When the rest of the world thinks of Malta it thinks of how corruption and crime have infiltrated politics in a country they thought was a model European democracy. They think of how freedom of speech has been slashed in a country where they thought rights would be irreducible. They think of how we sell our own citizenship when they thought Malta was a smart economy for the modern times.
But here in Malta the party leaders spoke today and they were not going to waste much time on what the world thinks of us.
Joseph Muscat summoned his followers in the square for a frantic popular showing of support four years away from an election proving nothing more than what is generally known: that at least 30,000 think he’s the best thing since Jesus, maybe better. It’s quite likely more people than those that were there support him wholeheartedly. I never understood how party mass meetings prove anything to anyone since clearly more supporters stay at home than bother to show up at these bacchanals.
The rallying cry for today was ‘giving an answer’ (Menglish for ‘nagħtu risposta’) to The Daphne Project, a sort of sì t’ancagliu gesture from the wilderness around Corleone. I doubt if anyone at The New York Times, The Guardian, La Repubblica and the others are quaking in their shoes right now. Joseph Muscat’s followers may be loud, but they are not right.
On the other hand Adrian Delia did not call his undoubtedly plenty followers to party in some other giant square. Things were kept civil with silverware and hot pastries and a select audience of polite officials restrained by the reputations of the organisations they represent.
He too ignored Joseph Muscat’s elephant and spoke little of what the world thinks of us. But he did speak about what he thinks of the world that comes here.
Adrian Delia is worried children as yet unborn will want to leave the country displeased with the large number of immigrant workers changing the shape of the country to an image he would not recognise. If you haven’t found the profoundly silly fallacy in that notion, read that sentence again.
Why would future generations have a problem with a country Adrian Delia would not recognise? Why would they whimper and whine for a long lost past that belongs to his memory?
The myth of a golden mythical foundational past that we are supposed to yearn for is an old fascist fiction being revived by right wing populists everywhere although few are as conventionally Wagnerian as Adrian Delia’s.
Yes Malta’s immigrant population is large and growing. Yes we have issues that we need to address. People are being squeezed out of the rental market and forced to live in garages. There seems to be no urban planning whether for a shrinking, stable, moderately growing or exploding population. Our infrastructure is wobbly at best and that’s without more people coming in. Our schooling is below par and our score cards are not getting better. Hospitals are crowded and waiting lists only just below a tolerance line. Our pension challenge eased off but remains a reality. The country is one whole perpetual traffic jam and noise is unbearable when things are relatively quiet.
So yes there are many things political parties should be getting ready for in a future of a growing and changing population.
But Adrian Delia’s Powellesque speech of today – only the most recent of a series over the last months – describe an apocalyptic future where children would want to leave because they don’t like the way the cultural fabric of Malta would have changed.
I don’t know about Adrian Delia’s children but my suspicion is most children are hardly ever conditioned for nostalgia for times before they were born. Are they going to want to emigrate because there are now too many Chinese restaurants in Republic Street? Are they going to want out of the country because in Birżebbuġa they have Ghanaian barbecues on the beach?
Will it be too much Sicilian cannolis or Polish pickles that would make life unbearable for them?
Because you see, although Adrian Delia does not say it, if the objection to migration is change – any change – to the current cultural profile of the country, the only answer and the only solution is stopping migration. It is building a wall and keeping people out; even maybe reversing immigration that has already taken place.
This is not the post to argue why this is a retrograde, racist, isolationist, culturally stagnant policy that pits neighbours against each other and reverses the decades-long Independence and European vision of the party he leads.
It is not the post to argue about that because the leadership of the PN is not accidentally stumbling on right-wing rhetoric. They don’t need any eye-opening lectures on the meaning of the words they speak. This is no slip of the tongue, an unwitting view into suppressed prejudices under the tight lid of habitual political correctness.
This is a conscious choice the PN is making turning its back not only on its good governance, anti-corruption wing, but reinforcing that cleavage by turning its back on the left of centre, Christian, liberal and internationalist European values that have governed it at least since 1977, some would say since 1950.
This is an odd tactical choice. Analysing this without the undoubted emotional and ideological disappointment of seeing the Party that could and should potentially offer an alternative to the kleptocratic madness of the Labour Party turn itself into a far-right fringe party of brown shirts is not easy. But let’s indulge the matter, shall we?
The PN is faced by a PL that leaves many openings in the ideological discourse. The PL has long lost any interest in social policy, is positively negligent of the needs of the poor of society, is subservient to the needs of developers at the expense of tenants, first time buyers and the urban and rural environment. Its public procurement is rotten which leads to higher state-induced costs for businesses and households. Its management of Malta’s reputation is abysmal leading to realistic fears of our investment pipeline drying up years down the road.
There’s so much on which to open political fights with the PL, creating opportunities to present a dynamic, exciting, equitable and compassionate future that people would want to wish for and would be willing to switch parties in order to acquire.
I suppose you could call that positive politics: transforming opposition and criticism into an opportunity of providing solutions and professionalising discourse in order to project an image of capability and administrative skill.
But the PN won’t do that because, it would seem, that’s too conventional. Instead it opts, rather inconsistently with its ‘think nice’ slogans, to propose a rather grim isolationist and melancholic future based on nostalgia for an arcane and almost extinct Malteseness, the desirable qualities of which are poorly defined.
Fascists are never good with definitions. When it was fashionable in Germany, fascism idolised the tall, slim, blond German: as tall as Goebbels, as slim as Goering and as blond as Hitler.
So what is this gilded Maltese cultural fabric we do not want to have diluted by the polluting influence of immigrants?
I remember Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici’s vague but depressed fears from the levelling avalanche of European membership. And I remember in my mid-teens feeling that his objections to EU membership were a lack of confidence in my generation’s ability to succeed without being harnessed and kept locked away from the rest of the world. I remember naturally and easily walking away from the Labour Party heritage of my family of origin and signing up for the next 25 years of my life supporting, working for and representing the PN.
Now I think what mid-teens must think when they hear Adrian Delia telling them he will protect them and their siblings yet unborn from a future that looks different than the past he feels nostalgia for and they could not care less about.