Thursday, 10 February 2011

Independent: Soul searching
6.2.11? by Josie Muscat

There is more to politics than what we read about in the media. The dramas we see on television are often closer to the truth. It is a cruel fact of political life that any politician has to watch his back more than he has to guard his front. This reality becomes even more pressing when turmoil hits a party.

I have lived through the worst political turmoil this island has ever seen. The general picture has been amply documented and needs no addition. I became active in the PN at a very young age and had strongly imbibed the tenets of the party summed up in the slogan Religio et Patria. To me both words meant a lot and they still do. I have written about this before. The discussions that have been taking place between conservatives and the younger MPs who insist that, since their divergent views were taken into the fold they should not be held against them now, wash through me in a wave of regret and hope. It is refreshing that they can speak out like this without retribution. It may be a sign of a party that, despite all the problems it is facing – some of them of its own making – is mature enough to tolerate such debate. It could also mean that party discipline and/or party loyalty has slackened.

It was different for me. Eager to put on the table my own contribution towards unlocking the stalemate at that time, I had met Mr Mintoff in an attempt to bring him on board before submitting proposals to the party. I did not watch my back closely enough. I was also the only PN deputy to vote against the Neutrality Bill in Parliament, as I was not prepared to submit to another round of Mintoff blackmail like I had done in 1974. But I knew full well that I would not be blocking what the party had decided upon. And when I was locked out of the parliamentary group, I bowed my head and remained loyal to the party. It was just that for me, as it seems to be for some others now, principles came before the need to win and give the country the new direction it needed. Every compromise comes at a price and the PN is still paying for the compromises it had to reach at that time.

There was nobody then to say that speaking out would not mean being locked out of the classroom. At no point in my admittedly turbulent career did I ever try to threaten the party although, when certain principles I held dear looked as if they were about to be tossed to the wind, I stuck to my guns for I too put the interests of the country before the garnering of votes or appearing good in the eyes of my peers. And eventually, as space for dissent seemed to shrink, I left.

I have been obsessed with what I consider to be fast disappearing values, an obsession that has given some editors and columnists plenty of ammunition. But when a society starts feeling that because it is not as "open" as others it must be in the wrong, I worry. For what do I see around me? Family breakups and cohabitation, the forging of relationships based only on sex, the vanishing frontier between what is lewd and what is decent, muck journalism masquerading as intellectual content, the increasing demand for abortion as a result of one-night stands or the flimsiest of relationships, demands for divorce and same-sex marriages accompanied by what is seen as a right to adopt children, the proven corruption in high offices of the state, the desecration of a priceless cultural and artistic heritage, the rape of the countryside, the rise of individual interests that do not care for the common good, the replacement of all that used to be considered honourable by market values where everything comes at a price.

How much of all this has attracted passionate debate within the two main political parties?

It is all a far cry from the days when Malta had to choose between the right to protest and not get beaten up, the right to own property without it being taken away from you, the right to free and open speech without having your media closed down, the right to express an opinion without the fear of being transferred to another posting, the right to visit your constituents without being shot at or harassed, the right to enjoy police protection without seeing the uniform itself as a threat.

History is about the clash of philosophies not the hunt for office. And in my prime that is what the battle was all about. Socialism lost out not only in Malta but, as we can see today, in the entire EU where socialism had to retreat and become born again as democratic socialism. And even then, it has been rejected in most European elections and is now wondering what to do and where it can find a new and valid raison d'être. This happens to all movements including political parties. In changing times, one has to decide whether to court applause or keep to that glue every society needs if it is to function. Social democracy now looks upon Blair and Schroeder's third way as having supped with the devil and losing their soul in the process.

In truth many people today are no longer looking for truth, but instead they are looking for a smooth, easy, comfortable context that will allow them to live the way they please and still obtain assurance of what they consider to be salvation. But I still believe that I have no right to another man's wife or to any of his property, that I should not commit adultery, that I should not steal under any pretext, that I should not commit murder, that I keep my given word and that I should still honour my father and mother and love my wife and my family through good and bad times.

So is the PN merely a rainbow coalition embracing every possible view it can accommodate? Is it still a party dedicated to leading our people along the paths of honour, decency, social solidarity, democratic belief and practice? Does it still honour its Christian heritage in full? Is it still interested in presenting candidates that offer the best possible role models at a time when these are admittedly hard to find? Is it prepared to accept dubious partners who might sustain it in office or would it rather appeal to the better side of humanity, the one that eventually beats all odds?

All Nationalist MPs must remember that the name of the party itself is a pledge to work for the common good of the nation they claim to serve.

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