Reflections at the end of the 2017 general election campaign I first posted on my Facebook page on 1st June:
When all is said and done there are a few things that we will always hold true. If the boat is sinking, women and children first. That sort of thing. Some of us jump queues but they’ll still feel the embarrassment and the heat of disapproval around them. Some of us cheat at exams, dodge taxes, cheat our spouses, take credit at work for our colleague’s work, pretend to be hurt to attract attention, think of ourselves first. All of us have done one or more of this at some point in their lives. None of us are perfect. But we know we were wrong and we decide whether to allow ourselves to feel regret.
If we hold honesty, loyalty and integrity as core values that guide our choices in life, we have no guarantee that there are no situations in life when we will betray ourselves and let down those around us. Redemption follows the steps of admission and contrition. Eventually forgiveness.
But there can be no forgiveness if there is no admission and no contrition. There can be no confidence that the error will not be repeated if it is not first recognised as an error.
This is what we teach our children every time they will, as inevitably we all do, allow their instincts to overcome their wiser judgement. We teach them that it feels easier to lie our way out of our mistakes in order to avoid retribution. But what feels easier does not pay.
It would seem to be odd to have a Sunday school sermon on the eve of a general election. The toughest elections in my memory debated political vision (Europe in/out), economic policy (euro and fiscal discipline yes/no), leadership qualities (Sant/Fenech Adami, Sant/Gonzi, Muscat/Gonzi).
The Labour party wanted this to be an election like all the others. It wanted us to discuss the economy and who is better at running it. It wanted us to discuss leadership and who better fits the role.
But after what happened over the last four years and especially what we learnt in the last four weeks that would feel like a debate on the colours of curtains when the foundations of the building were creaking and giving way.
We found ourselves speaking about the fundamentals. This is not a discussion about who’s better. This is a discussion about right or wrong. The basics. About whether we still agree to save women and children first.
We expect of our leaders to be competent, accessible, considerate, sensitive and courageous. We expect them to lead from the front and make judgement calls in the interest of us all without fear of consequence to their personal selves or their popularity. We expect them to know how to run our economy. We expect them to be ahead of global trends in policy-making. We expect them to anticipate the needs of the community and those most vulnerable within it.
But if we expect those things, we expect some even more fundamental characteristics we normally don’t bother having to examine. If we sit on a selection board to recruit a heart surgeon, we normally don’t bother to check if they can read and write. We assume it comes with the package.
And the package of leadership should come with common decency, moral back-bone and selflessness. We assume that whatever their hue and economic program, they are decent folk that are role models for our children. That they are examples we can look up to and point our children to when we need them to understand what it is to do the right thing.
We need to be able to show our children what it means to choose public service over personal profit:
that it is noble to serve others for far lower pay than the undoubted skills of our leaders would earn them if they invested those skills in their own business or in the employment of someone else;
that it is admirable for one to give up their private life to public scrutiny, criticism, even derision in order to serve that same ungrateful public;
that one can be, and should be, altruistic; to think of others before thinking of oneself.
That is the example we expect our politicians to give.
Even in the darkest days of Mintoff, KMB and other leaders we had very strong reasons to disagree with, we have never had to discuss these fundamentals.
I disagreed with Alfred Sant about almost anything I can still remember him espousing. I still do. But he was always a shining example of generosity of spirit, of public spiritedness, of altruism, of sincerity, of conviction, of honesty and integrity. His politics I disagreed with. His example as a moral person was no less than Eddie Fenech Adami’s or Lawrence Gonzi’s.
Need I remind you how different the present situation is? Need I remind you that for the first time in Maltese political history the shadow is cast on the very, very top of our political firmament? Need I remind you that we have never experienced anything quite like this before; that there is no comparison with anything that has ever happened before?
How will you be able to tell your children that it is wrong to cheat at their exams, if you cheat on your taxes? How will you be able to tell your children they should do the right thing, if you confirm the current administration into power?
You must now decide what is going to be the guiding maxim of the country and the society you want your children to grow up in: “Agħmel is-sewwa dejjem” or “Min ħexa mexa u min ma ħexiex inħexa”.
Because our children must be saved first, please, on Saturday, go do the right thing.