Guest Commentary: This Is Not The Labour I Voted For
Why stubbornly suppress that inner voice telling you that something is not quite right?
Photo: DOI, Jeremy Wonnacott
There is an old Irish joke that goes: A journalist, researching an article on the complex political situation in Northern Ireland, was in a pub in war-torn Belfast. An informant leaned over his pint of Guinness and suspiciously asked the journalist: "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?"
"Neither," replied the journalist. "I'm an atheist."
Not content with this answer, the Irishman asks: "Ah, but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?”
The point, which I’m sure isn’t lost on the Maltese reader, is that not everyone fits neatly into a binary divide. Asking questions does not make you an enemy.
I voted Labour in 2013. As a secularist and humanist, the arcane views of the Nationalist Party did not represent me. Malta’s Labour Party promised to be a beacon of transparency and meritocracy. I applauded Labour’s stance on civil rights, and thought the PN were dinosaurs. Labour seemed to promise a 21st century mindset, a desire to combat climate change and safeguard Malta’s environment. I was tired of the sanctimony and piety from the Christian Democrat party, and I believed Labour might well be the socialist equal-opportunities party Malta needed.
Yet in the wake of innumerable accusations of wrongdoing, the party has foregone the opportunity for introspection, soul-searching, transparency and accountability, in favour of an Orwellian script that dismisses both local and foreign reports on corruption and criminality in Malta as “fake news”- the machinations of an evil Nationalist cabal (that inexplicably has unmeasurable influence over the European Parliament, the foreign press, and the FBI).
Remarkably no one from the Labour camp - with the exception of Godfrey and Marlene Farrugia - has challenged this narrative.
On the contrary Labour supporters - like a bunch of teenage One Direction fans - have lapped it up, foaming at the mouth and rolling in the aisles, declaring their undying loyalty, and organising themselves into online fan clubs, that are aggressive in their tribalism.
They’re desperate to remind you of how many of them there are, and what a slamming they gave the PN party, erbgħin elf (40,000) becoming a catch phrase.
"They need to congregate and worship at the altar of Muscat, to build up the wall of noise and celebration around them because alone, when the silence and reality seep in, the truth is less comfortable."
The question is: why?
If the government is innocent, and its followers convinced of as much, why the need to call rallies to “give the world Malta’s answer”? Why the PR campaign on social media?
Why the threats, harassment and intimidation of journalists, activists and MEPs? Why the calls to stamp out a few flowers and cards and candles?
I think the aggression from Labour actually betrays an inherent insecurity. The aggression is directly proportional to their own uncertainty.
Like the loudest and most determined homophobe - whose vitriol often masks their own sexual insecurities - they are obliged to drown out their doubts with layers of bile and hatred.
They need to congregate and worship at the altar of Muscat, to build up the wall of noise and celebration around them because alone, when the silence and reality seep in, the truth is much less comfortable.
In fact, a recent scientific study by Lovin Malta revealed that one in 10 Labour supporters don’t actually fully trust the results of the Egrant inquiry. And at least one in five Labour supporters believe the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi are corrupt.
This means that even among those who voted Labour in 2017, there are people who admit, under the cloak of anonymity, that they either do not trust the judiciary system to carry out an honest inquiry, or they do not trust the government’s spin on it. I suspect it goes further.
I bet there are plenty of Labour voters who think there is something dodgy about many government dealings with the secret companies and trusts in Panama, the mega deals ranging from Vitals to the American University, the top-secret trips to Monaco, the selling of Libyan visas and so on.
I bet many don’t actually believe that all public appointments are meritocratic, as was promised; that Rosianne Cutajar got her role as Commissioner for Simplification because she was the best suited for it, or that Jason Micallef, whose idea of culture is a hotdog stand and techno music, was the best candidate for Chairman for Valletta 18.
Most will agree the government’s track record on pollution, unrestrained and unsustainable development, and its cowboy Planning Authority, speaks for itself. And many definitely realise that Daphne Caruana Galizia was not brutally taken from her family in broad daylight because she was a mild nuisance to someone. Most will concede she must have known something or been close to revealing something that greatly troubled people, and that her murder represents a direct attack on freedom of speech. So why stubbornly suppress that inner voice telling you that something is not quite right?
The obvious response is that the alternative is too embarrassing. The Nationalist Party is out of touch and uninteresting, led by a doddering, populist, tax-avoiding lawyer, keeping his party firmly tethered to the Catholic Church’s apron. Many of those who voted Labour are fearful of this old dinosaur rearing its robed, sceptre-swinging head again, potentially disturbing or rocking the tenuous economic utopia that many believe they are inhabiting.
I suspect however that the real reason is more insidious than that.
People don’t speak out because they can’t.
"They do not have the freedom to interrogate their own party openly, for fear of being branded a “traitor”, of being hounded as apostates in the cult of Muscat."
What that study revealed is that freedom of speech is a right being denied to the Labour Party supporters themselves. They do not have the freedom to interrogate their own party openly, for fear of being branded a “traitor”, of being hounded as apostates in the cult of Muscat.
Somehow the very people who trusted their country to Muscat have been convinced that to demand answers of their leader makes them an enemy by default - but whose enemy are you really?
Asking questions and demanding justice is not treachery, but the denial of your right to ask them is. I think many know that. We are not the enemy. That dishonour belongs to whoever denies you the right to speak.
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