MaltaToday | 22 June 2008 | What Joseph must know

OPINION | Sunday, 22 June 2008

What Joseph must know

Anna Mallia

If Joseph wants to make a success out of his leadership he must start by emulating the Nationalist party. This has nothing to do with speaking the same language as the Nationalist party – far from it – but it definitely has to do with copying and improving on their organisational and propaganda skills. Here are some examples.
If the Nationalists do not want you as a candidate in any of their election campaigns, they do not give you time to even apply to be accepted as a candidate, be it in the local councils, general election or European Parliament. They tend to approach you beforehand ordering you not to even think of submitting your candidature.
With Labour, up to now, the strategy was the other way round: you first apply and it is then the party, which decides whether to approve or reject your application. Of course, both strategies have the same result in that you are left unable to contest any elections; but the method is different and the Nationalist method is by far more subtle as it leaves in the mind of the man in the street the impression that there are no problems with the Nationalists in that they embrace all the candidates who want to contest on their behalf.
The Nationalists had the foresight to set up a business which compiles data, and this business is known as Informa. Everybody can make use of this service, so that if they want to attack my credibility, they can push a button on their computer and it will give them all that I have said and done and written on the particular subject they want to attack me on. It is no wonder that in their press and media, they are always ready with guns pointing at you trying to discredit you or your argument.
This is something that Labour has not addressed yet, leading Labour to forget even its own history at times and proving to be very weak in combating arguments or issues raised by the party in governments and the government. Lest we forget, that the party that characterized Labour as the ‘partit tal-Le’ is the same party who always said no when Labour was in government.
Perhaps Joseph must start by reminding women every year that if they have the right to vote this is thanks to Labour, and reminding the students that if school is compulsory, this is also thanks to Labour. There is nothing which dampens Labour: if they accuse Labour of violence, it was the Nationalists who stored ammunition in their headquarters; both Raymond Caruana and Karen Grech are still crying out for justice; if the 1980s were hell for the Nationalists, they were also for us at the university where we felt living in a concentration camp as it was and still is a taboo to show that you are Labour. So let us get this over and done with and stop feeling like a wet kitten every time they broach this subject, because both parties have their dark patches and not only Labour.
The Nationalists do not confront any of their MPs: take the case of Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando. They do not tell him that he should stay in the periphery or that there is no place for him. They make sure that the media discredits him so that it will be the electorate who will decide his fate: Lou Bondi and Gouder, were both to my mind pulling the rope of the Nationalist party machine and doing a great service to the Nationalist party, perhaps unwittingly, in making it achieve its goals. Of course, Labour would have tackled it differently if JPO was a Labour MP: by calling JPO a traitor and submitting him to the inquisition of the Board of Vigilance and Discipline, etc, etc.
The Nationalists have a very strong database so that they have fingers in every segment of society, be it political, civil service, commercial, youth, university, non-political, philanthropic, you name it. They know they have somebody they can cling to and that every time the party calls, they are there. Lest you should not know, there may be instances when it will not be wise for the party to take the initiative and it will be wiser for civil society to start the ball rolling so that the government will then be able to justify his stand. We see this in certain letters to the editor, press releases and comments and how these develop into national issues.
I know that it will be difficult for Joseph to infiltrate the way the Nationalists did so far, but not impossible. I have always said that as long as the soldiers are happy, Gonzi will stay in power and it is the duty of Joseph to try and win as many of them to his side as possible. However, if Gonzi’s soldiers are of high rank, Joseph must approach the lower ranks and he can do this by keeping in mind that the public wants a leader who cares and listens to their needs. The public does not care about what JPO did, he had every right to make money like we all do: but the public expects the same treatment by the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General.
Labour must first and foremost build this database: the leader must know whom to refer to in case he needs to address a particular issue, be it the work of the Attorney General, of the Commissioner of Police, of the Prime Minister etc, etc. Gonzi is always well prepared because his machine is an octopus whose tentacles are everywhere, and Joseph should follow suit. He must know what others, including the person he is confronting, have said about a particular issue that he is addressing in order to regain the trust that many have lost in Labour.
His task is not easy: he has to get the finances of the party on sound footing, and the sooner the better. He must bring the party back in business, be it travel, be it insurance, be it investments or research. He has to bridge the gap between the diehards, the moderates and the floaters without losing the soul of the party. But he has to start by making Labourites believe they are not second-class citizens and trend has nothing to do with being Labourite or Nationalist and that there is not shameful in siding with Labour. This will be his hardest task and he is going to need a lot of help on how to manage this successfully.
The university is a country within a country and it can no longer continue to be ignored. The Nationalists invest a lot in there and although I admit that Labour always failed miserably to penetrate this Nationalist stronghold, with a wise and subtle strategy Labour can succeed in breaking their monopoly at Tal-Qroqq. And the only way it can do this is by keeping the soldiers at Tal-Qroqq happy, meaning listening and acting on their complaints, and involving them in the party and the party’s media. People want to see new faces and hear new voices because this gives them the impression that the party is spreading and not isolating itself.
Last but not least: appearances. Unfortunately the public tends to give a lot of attention to appearances. Keeping up appearances is vital – after all, this is what politics is all about!

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