Disciples of political parties may be easily steered in the direction the party leadership wants them, like children hopping and skipping behind the Pied Piper. But you can jerk them around in opposite directions so many times before the disorientation kicks in and rumblings of discontent emerge.
I sometimes think back to May Day 2018, six months after Daphne was killed. It was weeks after the Daphne Project had started publishing some of its biggest stories and the world press started turning up the heat on Malta. There were stories about fuel smuggling from Libya and mafia infiltration in our gaming sector, each investigation ticking off boxes of possibilities that could have motivated Daphne’s killing six months before.
And then there was the story of the 17 Black promises to Schembri’s and Mizzi’s Panama Companies. And the story of sightings of Chris Cardona with one of the men charged with the assassination, after the deed had been done.
But Labour Party supporters were prepared to believe their political heroes that these were all lies concocted by the hated Nationalists, pure slander and fantasy. The annual May Day gathering for the Labour Party was marketed as the answer to the Daphne Project. Some brought scarfs, football style, sporting #josephmuscatproject in mockery and irony of the journalistic investigations they imagined were controlled by David Casa and Simon Busuttil.
Labour Party supporters stuck with their heroes through all sorts of ups and downs. Yesterday I linked a video of Konrad Mizzi’s press conference when he was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party just days after we learnt he had set up a Panama company.
That was just a teaser of the June 2017 election by when the more was revealed about corruption in the Labour Party the more consolidated its voter support became.
Two days ago, the executive committee of the Labour Party finally acted on its conscience and got rid of Konrad Mizzi. It’s unlikely they were surprised when their phones, and their social media pages were flooded by angry Labour Party supporters bewildered by the decision.
Labour Party fans had been told for years that Daphne Caruana Galizia was a liar. And they had been told for two and a half years that protesters demanding justice for her were just insatiable Nationalists wanting to take power away from Labour. Robert Abela even told them Daphne’s children hated Malta so much they didn’t want anyone to know who really killed their mother.
They told them Daphne’s children were part of the conspiracy to kill their mother. ‘They’ is not some vague wave in the general direction of political antagonists. I’m talking of senior staffers in the prime minister’s office and election candidates and top-ranking politicians.
Seeing the Labour Party force Konrad Mizzi to resign then was, for these loyal Labour Party supporters, a capitulation in the face of protesters; in the face of mother-killing liars; of haters and traitors of the country; of enemies of the Labour Party; and, worst of all, of Nationalists.
Witness now that loyalty being exploited by the crooks. I remember the worried faces of police officers protecting protesters in Valletta last December as thousands gathered outside the Labour Party headquarters, 10 minutes’ walk away fuelled by indignant anger at the audacity of these ‘Nationalists’.
They had been spurred on by the likes of Alfred Sant and Tony Zarb and many others who had been, in various degrees of explicitness, clamouring for clashes in the street to intimidate protesters and remind them just how insignificant they were in the numbers scheme.
After being forced out of government and made to resign office, Konrad Mizzi went to the Ħamrun gathering to be kissed and fondled by men and women twice his age and half his size. To them he could do no wrong. For them he was just a victim, another Labour hero like the many from the past they have fantasised about moulded in the form of Rosa Luxemburg.
I point this out because in the fight for his own survival this is something Joseph Muscat will resort to, and already is. We often speak about Joseph Muscat’s capture of institutions. How he grabbed the civil service, parliament, the police, the prosecutor, the judiciary, the planning regulator, the media, the army and so on to ensure nobody challenges his power.
But we take for granted the fact that the first institution he grabbed and captured was the Labour Party itself. He hasn’t given that up yet. As he loses grip on other institutions, including the government that may find in itself the courage to distance itself from him (wishful thinking perhaps, but it did happen to Chris Cardona and Konrad Mizzi), his deep roots in Labour Party support will not vanish overnight.
Yesterday he stood up in parliament, his face in contorted anger that recalls that episode in October 2018 when across the floor of the parliamentary chamber he threatened Simon Busuttil with exile, not merely to protest his innocence. He stood to renew the strategy of that May Day gathering from 2018: to say the facts emerging about his role in the corruption that killed Daphne, the conspiracy to protect her murderers and now even some astonishing indications that he may have known about her killing before it happened, were all lies concocted by the hated Nationalists.
This is what Labour Party supporters really want to hear. Not that the leaders they supported were thieves and murderers. But that they are victims of the hated opposition, of the demonic Jason Azzopardi and the greedy, power-hungry traitors of the other side.
Joseph Muscat is not looking after a political survival here. He is protecting his skin and he will use any asset available to him to try to survive. The popular support he enjoys is one of his last remaining cards and he won’t hesitate to play it.
There’s a loose parallel here with Adrian Delia defying his colleagues’ call to quit the leadership of the PN assured that party supporters will still support him if he’s caught shagging sheep at his office desk.
After Keith Schembri testified on Monday, it looks like shagging sheep would be positively angelic compared with what Joseph Muscat might really be responsible for here. But they’ve followed this Pied Piper for too far to turn back now.