It took less than a week for Daphne’s running commentary, which was set up in March 2008, to be hacked and taken offline.
By 9 March, 2008, the blog had already amassed tens of thousands of views. In Daphne’s own words, it was a “runaway hit”, much to the neurotic chagrin of then-Labour Party leader Alfred Sant.
Daphne had set up her blog in the middle of a heated election campaign which ended with the Nationalist Party’s last hurrah in government. Of course, she was already a veteran columnist by then – for all intents and purposes, she was very much a household name, one that the Labour Party despised and feared in equal measure.
That successful hacking attempt on her website was, as we now know, a mere prelude of far more sinister things to come.
At the time, the Labour Party was in shambles. Sant had just endured yet another drubbing, a historical third electoral defeat in a row that threatened to make the whole party obsolete. The party was in such disarray that its leader didn’t even bother showing up to concede defeat at the counting hall, as is customary in Maltese elections. Then-deputy leader of the party Michael Falzon, who is now minister for social solidarity, had to carry the weight of the defeat, the glare of the press, and the pressure of facing the public entirely alone.
Almost immediately after the Labour Party’s narrow defeat at the polls, Daphne’s family yet again became a target for the party’s hate machine, faithfully spearheaded by the all-too-willing dogs at ONE. It was a pattern that was familiar – come rain or shine for Labour’s fortunes, Daphne and her family were never too far off from being the news item in tonight’s propaganda bulletin.
The general public’s opinion about the Labour Party was abysmal. Through her own well-informed lens, Daphne accurately diagnosed the Labour Party’s failures, arguing that it was a stagnant party led by a leader who lacked vision and charisma. The Labour Party had not yet managed to shake off the cobwebs from its disastrous stints in government in the seventies and in the eighties, and its ranks were filled with old-timers who were straight out of the same eras which people associated with its outdated mode of politics.
In other words, it was a party in crisis that made the fatal mistake of assuming that just because the Nationalist Party had been in power for ten consecutive years, then it was inevitable that the pendulum would swing back towards Labour. This was reflected in the “we almost won” rhetoric that emerged afterwards, with the party failing to learn from its failures and, rather than choosing to truly regenerate the party, the party instead chose to simply paper over the cracks with cosmetic changes while retaining the same, totalitarian mentality.
Daphne herself had been proven right about her diagnosis of the party’s woes when a report commissioned by the Labour Party, which was meant to analyse the reasons why the party suffered yet another electoral defeat, pointed out what she had been saying all along since her very first column in 1996.
Perhaps as a result of the subsequent complacency and several disastrous PR scenarios that followed, an election that had started with a 20,000+ lead for the Labour Party turned out to be one in which the Nationalist Party managed to pull in enough votes to win by just 1,580 votes.
Within that same month in March, Daphne had already marked Joseph Muscat as Sant’s anointed successor, calling out the leadership contest as a charade following Sant’s “irrevocable” resignation as early as 25 March, 2008.
“Joseph Muscat is just Jason Micallef with (some) brains: a rather shallow chap who cosied up to the lonely and insecure boss, won his confidence, gave him his undying loyalty, did everything he asked, and became the anointed one. Despite his brains, he remains as inane, vain, preening and self-satisfied as Jason, and those who can’t see this need some really thick glasses,” she wrote.
“I can’t understand those who are seeing Muscat as the JFK for Labour’s new millennium – can’t they see that the only reason he looks like a good option is because the rest are rubbish, except for George Abela? Given a choice between Joseph Muscat and Anglu Farrugia, even I would choose Joseph Muscat. But the Labour Party is clearly not being allowed to think outside the box and consider other options here, because this man has been anointed and so the party is lumped with him.”
Even though Muscat had been in the limelight for a mere few days, Daphne had very quickly zeroed in on what would later become a trademark feature of Muscat’s premiership: a distinct kind of arrogance that relies on cheap retorts and aggressive rhetoric to quash opposition and establish a ‘strongman’ persona.
While Muscat was trying his hardest to convey a sense of regeneration of the Labour Party’s old, tired ways, talking up how “Joseph Muscat as leader of the Labour Party is an invitation for everyone to work together” while unashamedly giving the impression that his impending leadership of the Labour Party was basically a given, reality was entirely different.
In one hilariously embarrassing instance, the Labour Party had actually forbidden its leadership candidates – Joseph Muscat, George Abela, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, and Evarist Bartolo – from speaking to the press throughout the leadership contest, only to then retract the media ban after the whole country began ridiculing them for it.
The Labour Party was also reportedly heavily indebted (to the tune of around €7 million), yet another part of the party’s self-inflicted teetering on the brink of collapse.
In brief, Muscat was set to take over a party that was in bad shape in practically every conceivable way, a fact that was amplified by the lack of sophistication and talent within the party machine. No wonder, then, that Muscat was more than happy to basically say anything that he thought would attract new voters to the fold:
“I watched the Poodle (Joseph Muscat) being interviewed by Reno Bugeja on Dissett last night – the balding Poodle, incidentally, which is no problem at all, given that he’s a man and not really a dog, but with the Labour Party’s history of wigs, you can’t really be too sure what’s going to happen,” Daphne wrote.
“He was at his most predictably prat-like, telling people what they want to hear without the slightest sign of conviction. They want a discussion on divorce? I’m up for it. They want an apology for the 1980s? They’ll get one (but the Nationalists have to apologise too, for the 1960s and the Interdett),” she adds, capturing the essence of what was to become the fulcrum of the Labour Party’s relentless campaigning over the next five years – constantly promising people what they want to hear while telling them that The Other Side is old, stagnant, and unwilling to listen.
One former party leadership candidate who might have literally changed Malta’s history had he managed to clinch the seat instead of Muscat is, ironically, the father of the same man who is now desperately mopping up the mess Muscat left behind him after his disgraceful term in office as prime minister – George Abela, who later went on to become president while his son, Robert Abela, is now the prime minister.
“There is just one contender who can become leader, and there is just one contender who can lift the party out of the trough of hapless misery in which it now wallows. The dilemma the party faces is that they are not the same person. Joseph Muscat will become leader, and George Abela will, for the second time, become the boat that Labour missed. It is George Abela, and not Joseph Muscat, who appeals to those who haven’t voted Labour recently or who have never voted Labour. It is George Abela who can help rein them in by removing the fright factor from the Labour Party. But that’s not going to happen.”
Perhaps the most significant column Daphne wrote that entire year was written shortly after Muscat was voted in as leader of the Labour Party. The column, titled ‘Give Joseph a chance? You must be joking‘, cut right through the hazy honeymoon overtures that the press and the general public were making to the “new” leader of the Labour Party.
True to form as ever, Daphne did not mince her words, pointing out that although Muscat was a relatively unknown figure in the sphere of local politics, he was certainly not new to the political battlefield. Muscat spent seven years working as a faithful propagandist for his party’s station and was one of the leading voices in the anti-EU campaign only to then become one of the Labour Party’s first MEPs before becoming the party’s leader.
In a column published shortly after, she had him down to a T.
“Muscat is the classic Organisation Man. He is the kind of person who knows how to manipulate the system within an organisation for his own benefit, doing things that will bring him to the notice of those who count and those who can – wittingly or unwittingly – help him along his arc of ambition.”