said one thing and then in a short while we changed the version and this gave the impression that the party was weak! One case was the debate on the MAP where the Parliamentary sub-committee established for the purpose had reached a good consensus and then suddenly the party (and the Government) went over its own Parliamentarian’s heads and in fact issued two conflicting positions which in my opinion were flawed.

We also toyed with the issue of embryo freezing for too long, giving the impression of a weak leadership where we needed to be strong in defending innocent human life.

However, I believe that the worst issue was during the election campaign itself when the Labour Party suggested making the use of marijuana legal. Our immediate reaction then should have been a zero tolerance to drug use and we should have come out strongly against the proposal, not go along with the government’s position which is just a load of popular rot! There are already several issues in the college where I teach because marijuana has been made ‘not illegal’ and I believe these problems will only get bigger. I would have thought that with all the doctors of medicine and other health practitioners in the party, one would have consulted with those who actually have to pick people off the street and cure them rather than go for a popular legalistic solution which simply made us look very weak in the electorate’s eyes!

There are other issues which were never discussed at party level but I will leave it there. The last issue is the use of the party’s media – which is such a big issue that I will say no more except that the new leader’s first priority should be to set up a commission to review how the party’s media is used to better effect and to be used more fairly. Again, some candidates were constantly on the media. Others hardly appeared at all. The result showed up in favour of those who were often on the media! Party candidates are not cannon fodder!

With all the lawyers in the party I would have thought that they would have realised that turning the whole voting population into a jury on political corruption would have backfired! This is because any newly graduated lawyer would have told you that political juries are very difficult to win. In fact this is what happened. People discounted the facts in favour of emotions and their pockets.

This should not mean that the corruption issues will or should go away. They will remain like a dead albatross around this government’s neck which is arrogant beyond belief in re-appointing Konrad Mizzi as a Minister and Keith Schembri as Head of the PM’s secretariat in the face of the serious allegations under inquiry. We have to keep reminding the people of this travesty of justice until the oil surfaces for all to see. However, we cannot rest on this issue alone but also grill the government on bread and butter issues which affect the man in the street to a substantial degree. History shows that the judgement of the electorate at the end of the second mandate of government will not be as forgiving as that at the end of the first mandate!

There is hope yet as the Battle of Arnhem was a prelude for the final D-Day landings which swept away the corrupt Third Reich. The lessons of the first lost battle were used to win the second, so take heart. We should move forward enterprisingly and with courage, having learnt the lessons from the last campaign.

 

Dr Michael Asciak MD, M.Phil (European Studies and Genomics), PhD. (Bioethics), PGC in Vocational Education and Training. Senior Lecturer II in the

 

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