Reflecting on political events in Malta over the past few weeks, one might be tempted to console the Prime Minister with the (slightly amended) words of Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest”: “To lose one important ally, Dr Gonzi, might be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
The enforced and abrupt departure of one minister and an important adviser on top of the other strikes another chord in me. Rather than quote Oscar Wilde my mind brings up two thoughts, one old and the other even older. Both concern razors, but not for the reason which I am sure the increasingly desperate stalwarts of GonziPIN might have in mind for such sharp implements.
The first is an old Royal Navy shanty much beloved by British sailors, so much so that it has passed into folklore as “The Sailor’s Prayer.” It goes something like this:- “Dear Lord above, send down a dove/ With beak as sharp as razors/ To cut the throats of them there blokes/ What sells bad beer to sailors.”
For all the levity, that little ditty carries a significance for all politicians and, as the events of the past few weeks have demonstrated, this is a significance which has completely by-passed the clique that currently runs this country’s government.
You see, there is a regrettable tendency on the part of those who have got to the top in politics (or at least what they think is the top) ministers, senior advisers, and their ilk, to view lesser lights such as back-benchers, party workers, and ordinary supporters as nothing more than party envelope-stuffers or lobby-fodder, mere doves to their more successful hawks.
But, and it is a big “but”, and the lesson that GonziPIN is conspicuously failing to understand is that such people are not to be underestimated, and you do so at your peril. Even mere back-benchers, given the right stimulus, forced to imbibe too much political bad beer, and forced to accept too much that is distasteful, can – like the proverbial worm – turn. Expect them to accept too much that is distasteful (like bad beer) and even doves can become birds of prey with “beaks as sharp as razors” to deal out their own form of retribution.
So what is exactly the political “bad beer” that GonziPIN is expecting its footsoldiers to accept? This is the second “razor” of my argument. It is the idiom known today as “Occam’s Razor”, so called after the 14th Century English Franciscan Friar William of Occam who was renowned for applying this idiom “entitia non sunt multiplicanda” to all issues put in front of him, and so reducing arguments to their essence.
Being a priest, William of Occam of course expressed his thoughts in Latin. He was not an original thinker, the basic idea had existed in print for many centuries before him, but he was so good at applying this precept that today it carries his name. Interestingly enough the first use of the phrase “Occam’s Razor” is recorded in print by a 19th Century Scottish philosopher Sir William Hamilton. See us Scots? Don’t we get everywhere? Irritating, aren’t we?
Of course, today, Occam’s Razor has many translations. The first, literal one from the Latin, reads “things are not to be multiplied unnecessarily.” Probably, the most widely adopted, is the well-known acronym – KISS….. keep it simple, stupid. My personal favourite interpretation comes from one of my mentors when I was a young journalist. His advice was, simply, “cut out the crap and concentrate on the essentials.”
And that is the advice which the current Government of Malta has singularly failed to grasp. I would not presume to comment on whether it stems from an innate pomposity or whether it results from membership of the EU, when they have been allowed out to play with the big boys. The fact of the matter, and I believe the root of the discontent among back-benchers, is that we have a party in power which has completely lost touch with its constituency.
It is all very well pissing off to international gatherings to rub shoulders with genuine international players and look good in the group photographs, but that is not really of any relevance to Maltese voters.
Try explaining to the average Maltese family struggling to meet the day-to-day bills and the cost of living that this country can afford 80 Million Euros – that’s 200 Euros for every man, woman, and child in this country – on a totally unnecessary Parliament building for the great and the good to ponce about in. Try explaining to the Maltese voter that the same amount can be found to bail out the feckless Greeks, whose problems totally stem from the fact that they lied and cheated their way into the Eurozone. Try explaining the promise to find similar amounts to bail out Spain, Portugal, Italy, and now Cyprus. Who’s next?
GonziPIN may think that it has political capital, because they have friends in high places. So did the former minister and the former senior adviser.
I will close on two quotes. The first comes from Alan Clark, former British minister and diarist supreme. “There are no true friends in politics. We are all sharks circling and waiting for traces of blood to appear in the water.”
The second quote goes a bit further back ……. To the 1960s, when the then Conservative Government carried out one of these beautifully brutal Cabinet reshuffles for which the Conservative Party is famous. You know the sort of thing, when a Cabinet minister returns from holiday to discover that he has been seized by an inordinate desire to spend more quality time with his family and is now no longer a Cabinet minister. The then Leader of the Liberal Party said of the Prime Minister: “ Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his political life.”