Three years into Joseph Muscat’s stint at the helm of the Labour Party, which in 2011 was still sitting on the Opposition’s benches, not much was going on in the party’s policy department.
The party machine was much more focused on a search-and-destroy mission targeting all perceived and real enemies in sight. This had become its default mode by then. That same year, three of the Labour Party’s key enablers emerged as ever-present features on the party’s media machine: then yet-to-be-disgraced European Commissioner John Dalli, Malta Council of Science and Technology Chairman Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, and then Nationalist MP Franco Debono.
True to his origins as a Super ONE propagandist, Muscat’s party, enabled and emboldened by its allies, spewed hatred out of its indebted, heavily over-manned media channels, and its targets were critics and political adversaries alike. There was no distinction, no boundary out of reach, no relation to the importance of objective reporting. The party machinery was an essential part of Muscat’s efforts to destabilise prime minister Lawrence Gonzi’s tenuous one-seat majority in Parliament.
This pattern would shape Malta’s chaotic political scene for the years that eventually lead to Muscat’s power grab in 2013 – Gonzi, who was still a significant political force to be reckoned with in spite of the instability in Parliament and a sense of social stagnation that dominated the surrounding context, had to be slowly chipped away. The Labour Party’s machine, coupled with its turncoat allies, had its eyes firmly set on Gonzi’s throat. Him, and anyone else who stood in between the party and power.
In September of that year, Daphne published two articles on her running commentary blog, one of which was also published in her column on the Malta Independent. In both pieces, the main thread referred to the absolute dearth of policies that the Labour Party had by then presented, 18 months after the New Labour Leader’s reign began. By then, policy hardly mattered – dissent within the Nationalist Party and a sense of certainty about an inevitable Labour victory come next election had already bubbled to the surface, buoying the party’s core base.
“Even the thought of voting Labour makes me laugh when I look at the people involved – ancient fossil from my childhood, Karmenu Vella, writing policy, for crying out loud – and what makes it all so much worse is that these policies Vella is meant to be writing seem to have got him in a tangle. He has yet to come up with anything we can get our teeth into,” she wrote.
“But Labour doesn’t feel the need to write policy ahead of an election. Its supporters will vote for it no matter what, and the pseudo-liberals who can’t see a totalitarian heading their way even if he’s wearing day-glo pink are determined to hang themselves and the rest of the country by not voting at all or by voting ‘for Joseph’,” she continued.
In her column on the Malta Independent just two days later, she honed in on the sentiment with greater precision.
“The single idea that party leader Muscat had, of moving for divorce – and it wasn’t even going to be party policy but a private member’s bill – has been overcome by events. And still, nothing. With increasing frequency, because he is now closer to his life’s ambition, Muscat chastises the government and the man he calls ‘Lawrence’ for doing things badly. But he leaves out the crucial element of what should be the Opposition’s proper criticism: how it would do things better, how it plans to do things well. Without that information, the Opposition leader’s words sound like bar-room barracking, to which the only possible response is, “All right, sir. You’ve told us what is wrong. Now please tell us how you plan to put it right.”
Of course, the Labour Party was far from thrilled about Daphne’s consistent, valid criticism. It spared no effort in using every resource at its disposal to stop her from dissecting its affairs and presenting her thoughts to her ever-growing audience. In fact, Daphne’s libel woes, which had escalated severely over the previous year, only continued.
Throughout the entire year, Daphne was subjected to constant, hate-driven propaganda on both Super One and in the independent media, and even through official Parliamentary fora, over-the-top police intimidation tactics outside her home, malicious lies attempting to associate her sons with the sale of cocaine, slander perpetrated by the same magistrate who was suing her in court for writing about her, and calls to effectively muzzle her going all the way up to the prime minister.
It is of no surprise, therefore, that the Labour Party, busy as it was deploying every available resource to silence Daphne and engage in a long-term character assassination campaign against Gonzi (often lumping both together as the same enemy to facilitate the process), took all of nine months from that year to finally publish some sort of set of political proposals.
In November, the Labour Party published its much-hyped ’51 punt’ (51 ‘points’, as in, proposals).
Needless to say, Daphne’s verdict was brutal.
“Joseph Muscat’s assistants have proved to us that they can count higher than 50, and have added on an extra point for that much-sought-after touch of panache,” she wrote.
“Do they want people to actually read their points which, with a touch of the Baron Munchausen, they call proposals? If so, they should have gone with far fewer than 51 because attention spans are short, life is rushed, and saturation point is reached somewhere around 20 – hence Joseph Muscat’s 20-point ‘plen’ on immigration some time in 2009. But I don’t think they want people to read them. I think they picked a magic number which they thought would stick in the mind and then worked towards it, getting a bunch of Forum Zghazagh Laburisti and Fondazzjoni Idejat activists round a table with a crate of soft drinks and some ‘biksits and krips’ and asking them to brainstorm.”
The proposals, which lacked substance, served as evidence of the Labour Party’s lack of commitment to anything tangible.
Of course, none of this mattered to the Labour Party. None of the obvious flaws and evident lack of depth in their proposals were considered problematic. What really mattered to the party was that it managed to draw attention away from all that and instead amplify public disgruntlement. Besides its relentless targeting of its critics, the Labour Party was also constantly focused on reshaping the vocabulary of public discourse, doing its utmost to introduce buzzwords and catchphrases to further foment anti-government sentiment.
This process, together with a parallel effort to rebrand the party as a broad coalition of progressives to capitalise on anti-conservative trends within the voter base and constant broadsides from Nationalist Party turncoats like Dalli, Pullicino Orlando, and Debono, was the essence of a formula which would pave the way for the Labour Party’s slimy swipe at victory.