Credentialled, curated, connected – Labour’s new MPs

Meet Omar Farrugia, 27, one of Labour’s crop of new MPs. You can find him smiling in a photo with two of the other winners in last week’s casual elections. There he is, smiling modestly, sandwiched between Rosianne Cutajar and Glenn Bedingfield.

Cutajar is up in front, expensively groomed and wrapped like a gift, flirting with the viewer like Christmas Present. Bedingfield bulks behind, like Christmas Past, barely visible but clearly pleased, eyes gleaming as though he’s just found the roast turkey a new home.

Between them stands Farrugia, towering over Cutajar but letting her dominate the attention. His curated eyebrows compete with her arches; otherwise, his branded clothes are, unlike hers, comfortable and casual. Is he the ghost of Christmas Future?

The fresh crop of Labour MPs who have attracted most attention has been, understandably, very different from Farrugia, who is the outgoing mayor of Mqabba. The focus has been on the former ONE propagandists and government aides, like Jonathan Attard; party apparatchiks, like Randolph Debattista; and persons of trust, like Katya De Giovanni, whose decisions called for investigation.

There are several Party hacks and former ONE journalists in Labour’s parliamentary group. But we shouldn’t let them take up all the attention. Farrugia is, in some ways, more typical of the intake.

A dozen Labour MPs are former mayors (and two are children of former mayors). Some come from Labour strongholds. Farrugia is one of three — Romilda Baldacchino Zarb (Mosta) and Malcolm Agius Galea (Zebbug) are the others — who were mayors of towns that, during the Nationalist Party’s heyday, were electorally finely balanced.

Indeed, the PN used to consider Mqabba and Zebbug as bellwether towns, their local council election results presaging how the national contest was likely to go. As for Mosta, the PN was once used to leading that council.

Farrugia, Baldacchino Zarb and Agius Galea represent Labour’s current dominance: symbols of towns that have flipped decisively, enough to give their mayors a platform into parliament. It’s a measure of Labour’s capillary network at local level, under the radar.

It’s reflected in how the new MPs speak. Cutajar speaks like a reality show contestant, thanking the voters for having faith in her, as though she’s the story. Farrugia was more typical in telling the press that he will be an MP “from the people, for the people” (tan-nies, man-nies).

That soundbite is his but the underlying message was echoed, almost word for word, by other new MPs, who had their own polished phrases, like Rebecca Buttigieg’s “1,000 pledges into 1,000 measures”.

Their fluency before the camera looks unrehearsed but the message discipline and facility with soundbites show training and a willingness to learn. If you watch closely, you can see Buttigieg’s face suddenly switch into performance mode as the interview begins.

Naomi Cachia didn’t make it but she’ll get in thanks to the gender quota. Her website speaks of making Malta “more kind, just and progressive”. Cachia used to lead Labour’s youth wing in Joseph Muscat’s glory days — back when he was dispensing progressive kindness and justice to Simon Busuttil and Daphne Caruana Galizia — and she co-founded a network for young women leaders.

It’s easy to take potshots at the flexitarian convictions of the new MPs. The older ones voted against EU membership and then turned on a sixpence to take advantage of it. The younger ones helped mobilise their generation to defend the Panama Gang against “traitors”. Rebecca Buttigieg used to be the communications coordinator in the home affairs ministry — explaining away or fobbing off the scandals.

It’s easy but also a distraction. It takes our eyes off the wide range of educational credentials — sometimes taken to Master’s and doctorate level — that we can find represented. Not just law and medicine, but also economics, psychology and the sciences.

They speak like trained spinners but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t believe what they say. If your experience of politics is at local level, politics will naturally seem to be a matter of addressing personal concerns and helping out with bureaucratic nightmares.

Labour’s current ideology makes “progressivism” a matter of helping people out with their private lives — from IVF to marriage to building permits — as long as they accept that Labour will then treat the country as a private fiefdom. Even Labour’s promises on the environment really amount to treating grass and trees like social housing, making sure that people who don’t have private gardens can have access to public ones.

The new crop of Labour MPs are people brought up to think of such a restricted idea of oligarchic politics — its technical name is “patrimonialism” — as natural. Everything in their political background has prepared them for it. Most have the intelligence to make it seem palatable to every voter with aspirations. They are connected enough to Maltese society to understand those aspirations.

It’s a tough challenge to remind voters of a different kind of aspiration: that patrimonialism isn’t natural; it’s an elite ideology of control and true emancipation lies in dispersing power, not concentrating it.

Labour’s neo-feudal pretensions should be scoffed at by any democrat. But scoffing at Labour’s new crop of politicians, or glibly dismissing them as “fascist”, is to misunderstand just what makes them attractive to the aspiring classes.

                           
                               
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saviour mamo
saviour mamo
1 month ago

It is the promises of favourers to their supporters that made them attractive. Make no mistake about it. Just look what happened to Oliver Scicluna for being honest with his supporters.

makjavel
makjavel
1 month ago

The Maltese have turned themselves into a nation of favour beggars and politicians that throw them the crumbs left from their orgies.

Julian Borg
Julian Borg
1 month ago

Tal-biza….who is the mastermind behind this winning strategy? It is fi comprehensive it feels unbearable.

Joseph Muscrat
Joseph Muscrat
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Borg
KLAUS
KLAUS
1 month ago

The real problem is the fol of police commissioner Angelo Gafà.
He simply does not pursue the political criminals.
Thus he opens the gate to the CRIMINALITY AND TO THE MAFIA STATE every day a little further.
That is why he should be put on trial.

saviour mamo
saviour mamo
1 month ago

The result of the general election shows that the majority of the Maltese population endorses the corruption of the Labour government. There is no doubt that the Labour Government is corrupt. The majority voted with the hope that they benefit also from the corrupt government. There is a situation with hardly a solution. It is useless for the opposition party to offer good governance and honesty to topple the Labour Party and it doesn’t make sense for the PN to be more corrupt than Labour either.

Raymond Gerada
Raymond Gerada
1 month ago

And what about the new crop of PN MPs? Any comment?

Steve
Steve
28 days ago

The elitists in the PN are still stuck in the 1980s and have not realized that society has evolved and that the children of the working classes have now studied at university like them. Scoffing at voters will get you nowhere – the essence of democracy is that people choose the people they want to lead them. It’s the PN which has to get off its pedestal and change

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