The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

The Elves in Sant’s grotto

Malta Independent Sunday, 21 October 2007, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

On Sunday 7 October, Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote in her Sunday article: “Since the debate on Bondiplus between the Prime Minister and the future prime minister, there has been a spate of letters to the editors of all the English-language newspapers. These letters are interesting, not so much because of their content, but because of what they imply: that somewhere in the bowels of the Labour Party headquarters there are those who still think of the ‘electorate’ as a giant tabula rasa on which they can imprint any thought they choose.

“The letters are carried over different names – the sort of names you would expect ‘ordinary citizens’ to have, ones which have never appeared in the correspondence columns before, those columns being dominated by the same letter-writers, the same people, and the same names.

“Yet these particular letters appear to have been written by the same hand, with the same usage, the same erroneous grammar, and the same preference for stiff and archaic construction (‘Indian English’).

“More fascinatingly still, they follow precisely the same format: how detached Gonzi is from the people; how badly Gonzi came across; how put out he was by Sant’s incisive rhetoric; how impressively Sant performed, and this despite Bondi’s probing questions (or in the case of one letter, mysteriously, ‘Bondi’s features’); how smart Sant was to get one over on Gonzi about VAT on education; how clever he was to mention an atlas.

“After reading them in quick succession, my head filled with images of a little Labour elf hard at work churning out letters-to-the-editor in Sant’s grotto, while another little elf hit the telephones finding people willing to put their names to multiple variations on the same theme. Let’s leave aside this fascinating imagery for a while, and consider the implications.

“One possible implication is that an inept spin doctor in Sant’s grotto thinks that letters to the editor written by anonymous persons – and by anonymous I mean those without a public personality or clout in the social group they mean to influence – can shape the thoughts of others.

“Another implication is that the elves in Sant’s grotto believe that those who actually watched the show, and who saw it for what it was, will change their minds after reading a letter from somebody they don’t know from Adam, telling them how wonderful Sant was and how Gonzi looked like a fool.”

Most people reading Daphne’s article must have thought she had let her imagination run riot – the image of busy industrious elves hard at work in some dimly lit grotto must have made many to smile and disregard the whole thing.

Instead, however, it turns out to be very true, as a series of e-mails that went astray show.

By 9.28am that very same morning, Alexander Saliba had sent a circular e-mail to those he thought were fellow elves in Sant’s grotto, little realising that among the recipients he had somehow also included Stephen Calleja, the editor of The Malta Independent daily.

Mr Saliba told his colleagues to read Daphne’s article to see “how effective our articles have been” and how “we are riling the Nationalists”.

He ended: “Proud to be one of those elves in Sant’s Grotto.’

Nikki Alamango was the first one to reply: “She seems to be very upset. Keep it up guys so that we get the desired effect.”

A few minutes later Aaron Farrugia, who seems to be the leader of the group in the Labour Youth organisation, sent another collective e-mail in which he made fun of Daphne: She is angry today because we write on the papers as only she has the divine right to write… especially on toupees. (Daphne illum mikkina inkazzata ghax ahna niktbu fil-gazzetti. Ghandha ragun mikkina ghax hi biss ghandha dritt divin tikteb... jekk jista jkun fuq il-parrokki...)

Mr Farrugia then issued a series of orders to various members of the group telling them what work they had to do. For all the cloak and dagger atmospherics, the duties he set them seem quite humdrum and low key. Mr Farrugia also decided to call each member of the group Elve (?):

“Memo to elves in Sant’s grotto... Elve Alex... and Elve Josef... start working with Malcolm on the next wine party:

“Elve Andre, Elve Therese and Elve Bjorn A start working on IUSY events in Malta:

“Elve Daniel together with Elve Nikita and Elve Therese work on the renewable energy conference...”

Signing as Elve Aar, he ended: “Keep it up elves: Proud to be elves on Labour’s side ...”

In mid-afternoon, Rene Monsigneur somewhat cryptically wrote that the Christmas decorations effect had affected Daphne. “We are hitting her where it hurts, just because a couple of elves from the Centru Nazzjonali Laburista have attracted her attention.”

He too ended his message with words of encouragement: “Keep it up, elves. Christmas will soon be here.”

By 7.33pm, a euphoric Andre Borg was writing to his colleagues: “Daphne’s article today has confirmed our message is being persistent and continuous. I have no problem in being called an elf, and in fact there is even a photo of us on the Internet: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=335282&o=all&op=1&view=all&subj=4200857357&aid=-1&id= 689809041&oid=4200857357”

Since then this page has been removed.

But by 12.15am, a certain realism had set in. A Daniel wrote: “Between ourselves, I do not regret being called an elf, but I would not like to confirm to her we are elves. Let us continue with our work. She does not exist.”

He immediately got a reply from Therese Camilleri: “I agree with Daniel; we should not reply to that article. Rather, no one from our network should write on this subject, because this is precisely her intention: to unveil who our writers are, so that people start thinking the writer is not neutral and editors will start being sceptical of using our letters. Besides, even PN has its own elves. So guys and girls just be proud that we are being noticed... but let’s just proceed as we were doing. Do not give this comment any importance...”

The new realism was effective. By 8.30 the next morning, confirming his leadership of the group, Aaron Farrugia agreed with Daniel and informed everyone he had removed the photo from the face book. “That’s what she wants – to expose us. No way. Let us continue working without throwing away our weapon.”

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