Labour’s moral compass

At 5am this morning, Evarist Bartolo uploaded another post on his Facebook page. He didn’t mention Montenegro, Konrad Mizzi, Joseph Muscat or 17 Black. Still, by his standards, he was less cryptic than usual.

If Labour really wants to renew itself, he wrote, it needs a moral compass. Mere rebranding won’t cut it. The Party needs a compass to guide it in the direction of honesty and justice. It can no longer serve as cover for a handful of rich crooks, who plunder national wealth and control institutions.

He didn’t name names. But his earlier post – where he spoke of a political eclipse – was more explicit than he has been given credit for. There he traced corruption back to 2013.

That’s before the Montenegro deal was done. He can only have meant the Panama companies of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri.

Someone this morning was quick to reply to Bartolo’s new post: “Parole sì, fatti no” (all words and no action). Fair comment. But a change in rhetoric is significant in itself.

What a change from how Labour reacted to the Panama Papers six years ago. Then the parliamentary group voted full confidence in Mizzi, and Schembri’s choice was considered a private matter.

Over the past two weeks, we have also seen significant changes in how other leading Labour politicians speak.

Chris Cardona, asked about Daphne Caruana Galizia by the Times of Malta, said she was a “pillar of democracy”. You don’t have to believe that he believes it. The less he does, the more significant it is that he felt compelled to say it.

With Edward Zammit Lewis, speaking in Parliament on Labour’s behalf, it’s a matter of what he did not say. After Adrian Delia proposed, on behalf of the Opposition, that a room in Parliament is named after Caruana Galizia, Zammit Lewis declined to offer an opinion, saying it was the Speaker’s decision.

Now, Labour has lost none of its swagger in Parliament, happily patronising and dismissing the Opposition at every turn. Here was an interesting case: Labour held back.

The Party led by Robert Abela, who once denounced the sons of Caruana Galizia as detesting Malta, now prefers not to be seen as objecting to honouring Caruana Galizia.

Yes, it’s hypocritical opportunism. But just a couple of years ago, the route for an opportunistic politician was to denounce the Caruana Galizias. Today, the opportunistic route is to avoid doing that.

Evidently, Labour is feeling an important change in climate. It’s discernible in how Mizzi and Joseph Muscat reacted to the Montenegro story. There’s no condemnation of gross lies, traitors and malicious journalists with an anti-Labour agenda.

Instead, Muscat distanced himself from the ‘developments’ which he was merely ‘following’, like a spectator. The man who long avoided independent journalists now makes himself available to them.

Mizzi praised the intrinsic worth of the project. But, by dissociating himself from Yorgen Fenech’s secret company, 17 Black, it’s evident that he is braced for the confirmation of the story of Fenech’s plunder.

Let’s not waste time on the declarations of these two confirmed liars. Their change in tone reflects their assessment of the objective change in the political environment.

The Labour base, however, is still using the old rhetoric. Muscat’s Facebook followers told him how they have faith in him. Several of Mizzi’s followers went further. They want him to sue the life out of the journalists.

It’s understandable. For years, the base hasn’t just been fed counter-statements to the revelations about the Panama gang. It’s been made to participate in rituals of solidarity whose moral compass had its own set of values: loyalty, faith, emotional identification.

You didn’t just believe Muscat and Mizzi. You believed in them as a matter of faith. Belief preceded explanation. Indeed, belief meant explanation was not needed ( as someone posting on Muscat’s Facebook page yesterday said).

So Bartolo is inaccurate when he says the Party needs a moral compass, as though it lacks one. It does have one – but it belongs to a paternalistic politics, where politicians are lords, not servants. That’s why Muscat is called king, and Mizzi a prince.

What Labour therefore needs is a change of moral compass – from the morality of fealty to the morality of democracy; from one which demands the faith of true believers to one in which trust is expected, but asking for verification is not disloyal but routine.

It’s not a trivial inaccuracy. Introducing a moral compass where there is none is easier than substituting a new one for old. Particularly when the old one seemed just fine a few weeks ago, fully exploited by the current crop of Labour leaders.


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