The extreme centre

A few weeks ago Minister Miriam Dalli pulled an old ‘Nationalist’ jibe out of her pocket and labelled Andre Callus and Graffitti activists ‘extremists’. ‘Extremism will get you nowhere’, she pontificated. It’s an old, recycled insult used directly and indirectly, time and again against anything remotely progressive or politically ecologist, usually by the centre-right. We have also been on the receiving end of such insults, usually from some overexcited Nationalist politician. Now Andre Callus and Graffitti are of course capable enough of hitting back, and have done so brilliantly, leaving Miriam Dalli looking like the standard bearer of the shallow, empty vessel politics peddled, very successfully, one must say, by Labour. Let’s attempt to analyse the ‘extremes’ that have riddled Malta’s politics in the near past and the present shall we? The type of politics which Tariq Ali calls ‘the extreme centre’.

The extreme centre takes the sides of the economically powerful, while posing as being on the side ‘of the people’. That ubiquitous space filler in political speeches and utterings that can mean anything to anyone. The ‘centrism’ of not rocking the boat and pandering to the unprincipled needs of – another overused phrase – ‘the market’. The ‘extreme centre’ speaks of the market as if it has a life of its own, is independent of people and political power, when in fact ‘the market’ is what we make it. Is it well regulated? Are the people operating in ‘the market’ manipulating things to suit their interests? Are those in positions of power – from parliamentarians, to Ministers – legislating to shape ‘the market’ in the interests of the few? Let’s take the doomed and extreme tax of effectively 5% reserved for the ‘non-resident’ shareholders of companies such as BASF. Did the ‘market’ come up with that, or was it the ‘extreme centre’ MPs – the whole parliament – which came up with this anti-social brainwave? 

Other extremes which come to mind is Miriam Dalli’s mentor, Muscat, style of government, surrounding himself with delinquents and confirmed and suspected kleptocrats of all sorts, with no political vision as such, but with a penchant for making sure that they get rewarded handsomely for their services to the party and to its powerful backers. Now that’s extremism of the worst kind. An extremism accompanied by your silence Miriam, bar for some weak, barely audible whimpering, lest you end up irritating your support base. Spine anyone?

Other extremes include the destruction of agricultural land ‘to keep the economy going’ and to keep increasing traffic, while at the same time making the perfunctory speeches about the climate, the green economy, sustainable mobility and surprise, surprise, ‘this government’s commitment to agriculture and encouraging young farmers’. All in a day of the masters of bluff. One notable extremist policy, affecting us all since 2006, is the so-called ‘rationalisation scheme’, setting off a savage building spree so large in scale, it is still rampaging through the country sixteen years later. Dreamed up by a PN government, opposed in Parliament initially by Labour, only to be embraced wholeheartedly by the extremist Muscat government. Extremely in favour of ‘growth’ at all costs of course, because that’s what ‘the people’ want. Of course current Prime Minister Abela, inherited a lucrative Planning Authority contract, making ‘extreme’ amounts of money thanks to these policies and defending these same policies in courts and tribunals. This is while other ‘extremists’ were left struggling trying to oppose and keep a tab on the destruction taking place left, right and centre.

There are loads of other examples of extremism, from the extremists fiddling with electoral laws to ensure that they keep dissenting, different voices out of parliament. The extreme lack of enforcement and the free-for-all in our roads, beaches and countryside. The extremism of refusing to revise the minimum wage and make it a truly living wage because of ‘the market’. The extremism of low and miserly targets for renewable energy. The extremism of the government’s refusal to make our roads safer and provide safe infrastructure for alternative, clean means of mobility.

That’s the extremism Miriam Dalli should be worried about – the extremism of tokenism, of making the right sounds but little else. The extremism of ‘not rocking the boat’ and rendering politics a servant of the greedy, shameless, powerful people. Extremists indeed!

Ralph Cassar
ADPD Secretary General
Published in The Maltatoday – Sunday 26 June 2022