Labour is the eternal underdog, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat reminded us last week. He said that Labour, when pitted against the country’s establishment, was “always an underdog.”
Looking ahead to next year’s European and local elections, Muscat said he approached every election like a football game, which always starts at 0-0. And he said it with a straight face.
In my book the underdog is somebody, or in this case a party, that has little chance of winning a contest.
History provides numerous examples of underdogs snatching victory from the jaws of defeat through sheer determination, cunning strategy and a measure of good fortune such as the Knights Hospitaller victory over the Ottoman invaders in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565.
In footballing terms, an underdog is a small team with limited resources which triumphs against all odds. Leicester’s unexpected and refreshing victory from three years ago comes to mind. Despite a lack of star players Claudio Ranieri’s modest side topped the English Premier League after a long and gruelling campaign at the expense of perennial favourites and far richer teams like Manchester City and Chelsea.
Politics is a different ball game altogether, yet the same principles apply. Normally, the better-financed and better-organised party wins. Coupled with the power of incumbency and a rudderless opposition, Labour is not only the clear favourite to win next year’s local council and European Parliament elections, but it will do so at a canter.
Far from starting at 0-0 (in which case nobody is the underdog), Muscat is going into the game four goals up against a hopeless opposition team which has no star players and no game plan. Anything less than four seats out of six in the European Parliament election will be an utter humiliation for Labour.
And unless Labour presses the self-destruct button, it will also trounce the opposition in the general election which should be held within the next four years.
Muscat’s underdog narrative however should be seen in a wider context. It is part of his strategy to portray Labour as being the victim. Afflicted by the David and Goliath syndrome, Muscat would have us believe that he is a scapegoat.
According to the Labour storytellers, international criticism levelled at Malta has its roots in bigger countries’ envy of Malta’s economic miracle.
Defending Malta’s buccaneering tax regime in the European Parliament last year, Muscat dismissed calls for the introduction of a common European tax base and told MEPs that there was a certain jealousy about Malta’s economic success. Again he managed to keep a straight face.
But it keeps getting better. Last week, Labour’s second-hand star candidate Cyrus Engerer told Lovin Malta “Malta is a very small country and it is very easy to pick on Malta at a European level” when asked on the criticism levelled at Malta on a number of issues such as the sale of passports, corruption and money laundering.
Malta is tiny indeed but Muscat’s bad decisions are the source of this criticism and invoking envy or prepotence is no credible line of defence.
Similarly, Muscat and his independent satellites often remind us that Labour is at the receiving end of an all powerful ‘establishment’ which is hell bent on bringing him down.
According to Muscat, he is the target of the ‘establishment’ which is behind the Egrant ‘lie’. And he says it with a straight face. This is beyond conspiracy theory territory.
For Labour is very much part of the establishment, as much as the PN is. Muscat and most of his generals went to the best schools in Malta and abroad, made a fortune in their careers outside politics and for years have rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful.
Muscat’s Labour includes people who behave and act very much like the establishment. I don’t know of any people outside the establishment who open offshore companies in Panama. Likewise, not many people outside the establishment own(ed) companies which make millions or own multiple properties worth millions.
Muscat is Prime Minister and in his time in office he has dismantled independent institutions who should defend the Constitution and guarantee that each individual, irrespective of position and wealth, is treated equally by the law. And guess who benefitted from this?
But the selfless prophets have spoken. Labour is the perennial underdog, the enemy of the establishment and a helpless victim of classism. And like Muscat, they somehow manage to keep a straight face.