How do parties face elections? Do the leaders, like common voters, ask themselves what the world of the day after the poll will be like? It could be same-same, with no change. After twenty-five years in opposition, Labour voters feel stung for a couple of days after a defeat, and then just go back to work. But can Nationalist voters bring themselves to imagine Malta run by anyone but their own representatives?
The behaviour of Nationalist Party leadership seems to point to persistent attitudes: the first is that they have a (quasi-God given) right to govern, the second is that they actually believe themselves to be superior to Labourite supporters (with Lawrence Gonzi saying that Labourites can’t even count, and with DCG making the point even more clear, in less educated terms); the third perception I have is that they are haunted by a pervasive unthinkable ... that the working class can aspire to lead the country instead of them.
To clear a point: it is only today, after twenty-five years of right wing governance, that we can again speak of working and middle class. Joseph Muscat often points out that the middle class is today threatened. I maintain that it is at least depleted. The Labour Governments of the seventies and eighties had closed the divide and, if one examines the lifestyles which existed in the eighties, one finds aspirations which are distinctly middle class. Does the working class normally aspire to own its own home, to own a second home, to travel annually, and to send its children to tertiary education?
These are indeed questions which may elicit different answers today from what they would have in the eighties. And yet, regrettably, for a good two decades the left allowed the right wing to write history, with the perversions of reality which ensued. The pictures of empty refrigerators used by the PN for their campaigns are one example. Who was going hungry under Labour?
To come back to the contention that the right wingers “assume” that they are the ones who should rule: why is this surprise? Their origins are in the ruling classes and for them, anyone less is a usurper. History indeed repeats itself: the French revolution was fomented during the reign of Louis XV who revoked his predecessor’s predilection for what we would today call technocratic ministers. His successor, Louis XVI, was so blinkered, so alienated from his people, that he didn’t see the storm coming.
When asked by the revolutionary parliament to swear allegiance to the state, he is reputed to have said “What do you mean? I am the State!” Did someone here in Malta say “I am the Government”? Where did the parliamentary minority, which voted against the people’s will in the divorce issue, draw its strength, if not from this latent sense of the unchallenged right to rule? Does this remind you of what Charles De Gaulle is reputed to have said: 'I have heard your views. They do not harmonize with mine. My decision is taken unanimously.'
And when they do lose power, they go berserk. The Nationalist reaction in 1981 to the perverse result of the polls was similar to that of a child stamping his feet because he couldn’t get the lollipop. Even though they knew that Labour was constitutionally in the right (although morally less so) they still kicked up the shindig which we all lived through, and refused to participate in the process of parliamentary democracy by boycotting parliament. I used to think it funny, coming from a Party which had governed for nine whole years, a tenure generated by the result of elections based on moral violence and, at best, questionable democratic practices. Yet that is the Nationalist rationale for you! They are born to govern, and will not stomach anything else. A perusal of the articles which followed the defeat of 1996 shows no less this disbelief at the fact that the electorate had decided against them.
This perspective then explains other phenomena associated to Nationalist rationale. It is based upon the acceptance of inequality. You see, they were quite comfortable with the fact that men had the right to vote but women didn’t. They were against the institution of mechanisms which ensured the distribution of wealth and the possibility of social mobility.
They were quite comfortable with the existence of squalor and ignorance ... seeing that not only did they do nothing concrete to eradicate this, but that they voted against such measures and demonised the persons who pushed them forward. It’s no different from the way kings used to rule. The basic tenet was that the king was the king and the rest were something else, further split into outer and inner, inner circles.
Their behaviour today is no different from that of other day kings who used to distribute their favours to the most loyal of their subjects. It could be land, title or privilege. Was the co-cathedral issue settled by dialogue or was it quelled by a pseudo-medieval distribution of fiefdoms, to keep the lesser barons happy? It reminds me of Edward Longshanks in “Braveheart”, breaking the line of the Scots’ resistance by giving the nobles more and more land.
What’s different today from this past? The staunchest of Nationalists will tell you that the PN is today run by circles within circles. Carm Mifsud Bonnici, albeit adorned with what is for the PN a hallowed name, was not in the same circle as Austin Gatt. So Carm had to walk to the wall, alone, while Austin was backed by a promise of “collective responsibility”. Franco Debono is most visibly hurt because he has been spanked while others have not even been rebuked.
The acceptance of inequality stretches further: they opposed divorce but knew that there were ways of getting out of a marriage, provided of course, that you had the means. They resist IVF but would they be ready to state that none of them has actually been abroad to benefit from this treatment? They clamour for justice but their past is littered with pardons for their own. We may indeed, as Rousseau said, be born equal, but are we living this equality?
Should Labourites expect any better at the hands of this rationale, when the PN is chopping off its own “undesirable” fingers? We are the children of even lesser mortals to the ruling oligarchs. Should I expect my 84-year old aunt to be accepted into an old people’s home, even though she’s been on the waiting list for so long? I’ve been told “you need to know someone”. Is it a coincidence that we heard at one moment that there were no official waiting lists at Mater Dei, but that it was the specialists who had the lists? Are the complaints about waiting time for emergency treatment another way of pushing us towards private practices ... whether we can afford it or not?
Reinventing Joseph Mengele
And the word “specialists” brings me to the unspeakable accusations levelled at the Government by Professor Brincat this week, where he said that he was experiencing interference in the matter of who to treat and who to send home. If these accusations are true, and I hope for the sake of the future of the Nationalist Party that we have misunderstood Professor Brincat, whose took the most honourable way out and refused to be implicated in these practices, this means that we are far beyond deciding who gets a job and who doesn’t, who gets to emigrate and who doesn’t, who gets to be buried in holy ground and who doesn’t.
When you’re talking about cancer and the availability of treatment, you are talking about distributing life and death. Are the children of lesser mortals being shoved down the waiting list? Are the powers-that-be now deciding who gets to live and who doesn’t? That would practically be reinventing Joseph Mengele all over again.