Until I find time to post about “the issues that aren’t” I’d like to take a quick look (and provocation) at the idea of “the future” that has slipped in among the top hit concepts in Maltese political discourse.
“The future” and its natural antithesis “the past” feature prominently both as the centre-stage of marketing spin as well as the obvious underpinning building blocks behind most arguments. It is of course inevitable that if you are plugging change from a situation of quasi-inertia you will be pushing an agenda that automatically projects you to a future that is (another catch-word) different. This is a key question at this point in time since change and difference are strong selling points once you accept that the current situation just won’t do.
On a superficial level – one that is easily pricked into reaction by billboards that provoke and appeal to the instant idea – being associated with the past is supposed to be an immediate point-killer. You’re stuck in the middle ages, you’re backward or you’ve failed to shed some heavy luggage. Unless of course you manage to retaliate that too much talk of the past implies a misplaced nostalgia or, worse still, a deceptive lie. The bad thing about the past – in marketing terms – is that it lies there like a giant wart for all to see. It has happened. It is a fact. Indisputably so. You can hardly contradict it without engaging on a principled level – without talking politics.
The future? Now that’s something else. Campaigns built on the future appeal on a number of levels. Look at Obama’s hope-filled “Yes we can” campaign. It’s all about what could be done in the future. It builds on aspirations and desire for change. Look closer to home. Sarkozy’s “Ensemble tout est possible” cloned to the PN’s “Flimkien kollox possibli” relied on a promise that working together could make everything possible. That was when the promise was still a future possibility. We’ve seen how that “together” quickly crumbled to an impossibility – that future is now another past, another wart crying out to be analysed.
Joseph Muscat and Labour are trying hard to portray the image of having a project for the future. Their language is replete with concepts such as the famous “road-map“. The Labour party relies heavily on the sale of dreams – a future that is not only unquantifiable but also one that cannot be assessed. The selling of a dream involves simply being careful enough not to step on anyone’s dislikes. It is a combination of band-wagon politics and fence-sitting. The final key to this strategy is the reliance on the electorate’s general disgruntlement with the current band and their apparent inertia. In order to promise everything to everyone Joseph Muscat simply has to sit back and promise nothing. At least not tangibly.
The moment there is the danger of being associated with a fixed idea Muscat will shy away into the clouds of non-commitment or denial. He will return with words about road-maps and consultation. It’s less of a case of leadership with direction and more of a case of blind man’s bluff. The excuse of not being in election campaign is wearing thin. Especially when Muscat’s party has long delivered the judgement that (a) PN is no longer fit to govern and (b) Labour is.
Nationalist futures are worse than bleak at the moment. With a 12 point gap in the polls and a seeming inability to take control of the pre-electoral agenda setting it will take a miracle to get back into a fighting chance at this stage. Much will depend on the PN machine’s ability to bring Labour down to discussing the real and now. If the language of politics is shifted into the present temporal dimension – ignoring the histrionics of back-benchers on the way out and the media circus – then the tired party of government might (might) be back with a fighting chance. This will require stronger displays of clarity of vision, brutally honest introspectives that reflect upon past mistakes and a strong sense of determination that would finally eradicate the deep-seated doubt that has entrenched itself in the popular mindset.
The intangible politics of the future might only be eclipsed with a presentation of the very tangible politics of the present. It’ll be a hard trek but given the alternative scenarios and possibilities it is not only worth a try… it is their duty to do so.