The Malta Independent 15 June 2024, Saturday
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Not so liberal and European, after all

Daphne Caruana Galizia Sunday, 6 January 2013, 09:44 Last update: about 11 years ago

When Louis Grech was elected deputy leader of the Labour Party, I got a little sick and tired of the conversations which began “Ah, how clever Labour is to get rid of Anglu Farrugia and give itself a liberal, European face with Louis Grech.”

The sheer number of these conversations revealed just how many people tend to mistake somebody they enjoy chatting to over dinner, lunch or drinks for somebody whose values and beliefs they share. I began to think I was the only person around who enjoyed talking to Grech about this and that (though I can’t remember the last time that happened; it must have been years ago) without running away with the idea that he is somehow like me, that I am somehow like him, or that we share the same values, politics, attitudes, general beliefs and principles.

I was always aware that though he seemed to be cut from the same cloth, he quite obviously couldn’t have been and still can’t be today. Our political choices are diametrically opposed, and that means we are fundamentally different in the way we think and in what we believe, because neither of us is the sort of person for whom the vote is anything other than the expression of what we stand for.

So while there were and probably still are a certain number of irrelevant and whimsical interests that we share, at root we couldn’t be more different, because the political party which he leads as deputy, and which he has supported for almost half a century, is the political party which brings me out in hives, and which is the polar opposite, in every respect, of the political party for which I vote.

I believe the Labour Party is utter rubbish, dangerous in the way it takes decisions, irresponsible in its attitude and completely unfit for purpose. And Louis Grech leads that party, as deputy. Quite obviously, despite the fact that we have a certain degree of mutual respect, are quite happy to talk about all manner of things on the now very rare occasions when our paths cross, and are genuinely civil to each other, we both know that, fundamentally, we are completely different people.

Because here’s the thing: Louis Grech isn’t stupid and nor is he the kind of person who will vote unquestioningly and out of misplaced pig-headed loyalty for the same political party for nigh on 50 years just because he and his forebears have always done so and it’s a ‘tradition’ or has become a habit. Grech is the sort of person who, like me, will vote for a political party because he has considered it well, likes it and agrees with it. This means that he considered the Labour Party well, right through the Dom Mintoff, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici and Alfred Sant years, liked it and agreed with it.

Throughout those years, he worked behind the scenes to ensure Labour’s survival in government and its re-election to government. And that’s exactly where Louis Grech and I part company and how we both know that we are, essentially, very different people even though we like each other as individuals. I could never have approved of Labour in those years. In fact, I didn’t, at all. And I still don’t approve of Labour today.

The difference between me and Grech’s fans among the PN, the switchers and the tal-pepe (do please be aware that I use the term ironically and not offensively) is that I know it is perfectly possible to like somebody, and to enjoy talking to them at parties, without mistaking them for my soul-mate, my lost spiritual twin, or somebody with whom I have anything much in common, still less everything or almost everything.

When people who, like me, support the Nationalist Party and even more so when they have held Labour in contempt for years and fought against it and its outrageous ‘policies’, describe Louis Grech as somebody who is “one of us” and with whom they share many ideals and principles, they insult him and demonstrate their own foolishness and paucity of insight. How so? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it: they make Grech out to be somebody who has the beliefs and attitudes which shape PN policy, PN government action and PN voter support, but who somehow wandered into the Labour Party in the 1960s, and half a century later still hasn’t noticed what the Labour Party is, how it governed, how it makes it policy, what that policy is, and how it operates, or that it isn’t really the Nationalist Party. While praising Grech, they fail to notice that they are simultaneously portraying him as some kind of idiot with a severe detachment-from-reality problem, who is deputy leader of a political party with which he has little or nothing in common. And he is anything but.

Louis Grech isn’t in the Nationalist Party because he doesn’t agree with its policies, its way of doing things, the manner in which it changed Malta, and he never did. That’s not a decision he took now. It’s a decision he took in the 1960s, and which he maintained even as the Nationalist Party changed Malta gloriously for the better. He might have liked one or two things here and there but that’s academic. Politics is about the fundamentals and not the peripherals.

By the same token, Grech was and still is in the Labour Party because he agrees with its policies (presumably he knows what the current ones are, even if we don’t), its way of doing things, the manner in which it changed Malta so dreadfully, and he always did. He might have disliked one or two things here and there, but that’s academic because even the violence, the crazy policies and the disasters wrought in health, education and the economy didn’t put him off Labour or stop him voting for it.

There are some people for whom political choices are the distillation of thought into attitude, of beliefs developed over time and experience. They don’t vote on a whim, because they like or don’t like somebody’s face, in a fit of pique, because they’re bored of seeing the same people or because X got that contract and they didn’t. They vote for Party Y or Party Z because its political philosophy is theirs, because they have considered that party’s policies, politics and approach and agreed with them.  Louis Grech and I are two such people. That is what we have in common, but that is where it ends.

A lifetime of thought and consideration of politics and of the philosophy behind political attitudes has taken us in diametrically opposite directions. It took him to the Labour Party, with its rather startling views on the economy, education, health, individual liberties, democracy, freedom of speech, and membership of the European Union. And it took me to the Nationalist Party, because I believed in the opposite of all that Labour stood for (stands for) and still do.

I am two decades Grech’s junior, and so did not have a vote in the 1970s and early 1980s, but I can tell you with absolute conviction that I would have chosen to be dragged over hot coals rather than use it to vote Labour as he did.

Some days ago, yet another acquaintance struck up one of those ‘Louis is the liberal European face of the Labour Party’ conversations with me. “Oh come on, of course he isn’t,” I snapped, irritated beyond measure at yet another person’s total inability to add two and two and make four. “He’s a lovely man in many ways, but nobody truly European and liberal in outlook would have voted against EU membership. That’s atavistic, inward-looking and wholly illiberal.”

My interlocutor was brought up short. She had never considered this. In her eyes, Louis Grech is a Nationalist who sort of happens to be deputy leader of the Labour Party. Also, he is wonderfully enlightened, so he must have voted Yes in the EU referendum and then backed that up with a vote for the PN in the subsequent general election. “Bollocks,” I said, a little rudely. “If I know Louis Grech at all, he would have voted No and then voted Labour to back up his No vote. Louis is Labour by personal conviction, not by tradition. He agreed with the Labour Party’s anti-EU-membership stance, otherwise he wouldn’t have voted Labour in 2003. And if he voted Labour in 2003, which he did, then it follows he voted No in the referendum immediately before that. To suggest otherwise would be to dismiss him as an irrational and illogical person, or a shallow opportunist who votes for a political party without looking at its policies. And that’s probably a greater insult than to spell out the fact that if he voted against EU membership then he can’t describe himself as a liberal sort. You don’t call yourself liberal and then vote to keep your countrymen imprisoned on a small rock for the rest of their lives. Or call yourself liberal and then reject the liberal values which the EU stands for.” Then we changed the subject, before things got out of hand.

When Louis Grech voted against EU membership for Malta – twice over, in the referendum and the subsequent general election – he was 56 years old and hardly a spring chicken or a confused young man. He cannot use the excuse that he has grown up since then or that he is a lot more mature now at 65. I was in my late 30s and my view on whether Maltese people should be allowed to become EU citizens was set in concrete. It hasn’t changed since. It’s not going to change. If Grech was against EU membership at the age of 56, then his view, like mine, hasn’t changed since.

Introspective people who think and who distil the options, for who the European Union is the encapsulation of their political philosophy (or goes against it), do not hold one opinion on EU membership at 56 and then a completely different opinion at 65. If Louis Grech has changed his opinion since, then what this means is that back then he wasn’t thinking, or that now he is doing the opportunistic thing, or the other way round. Either way, it is not a good look. The bottom line remains: people who voted, at the age of 56, to bar their fellow citizens from EU membership are essentially illiberal. They’re probably still illiberal at 65, which is why their political party of choice is Labour. And it’s also why mine is not.

I like you, Louis, but honestly – how on earth can you even try to justify your vote against EU membership? You try to deny people an EU passport and then you come back and ask those same people, moving about freely and studying or working all over Europe, for their vote. How does that work, exactly? It strikes me as being quite impertinent.




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