The queue has taken centre stage in what has been dubbed the “Battle of the Billboards”. This summertime kerfuffle is a mere taster of pleasures yet to come since the electoral campaign promises to be a concentration of superficial messages orchestrated in physical tweets plastered across the illegal billboards across the land. Writing in his Sunday column Mark Anthony Falzon repeated one of the mantras of this blog: that the two party system suffers when one (or worse, both) of the parties lowers its standards. We tend to call it the race to mediocrity and there is now ample proof that the political parties abdicate the reasoned approach to convincing voters in favour of the marketing-driven propagandist approach.
So while the Nationalist party is lost in its fixation with Dr Who-like time-travelling reminding us that New Labour is old hat, the Labour party revels in the comfort zone of tit-for-tat. It is a comfort zone that is devoid of propositions and mainly constructed around the eternal grudges of real or perceived faults. Which is where the queue comes in handy. The PN marketing team was surely on a tea break when they came up with the cut and past job of a poster 30 years young. There was the obvious omission of the “conservative” part but that was a minor issue when compared to the humungous gaffe of bringing “the queue” to the fore of the current political discourse.
One reason why the Saatchi & Saatchi poster worked back in 1979 was surely the fact that it focused on the anger that people had for the incumbent Labour government. The queue is a potent symbol of dissatisfaction. People queueing for unemployment benefits were a strong reminder of things that were not working. It was tangible. The queues were there for all to see. By contrast the nationalist billboard falls into a double trap. First of all the proof of Labour not working can only come with a Labour party in government. Is the nationalist party’s word still strong enough for the voter to believe it? Which brings me to the second part of the trap. It was child’s play for Labour to appropriate itself of the queue symbol and use it to strengthen its Mantra for the Disgruntled.
We got the queues for operations, for jobs, for education. You name it, Labour cloned it. Did it matter that most of the counter-billboards were factually incorrect? Not much. Labour was given a free ride to do what it does best – repeat the lie enough times to make it sound true. Or trueish. The counter-counter-spin cried Not Fair! But the damage had been done. The PN had introduced a demon that would be hard to get rid of. It was now forced into a corner of comparing PN 2012′s achievements to those of Labour circa 1984. Let’s face it… it is a comparison that does not hold water.
The PN would have done better trying to force the hand of Joseph Muscat to come down from his castle in the sky non-committal mode and try to focus its billboards on exposing the emptiness of New Labour – whoever is in the present line up. The fixation on the Karmenu Vellas and Alex Sciberras Trigonas of this world is beginning to turn stale. There seems to be no end of it though and the PN stables seem to be lost in the taste-driven marketing ploys that only just tipped the scales in 2008 (and let’s not forget the JPO factor in that particular round of elections).
Speaking of JPO, do not underestimate the effect of the uninvited return of Jason Micallef as an election candidate. Muscat risks having his own JPO within his stables – another cohabitation in the making – and Labour do have a habit of making such internecine squabbles turn ugly. We can expect various phases of this new relationship. First the very public reconciliation and the “all’s well that ends well” approach. Then the early post election phase we can call the “there’s daggers in men’s eyes” phase. Finally there will be the inevitable eruption when a possible PM Muscat realises – as Gonzi did much to his chagrin – that you cannot keep everybody happy all the time.
What then? Then we can party like it’s 1979.
Remember this from the late 80′s? The queue – a potent political symbol indeed. Music by Brown Rice for the legendary satirical programme “Aħn’aħna jew m’aħniex”…