Here’s another one for the New Republic Dictionary – where’s the real opposition? Andrew Borg Cardona beat me to this reflection yesterday in his Times blog (Snappy Little Annoyances). This is no race though and ABC’s pondering only comforted my thinking in the sense that if other people are reaching the same conclusions then the concept might be worth a moment of elaboration and analysis. In this case the idea (or question provoking the idea) is simple: Who is performing the work of the real opposition in Malta nowadays? Surely, I hear you protest, it’s Joseph Muscat and his merry band of “għaqlin”. Well no it isn’t.
If we needed any confirmation of the absolute abdication by the Malta Labour Party from its duties as a real opposition then the run up to the budget and subsequent follow up have given us enough to digest. There they were arming their cannons with the fodder of overused cliches about the cost-of-living and the water and electricity bills. The likes of Luciano Busuttil, Cyrus Engerer and Leo Brincat crammed social networks with “warnings” that the government benches’ vocabulary would be rife with references to the international state of economic affairs – like that would be a bad thing. The “opposition” wanted you to believe that a government presenting its budget in November 2011 was obliged to do so without thinking about what was going on in France, Spain, Greece and Italy. Basically according to Labour, our Budget in Times of Crisis had to ignore the Eurozone in its entirety.
Did “we the people” fall for it? Well the “sarcastic” elements of the web might have found something to chew on – coming up with Eurovision-like games about the number of times Tonio F would mention the PIGS (that’s Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain and not the porcine patterers) but on the whole the reaction to what on the surface seems to be a very family oriented and equity-driven budget (“equity” that’s a word to hang on to nowadays) seems to be relatively positive and unaffected by Labour’s shenanigans. There is hope yet.
We cannot be distracted though by the sanity of the PN budget planning. Two years before a general election it behooves us to drill the fact that Joseph Muscat’s Labour has not only been caught with its pants down but (if you forgive the extensive milking of the metaphor) it is very evidently lacking any signs of puberty – let alone full blown maturity. We couldn’t put it simpler – the Labour opposition is transparently unable to come to terms with the simplest of facts: a budget is not only where to spend your money but also about where it will be coming from.
Muscat is headstrong about the downsizing of water and electricity bills (while expecting Tonio Fenech to both announce a hike AND a cut in the utility bills) but cannot be brought to explain to anyone who cares to listen where the hell the money to cover those cuts will be coming from. Broad statements and planning coming from the opposition involve spending more and cutting less or some half-baked plans about alternative forms of energy. This while Sarkozy’s government (shit, he mentioned France) is hell-bent on AUSTERITY, SuperMario (darn.,there goes Italy) has been installed to supervise a cost-cutting and tax-hiking exercise to tackle the spread, and Greece (no, don’t mention the Greeks) is battling for survival with the latest technical government.
Even in a time of crisis where in other countries (sorry but they exist) opposition members co-operate with governments in order to perform the tightrope act of equitable measures that might just about keep the euro bomb from exploding, Muscat wants to play at the traditional, old fashioned opposition selling unsustainable populist wares to what he hopes is a sufficiently gullible and greedy electorate.
Which brings me back to the question. Who is the real opposition? Well the likes of Franco Debono embody the kind of unlovable opposition (from a government point of view) that we really deserve. Even with a crisis looming backbenchers found time to rap the government hand on such issues as responsibility in transport reform, divorce legislation, and now criminal justice reform. They did not hesitate to throw themselves four-square behind the government when it came to the all-important measures related to economic stability. better still we got an added bonus because the government could plan confidently and include incentives that remind us of the true worth of christian-democrat politics when practised properly.
The New Republic has the potential to banish futile, old-fashioned oppositions from their undeserved seats and benches in parliament. Joseph Muscat’s failure to breathe fresh air into an old and tired Labour might find that the final test will be an unfortunate one for his fate and of those who would love to preserve the old fashioned way of the all-nixing opposition. Far from being progressive, Muscat and his minions have proved to be a clunking metal ball at the foot of real progress in constitutional, institutional and republican matters. The sooner the Republic is rid of this baggage the faster everyone gets to move on.