Would we invent them?

Posted on November 6, 2007 by

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Timothy Garton Ash, the UK’s answer to Ranier Fsadni (in style) and Salvu Balzan (in beard), came up with a piece called If our political parties did not exist, would we ever need to invent them? The hairy opinion columnist kicks off his article by congratulating the Poles for booting out ultra-conservative Lech Kaczynski and for dealing a severe blow to their ultra-Catholic allies – the aptly named League of Polish Families. To say that mainstream Europe didn’t exactly take a shine to all this ultra-nationalism and ultra-clericalism is a bit of an understatement. But let’s leave that aside for a minute. In the run-up to our own little exercise in democracy, TGA’s parting shot is much more interesting.  

I’ll leave the floor to bearded TGA. 

But consider this: if our old-established parties did not exist, would we invent them? Almost certainly not. They’re there because they’re there because they’re there. They no longer represent distinctive social groups (eg Labour for labour) or distinct, coherent sets of principles. In Britain, Labour and Conservatives now cross-dress all the time as they compete for the affections of a broadly liberal (small l) middle class. Gordon Brown delivers a stomping speech about Britishness, hard work, law and order, against a Tory blue backdrop; David Cameron goes all tie-less lefty-liberal, before trimming back again. They steal each other’s policies – most recently, on inheritance tax – like transvestites snatching at the same cocktail dress. They are mere aggregators of interests and prejudices, election-winning machines, held together only by history and the shared lust for power. Yet for all that, having a stable party system remains a great advantage. The problem is: how do you create it if you never had it, as in Poland, or recreate it if it has collapsed, as in Italy?

Substitute “largely conservative middle class” for “broadly liberal middle class” and “Alfred Sant goes all Dun Gorg Preca on us” for the Gordon Brown bit, and you’ve basically got the picture.

In a country which still has a host of fundamental issues to sort out for itself, Maltese politics today boils down to one word. In the local political jargon, serjeta’. Gonzi says that he’s a safer pair of hands than Sant. Sant claims that he’s a better manager than Gonzi. Min ser jirnexxilu jgib l-aktar cruise liners lejn pajjizna? Punto e basta.

L-ghazla f’idejk.

David Friggieri (Liberal)

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