Something has gone terribly wrong. Konrad Mizzi believes he is the Nationalist Party’s favourite whipping boy.
Interesting. But, like most things Mizzi seems to believe about what he’s done for public life, false.
Mizzi made his declaration when justifying why he would not turn up at the Caruana Galizia inquiry (though in the end he did, only to refuse to answer questions to avoid incriminating himself). But he got the whippers all wrong.
Historically, a ‘whipping boy’ was someone who was whipped instead of a young royal prince. The whipping boy was an ingenious solution to a conundrum faced by a royal court which believed two things at once: that to spare the rod was to spoil the child, but that for an underling to beat a royal was sacrilege. And dangerous for the whipper, once the royal came of age. Little princes weren’t charming back then.
The solution: A friend of the prince was designated a substitute purely for whipping purposes. He was the whipping boy. It was a much sought-after position. The prince typically did not forget his debt. Gifts and rewards flowed to the whipping boy.
Today, the royal origin of the term is often forgotten but idiomatic English preserves its essential meaning. It still means to be someone who’s scapegoated for someone else’s incompetence or wrongdoing.
Have you ever seen the PN blame Mizzi for the sins of Joseph Muscat? The darkness of Keith Schembri? The circles squared by Robert Abela?
The PN blames Mizzi only for his own incompetence, lies and corruption. It insists on full investigations of Muscat, Schembri and anyone else.
Don’t get me wrong. Mizzi is indeed a whipping boy. But he’s Labour’s whipping boy.
He is Edward Scicluna’s whipping boy. Speaking before the public inquiry, the former minister of finance put all responsibility on Mizzi for the highly suspicious arrangements related to the Electrogas and Vitals Global Healthcare projects.
Even though Scicluna ultimately approved them as Cabinet member, and signed off on them as finance minister, come January he will be Governor of the Central Bank, in his gilded ‘comfort zone’. Mizzi will be in the political wilderness.
Mizzi is Abela’s whipping boy. The prime minister has vowed to defend all his ministers from “senseless attacks”. That includes ministers who consorted (in the full range of the term) with Yorgen Fenech even after it was publicly known that he was the owner of the secret company 17 Black.
Abela drew a deep line in the sand: Mizzi was left on the wrong side of it. Everyone else is defended and, in the case of Justyne Caruana, forgiven and even praised.
Meanwhile, Mizzi was expelled from Labour’s parliamentary group. It wasn’t just an expulsion. It was meant to show that the stench of corruption had been dealt with. It has served to protect others from demotion or expulsion. It’s the fig leaf meant to show that Labour does address issues of propriety.
Mizzi is the whipping boy of the Labour delegates who voted him out. They told the press that stories about him kept turning up and closure was needed. But stories about Muscat keep turning up, too. And he remained in parliament, hale and hailed by Labour, until he retired.
Indeed, Mizzi is Muscat’s own whipping boy. Protected by the disgraced prime minister while he was in office, Mizzi now finds himself thrown under the bus by the same Muscat. When The Shift revealed the Montenegro scandal, Muscat was quick to say his only part in the project was ceremonial.
Which left Mizzi, the overseeing minister, as the prime mover; and Fenech, who made a killing on the deal, as the prime Hoover.
That further link to Fenech is widely taken to damn Mizzi further. But when Muscat and Edward Zammit Lewis, the justice minister, are reasonably suspected to have been the beneficiaries of yet another of Fenech’s gifts — a holiday in France — Labour is silent and does not act.
Let’s face it, Mizzi is also the Labour backbenchers’ whipping boy. They are strongly resisting the Standards Commissioner’s request that they list — not publicly, but merely to him — their spouses’ (or partners’) earnings and assets. Up until 2013, MPs were required to do so publicly.
Now, Labour MPs protest that’s an invasion of their privacy. Never mind that a disclosure of assets without listing the spouse’s is a travesty.
But Labour MPs can protest in the name of the liberal principle of privacy. After all, they cannot be blamed for trying to cover up Sai Mizzi’s earnings and assets.
So yes, Mizzi is Labour’s whipping boy. Historically, the whipping boy was handsomely paid for the lashes. I’ve absolutely not the slightest idea if that bit applies to him or not.
But surely Mizzi should be grateful. He’s being whipped instead of the king.