Many voters today never knew a time when Maltese politics was enriched by the front-line participation of Alfred Sant. And the rest forget to be grateful that they no longer remember. His allegedly last hurrah yesterday on Andrew Azzopardi’s radio show was as pleasant as a premature exhumation.
I’ll go through some of the more egregious emissions of Sant’s philosophical flatulence without any specific order.
Malta is addicted to the feel-good factor, he says, with apparent disgust, indicting his predecessor as prime minister Eddie Fenech Adami and his three successors in that office, implicitly exempting himself. Let’s unpack that.
First, exactly what are we supposed to be addicted to if not feeling good? The observation that we like to feel good is so obvious as to be meaningless. But then Sant does that act of clarifying his thoughts by shitting in them. “If a party makes tough but important decisions, the other party promises to reverse them,” Sant said.
I’m old. Not as old as Alfred Sant. But old enough to remember Alfred Sant. I remember him as Leader of Opposition promising to reverse restrictions on hunting introduced in the 1990s. I remember him promising to abolish VAT and auditable cash registers in the retail sector. I remember him freezing Malta out of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. I remember him promising to withdraw Malta’s application to join into the EU. You know what’s a worse memory? I remember him keeping those promises during what were until then the most disastrous 22 months in the history of Malta’s administration since one Gonsalvo Monroy raised higher taxes because his wife wanted a new conservatory for her garden.
Alfred Sant can be credited with refining the scourge of cheap populism, of the easy way out, of promising people what is manifestly untrue, that when in government he could provide a tax-less paradise while avoiding the inevitable: the catastrophic collapse of his government and for a while there, until the Nationalists rescued it, the fiscal viability of the country’s administration.
Here’s another thing he said at yesterday’s interview. Malta would have been better off staying out of the EU. Asked why, he said we only did well in areas where the EU has no competence (gaming, tourism) and did badly in areas where the EU can interfere (agriculture, manufacturing).
I was brought up in a Labour voting family and I remember the reason why I switched sides. I was 17 and Alfred Sant was giving me his reasons for wanting me to stay out of Europe. In simple terms that I genuinely assert are loyal to the truth Sant’s reasons amounted to a warning that denim and textiles factories would close down and being able to fly in pork would drive out the pig breeding business.
As it turned out those predictions were accurate though the economic changes they foresaw were a consequence of globalisation and economic change which could only have been avoided by staying off the planet, never mind out of the EU.
I found fear of change such a limited objection at the time. As it turned out, pig breeders and denim seamsters moved to do other things while the country joined the imperfect yet most successful democratic and peace-embracing project in history.
I was too young, and I hope I still am, to see the European project as a measure of how much more or less money the country would make from being a member. But on that Alfred Sant too proved spectacularly wrong. His estimate, on record, was that Malta would see no more than some €2.5 million in the benefit of joining. He was off by an order of magnitude so great that people now prefer to imagine he was talking about membership in a golf club.
Asked if he felt inconsistent about having served as an MEP for so long while being such a Eurosceptic. He said he didn’t. He reconciled the position by refusing to participate in committees or taking on European roles so he limited himself to “representing Malta, not Europe”. That’s how Nigel Farage summed it up as he collected a monthly salary as an MEP. I have equal contempt for both: nationalist, reactionary, isolationist, and, though they call themselves anti-European, effectively anti-democratic puppets of Putin and servants of the interests of others over our own.
Here’s a third thing Alfred Sant said yesterday. He’s sad to see Joseph Muscat out of politics. He dropped that line in the middle of saying that the careers of politicians in this country have become too short, apparently ignoring the fact that though his premiership was the shortest and least effective in history he is only speaking of his retirement a quarter of a century later.
Joseph Muscat was a good politician, he said. It’s a pity he’s not in politics anymore. Good at what exactly? Corruption? The culture of impunity he cultivated that allowed a journalist to be killed? The ruinous privatisation of half the national health service? Crashing Air Malta? Which bit does Alfred Sant especially miss?
Alfred Sant made a career of pretending to be convinced of what he knows is not even remotely true, as long as the pretence helped his greater objective. He betrayed the secrecy of his intent during the interview at the point where he said that as a former party leader he didn’t want to be for his successors what one of his predecessors (Dom Mintoff) had been for him (the bane that saw him ousted). When he says he doesn’t want it, it’s because he wants it.
Alfred Sant knows what’s coming. He knows that for Robert Abela to survive, the Labour Party must ditch Joseph Muscat in the way that Alfred Sant had ditched Dom Mintoff. It must denounce him and mobilise the memory of the support base of the Labour Party against itself. Alfred Sant knows that’s not easy because he didn’t manage to do it himself.
By renewing his endorsement of Joseph Muscat Alfred Sant makes it harder for Robert Abela.
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. Alfred Sant has had a quarter of a century to think of all the people he believes had betrayed him when his government collapsed less than two years into its infancy. A man like that never blames himself. A man like that would continue to harbour a grudge against George Abela, Robert Abela’s father. A man like that would wait for the opportunity to pay his enemies back.
A man like that never forgives.
He said in the interview yesterday that he didn’t agree with the public inquiry that the state was responsible for the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia because Daphne “was not just a journalist but a gossip.” Leave apart the fact that the state has as much responsibility to prevent the foreseeable murders of gossips as it does of journalists, and that gossips are not killed in car bombs, but journalists who are going to cost corrupt businessmen and their political partners the illicit money they were making from their corrupt schemes are doomed to Daphne’s fate.
Alfred Sant thinks Daphne Caruana Galizia was a gossip because he’d rather think that of the woman who profiled Alfred Sant in hundreds of her articles. She exposed his inadequacies, poked at his quirks, documented his misdirection, ridiculed his absurdities, and indicted his isolationist rhetoric and his mendacious politicking. She was internationalist, European, progressive. She was everything he was not. Or rather she could be herself but he needed to pretend to be an inward-looking boor to preserve the smallness of his power. And then he failed.
A man like that never forgives.