James Debono catalogued reactions to Marie Louise Coleiro Preca’s plea for forgiveness for the actions of some, from within the Labour Party, over the last few years. The first category of reactions he referred to was mine, which he portrayed as extreme. Rather than think up adjectives he could have described me with, I’m going to read out to you what he wrote:
Among the most critical of Coleiro Preca’s words was blogger Manuel Delia, who does not mince his words in advocating an all-or-nothing approach, once again refusing to reach out to critical voices in Labour. This is exactly the attitude which crippled the civil society movement born after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Instead of a movement which reaches out to Labourites to bring about change, it turned into a movement bent on alienating anyone remotely associated with the party. And what could alienate Labour activists and voters then calling for the abolition of the Labour Party? For that is what Delia seems to advocate.
James Debono says I seemed to advocate the abolishing of the Labour Party. He got the idea from someone else who said I had done so. But he didn’t actually find anywhere in my blog a quote of me saying that, so instead he came up with this which he must have thought was close enough. So this is me, quoting James Debono quoting me:
“But we need the truth. And the truth is that no political party that facilitated criminals to take our country from us should be a political party at all. Saying sorry does not change that. Is Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca prepared to imagine a reality without the Labour Party?” Delia asked.
More James Debono:
The answer to that is that the proposed ‘abolition’ of the Labour Party not only belongs to the realm of political fiction in a country where party identity is a definer of personal identity, but flies in the face of democracy, and it reveals a strain of antipathy against Labour which contaminates what could have been an inclusive movement for national renewal. In short Labour was an enemy to be beaten rather than reformed.
It also confirms the suspicion of many that the prime motivation of that movement is the fight against Labour now depicted as a mafia organisation rather than a renewal of democracy in which Labour is a player. The reality is that like it or hate it, Labour is here to stay. The question is: will it create the mechanisms to avoid repeating the same mistakes all over again? The reaction to Coleiro Preca’s appeal from party stalwarts does not augur well.
I have a few things to say about this.
I don’t think it is correct to say that “the civil society movement born after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia” is crippled. I think factually that analysis is incorrect. But it isn’t the most important issue to me here.
James Debono criticises me for not speaking in a way that might soothe and reach out “to Labour activists and voters … in a country where party identity is a definer of personal identity”.
“Party identity is a definer of personal identity” is how a sociologist might term ‘partisan tribalism’ if they were trying to find an alternative way of saying it without hitting the plagiarism index. I have no respect for partisan tribalism. I will not tiptoe around what Joseph Muscat and his gang did because people who voted for them might not like it.
The fact of the matter is that Joseph Muscat could not have done what he did if people did not vote for him. Changing Joseph Muscat and having someone else apologise on his behalf doesn’t begin to address the root of the problem, the willingness of a considerable majority in this country to vote for someone they knew, in their heart of hearts, was robbing them.
So you see the issue here is not that people voted Joseph Muscat in 2013. I voted for the other guy of course but I take no exception to a democratic choice and a search for an alternative which Joseph Muscat promised.
But with all the electorate knew in 2017, voting Joseph Muscat was an act of complicity, it blew the wind into the hurricane that swept over Malta killing a journalist and scorching this earth in the devastation of corruption we are now lamenting.
If we try to isolate responsibility in a pocket of an extremely small number of identified and identifiable people that have had to resign thanks to the crippled civil society movement born after the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, we are simply guaranteeing a situation where we learn nothing and repeat the same mistakes.
I do not propose the abolition of the Labour Party precisely because I cannot imagine who might be doing the abolishing. Anyone vaguely familiar with my opinions will know that I do not countenance ridiculous anti-democratic notions as solutions to problems of democracy. If anyone can abolish the Labour Party that is the Labour Party itself.
It should not be that far from imagination. Consider last March’s conference of Italy’s Partito Democratico, technically the party that is congenitally nearest to Malta’s Labour Party. That conference elected Enrico Letta as its leader. When he gave his speech to voters pitching his candidature he said the following: “Non avete bisogno di un nuovo segretario, ma di un nuovo Pd.” ‘It’s not a new leader that you need. You need a new Democratic Party.’
He said that, as he acknowledged the embarrassing lows his party had reached. And remember that the PD was born out of the collapse of the Italian Socialist and Communist parties who crumbled under the weight of the corruption scandals of the turn of the 9th decade of the last century.
Now consider this headline in today’s l-orizzont. “Il-Partit Laburista hu b’saħħtu u se jkompli jissaħħaħ, jgħid il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela”. Robert Abela says Labour is strong and will be stronger.
Does that sound to you like a party leader who has a smidgen of concern about learning from what happened between 2008 and 2020 before he took over as party leader? Does that sound to James Debono like the sort of contrition that Marie Louise Coleiro Preca suggested?
Don’t blame me for not reaching out to the activists and supporters of the Labour Party who gathered at a sports pavilion in January 2020, on the last night of Joseph Muscat as leader of the Labour Party to celebrate, American convention style, his years in office and cry at his departure like that had been the parting with Moses on the banks of the Jordan River.
In spite of Daphne’s investigations, in spite of her killing, in spite of the revelations in court by the perpetrators of her murder, in spite of the crippled civil society movement born after her assassination, in spite of Joseph Muscat’s resignation in disgrace, in spite of the arrests and charges and indictment of Keith Schembri … in spite of all that, activists and supporters of the Labour Party still feel entitled to be approached tactfully, cajoled apologetically, flirted with hopefully.
They still expect the truth to be sweetened with barefaced lies such as those perpetrated by the presumably well-meaning Marie Louise Coleiro Preca that there had merely been sins of the few that can be washed away with three Hail Marys.
What’s happening here is that activists and supporters of the Labour Party still expect to win elections. They still expect that the political party that enabled the mafia to take over the country, to suffer zero political consequences whatsoever. And they still consider anyone who even suggests a world where the Labour Party is not ruling is speaking anathema.
It is not the civil society movement that arose after the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia that needs to change its tone to reach out to activists of the Labour Party. It is activists of the Labour Party that need to start wondering why the hell they still call themselves that with all they know now.
I’m not demanding the impossible. I speak for myself, underlining that I am under no illusion that I am necessarily some example to follow. I was born to a Labour family which, by James Debono’s rather uncharacteristically deterministic construct should have been my personal identifier. By the time I was able to vote the question in front of me was not some misguided loyalty to my family traditions. I stopped going to my parents’ church when I was 13. I wasn’t going to quibble about not voting for my parents’ party when I was 20. When I was 20 I wanted Malta to be in the EU and I voted for the party that promised to do that and against the party that promised not to.
Eventually, my relationship with the PN became deep and by 2017 it certainly looked to me like this marriage was for life. But there came a time when I realised that the PN was not immune to criminal infiltration and had taken decisions that encouraged that. Jerked into consciousness and an inherent dislike of tribalism as grounds for a political opinion I denounced the PN, openly, from right here on this blog.
James Debono is so shocked that I asked Marie Louise Coleiro Preca if she might imagine a future without the Labour Party. Why is that harder than imagining a future without the Nationalist Party?
Who promised these two parties a guarantee of eternity? They haven’t been here forever, why should they last forever?
Why is it that the first loyalty of political leaders, activists, supporters and ordinary citizens is expected to be to the political party they were born to, right or wrong?
It surprises me that James Debono seems to think it should be. From his writings over the many years, I have read fascinated by what he has written, I can frame his political opinions, what he stands for, what he would hope a political party he supports delivers. He would want economic and social equality and justice, inclusiveness, a government committed to overcoming racial prejudices or other structural disadvantages for minorities, environmental conservation, commitment to battle climate change and so on.
Surely, that’s his personal identifier. It is grounded in intellectual depth, a strong sense of commitment to the community he lives in, a desire for the good of others even before the good for himself.
I may not agree with all of his solutions, though I can’t think of many points of disagreement with him right now. But I respect the fact that his personal identifier directs his political and partisan affiliations, not the other way round.
And to me, that means he can’t possibly identify with the Labour Party right now. And since the Nationalist Party has far from recovered from the political vacuity of the Adrian Delia years, I don’t expect him to identify with the PN either. I know I don’t.
They may not like this about me but I expect the same logic from every citizen in the country. I do not accept the excuse that someone feels they have to vote for the party they’ve supported all their lives just because it’s their party. Especially when I know that privately they perfectly accept the party they are supporting is led by crooks and useful idiots.
This is the reverse of being anti-democratic. This is recognising that every citizen, no matter their schooling, no matter their proclivities to clientelism and tolerance for corruption, is endowed with a vote which is just as valuable as either James Debono’s or mine. If James Debono and myself go through the bother of thinking about who to support, or to vote for, and to judge by what we see, not merely by what we are expected to believe by our party’s TV station, then we are entitled to expect everyone else goes through the same effort.
Because voting is a responsibility, not a manifestation of herd instinct. So no, I will not mince my words. I will not try to sound appealing to people who applauded Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri and Chris Cardona and Joseph Muscat in spite of all they knew about them. I’m going to tell them they were wrong to do that and it is their duty to the community to come to terms with that fact.
I won’t pretend to be impressed by Marie Louise Coleiro Preca’s overtures when she could have done so much more to campaign against the rot, when she could have joined the civil society movement after Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated, making it less crippled and more effective. Instead, she haughtily dismissed us and she dismissed Daphne Caruana Galizia’s killing as an annoying blemish on the bright painting Joseph Muscat had drawn for the world.
I won’t pretend to admire Evarist Bartolo for washing his hands of the blood his colleagues spilt when I remember him moaning about laws for gods and laws for animals, preferring to campaign with the gods in 2017 than side with the animals.
I won’t pretend to be impressed by George Vella asking me to line up in an orgy of national unity when I could see in his eyes in 2016, his disgust when Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri’s Panama companies were exposed. And yet he did not say a word. He stayed there to reach the very top of the structures of the State from where he still refuses to light as much as a candle in memory of the journalist killed for coming up with the revelations that disgusted him.
These “grandees” as James Debono calls them are giving Labour activists the balm they need to continue to do what they’ve always done: blindly support their party no matter what. Like Stalinist show trials, the Labour Party will condemn “the few”, throw out the ones it cannot save and expect to be rewarded for having allowed them in in the first place.
What I ask is not easy, I know. The way I speak and what I say fulfils James Debono’s expectation of me, fulfilling his prophecy of someone with, as he calls it, an antipathy to the Labour Party. What did you expect James, sympathy for the Labour Party? You expect me to camouflage my condemnation for what happened in the last several years in flowery eulogies to the great Dom Mintoff, Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici and Alfred Sant?
You want me to speak about the quote ‘great history of the Labour Party’ unquote like Chris Fearne does as he grins next to Robert Abela and Joseph Muscat, people he must think as highly of about as much as I do?
Forget it. I’m not playing a tactical game of realpolitik. I’m all for what James Debono calls a national and inclusive movement of renewal. Everybody’s welcome. Renewal starts by shedding the tribal identifiers of our past. National renewal will come as the enlightenment of citizens who make choices according to reason and truth not obscure prejudices and a cultist loyalty to a political party with all the hallmarks of a religious sect.
James Debono perhaps is more realistic than I am. He doesn’t think this might happen at all. Very well then, I’ll be the wide-eyed idealist for a change. I’ll stay here and wait while the majority continues to shout to its heart’s content: “Viva l-Lejber. Viva l-Lejber.”