Konrad Mizzi finally appeared before the Parliamentary Accounts Committee (PAC) on 3 November, an interesting date. It was, first, the eve of his 44th birthday, although you’d be forgiven if you thought he was 43 going on to 4, given his infantile tantrum before the PAC.
Second, 3 November was the 64th anniversary of the launch of Laika, a Moscow dog, into space on a Sputnik rocket. Watching the Mizzi spectacle, honest Maltese voters could be forgiven for identifying with Laika: feeling utterly alone and helpless, with high blood pressure and an agitated heartbeat, as the world that you once called home receded into the distance.
Any honest voter should be furious at how Mizzi treated parliament and how he evaded questions. It’s clear he intends to go on this way for several sessions more.
Likewise, it’s clear that, once more, we have been able to see how our parliament’s committee rules, drawn up for men and women of honour, loyal to their oath of office to safeguard the Constitution, can be ruthlessly exploited by MPs who have neither honour nor shame.
What’s far less clear, however, is the conclusion that many have drawn from that ugly spectacle of arrogance: that things were going Labour’s way. Some go further and blame the Opposition for walking into a trap, where they gave Mizzi a televised platform to bash them.
I wonder. If Mizzi had such a great day, and the Opposition such a rotten one, why did the Labour media and PBS, Labour’s proxy, largely stay away from reporting it in loving detail?
I think they had at least three good reasons.
One, Labour doesn’t want its increasing autocracy to be nakedly evident. That loses votes that are necessary to win a general election — especially to win it big. Labour wants to be seen as responsive to concerns about corruption because these concerns also preoccupy part of the Labour base.
If Labour didn’t care about its image, it wouldn’t have kicked him out of its parliamentary group. Yes, it’s a charade but it’s telling that Labour feels the need to keep up appearances.
Second, the last thing Labour wants is repeated rants by Mizzi before the PAC, with snippets to go on social media. It would undercut the narrative it’s pushing.
Labour’s narrative is essentially this: Too many crooks spoiled what was a delicious broth. The corruption was incidental and gave a bad name to an otherwise excellent government. Now the crooks have been expelled and the government can go back to delivering excellence.
Mizzi’s antics show how much he’s still part of Labour. The more he appears before the PAC, the more the collusive behaviour of Labour MPs will be evident. They clearly feel they cannot call him into line. They cannot ask him probing questions about deals that have been found suspicious by impartial State inquiries — from the National Audit Office to the FIAU to the Caruana Galizia public inquiry.
We know they won’t ask questions; it’s too dangerous. Labour ministers cannot even bring themselves to explain publicly why they voted to kick him out of the parliamentary group. Mizzi himself avoids answering why his colleagues kicked him out.
But there will come a time when Mizzi will face questions. And he either won’t turn up, or will evade answering, or (as he did before the Caruana Galizia inquiry) he’ll invoke his right to be silent.
Labour knows that, then, it will be asked why it didn’t ask any questions. And why, despite his outrageous behaviour, Mizzi is still a member of the Labour Party.
The last thing Labour wants is to approach a general election with the taste of Mizzi on its breath like an old raw onion sandwich.
Third, many people’s reaction — more people than Labour would like — will be furious at this, as they already are. Labour doesn’t want you to be furious. Anger is motivating; it wants you demotivated. It knows it will not get your vote, but perhaps you can be depressed enough to abstain.
A prolonged view of Mizzi’s arrogance, enabled with the collusion of Labour MPs who clearly still consider him one of their own, puts the lie to the idea that Labour can reform itself while in government. That’s not the conclusion Labour wants you to arrive at when you have a vote you can use… soon.
Now, I never said things were great. They’re not. The fact Mizzi can behave this way is a symptom of the mess the country is in. But his behaviour reveals the mess to more people than Labour would like. It would rather avoid that because it shatters the illusion it’s peddling about its willingness to reform.
For Labour, the next best scenario would be to substitute that illusion with another: that you are helpless and can’t do a thing about it.