Political parties are dodging the ‘rule of law’ by making a mockery of its meaning. Both parties used the phrase yesterday in contexts where the phrase is only marginally relevant. They used it in that childish “mhux int trid ir-rool off low ħi? Mel’issa oqgħod għaliha ta!” schoolyard retort.

The Nationalist Party yesterday said in a statement suggesting four of its General Councillors have attempted fraud that “the PN continued to uphold the values of democracy, rule of law, justice and freedom of expression”. Under normal circumstances that would have sounded odd because it’s like saying the PN continues to uphold the right to use bandages in case of muscle sprain and to write out Christmas cards using blue ink.

Why does the PN need to reassure us it’s still a-ok with the rule of law? Was anyone suggesting it wasn’t? Did it expect anyone might as Ivan Bartolo (serial entrepreneur and one-time candidate for elections on the PN ticket, not the homonymous MP who would much rather be left alone) is singled out for troll bashing?

Here we have a case where people within the party hold all the keys to this weird game of Saw where they decide all outcomes and get to laugh about it. The memory of the leadership election of 2017 is deeply darkened by suggestions that Adrian Delia’s henchman Jean Pierre Debono manipulated voter eligibility to secure the result he desired. Jean Pierre Debono was formally admonished for using his own hands to fabricate proxy votes. But that slap on the wrist was purely rhetorical.

He was once again in a position where his control of party lists and databases secured for himself a key vote on his cooption to Parliament — frustrated only by the political backlash that ensued.

And now a series of decisions that could bring about his political termination can only really be blocked by his sluicing side paths to redirect the river of inevitability.

In the meantime Ivan Bartolo is being accused of an intolerable crime, if you’re living in the eleventh century. He is imagining the death of the king. The fact that he was not categorical in ruling out he might consider running for the party’s leadership should it become vacant has somehow been turned into evidence that the fact that he’s stepped up where others remained silent is proof of his ineligibility to speak. Properly Bunuelesque.

Ivan Bartolo stepped in a hell he knew would prove unpleasant. He could see how everyone else was shying away from doing the obvious and volunteer to hang this bell around the neck of this cat. He could see how any and all detractors were treated before he came back on the scene.

It’s quite surreal if you think about it. After a few days of stunned silence, the Adrian Delia trolls are coming back in force. I got a few on here as well. 

These are people who seem to think the current problems of the PN have less to do with the fact that the party leader’s former business partner has accused him of lying about not knowing about off-shore companies he himself set up and making false statements to the police; his political henchman manipulated a vote to ensure his cooption over the district MP picked by his district’s voters; his former wife charged him in court with physically abusing her and their children; his banks chase him for an overdraft that someone making millions would look to settle quickly; his party’s supporters ignore his preference on which candidates are elected to the European Parliament and boycott his preferences for Local Councils; the police investigate him for money laundering… These trolls argue that the problems of the PN have less to do with any of that but more to do with the 2010 bus reform.

The rule of law does not mean that those with the power and responsibility to implement it, twist and turn it to their own advantage in the way they twist and turn reality to fit in a cushion they could rest their heads on.

The rule of law means that rules, like reality, are above the advantages or disadvantages they might cause anyone, including the most powerful.

That’s not sitting well with the PN administration now which is why in a classical Freudian slip it has to remind us it’s actually fine with the rule of law.

Less unconscious and therefore more malicious is Joseph Muscat dropping the line about the rule of law when speaking about Matthew Pace’s apparent permanence at the Planning Authority.

There could hardly be any greater pressure applied on a government appointee to any position than being publicly told they no longer enjoy the confidence of the prime minister. An appointee picked to serve at the pleasure of the government — as government nominees on the Planning Authority board are — must quit the moment the pleasure has dimmed.

Therefore Joseph Muscat saying that “because we have the rule of law” it is really up to Matthew Pace whether to resign now that his conflict of interest between his role as a planning regulator and his private business as a realtor for properties he has permitted to be developed has brought about a court order to stop a massive development in its tracks is facetious in the extreme.

A Planning Authority board member is not a judge. They don’t enjoy any form of security of tenure after their appointment. They have no legal protection from the ire of the prime minister. And let’s not delude ourselves that Joseph Muscat has suddenly had some Damascene inspiration and now considers that the people the prime minister appoints to represent the government’s interests are now immune from his discipline. This is the man who fired John Rizzo from Police chief because he meant to put handcuffs on his mentor in the dark arts of political crookery John Dalli.

There is no law here that prevents the prime minister from demanding Matthew Pace’s resignation pronto. There is no law here that prevents it getting it.

Which is why there’s something deeper in that statement by Joseph Muscat. Either it’s all a front so that Joseph Muscat gets us to forget about the dB debacle asap and to redirect any anger the public may have for the government’s role in giving a political donor a huge parcel of land for a fraction of what it’s worth to build a monstrosity that buries in its shadow the Labour-leaning residents of Pembroke.

Or Joseph Muscat wants to somehow let us know that though we may all think he’s the “kink”, the real power behind the throne, Keith Schembri, does not want Matthew Pace — the guy who handled his money, whatever bright or shady sources it flowed from — to be too far from the rewards that keep him silent.

Either way, what we have is the precise opposite of the rule of law. We have instead, as someone so eloquently flipped that phrase around some time ago, the rule of delinquents.

The consequences on us as citizens of this Labour manipulation not merely of rules and laws for the profit and advantage of its cronies, but even the manipulation of the very meaning of words so that reality can be altered to fit the narrative that best protects them, are far greater than the schoolyard filibustering within the PN about who paid for their party membership when.

But that’s just because Labour is in government and it has far greater power to harm us. It has the power to allow Keith Schembri’s moneyman to make a quick buck selling property that exists only because he’s willed it into existence by virtue of his public authority and to allow a party donor to swim in the cash generated from public property. That power is transformed into the uglification of the one country we have and for the neighbours of that development specifically the ruination of all they’ve ever owned.

An opposition party has nothing like that sort of power. But it wishes it. And given its present behaviour, that’s bad enough.

No one needs remind you there’s air around you as you read this. You won’t think about breathing until you find yourself in a vacuum and cannot breathe anymore. Then you won’t think of anything else.

Think why the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party feel they must remind you everyday these days how much they care about the rule of law.