What are we skinning? The ultimately thwarted attempt to rile up a boycott against an Mgarr restaurant owner for attending the PN-led protest in front of parliament, triggered by the Vital-Steward ruling last week.
Why are we skinning it? Because it’s a tale of weaponised social ridicule and suppression of freedom of speech as old as (Maltese) time, though one that comes with something which vaguely resembles a curiously happy ending.
What happened, exactly? During a generously attended protest in front of parliament organised by the Nationalist Party in the wake of the landmark court ruling against the Vitals/Steward deal which cast a negative light on that deal in particular and the shadier machinations of the Muscat administration in particular, someone snapped a photo of the front row of protestors by the barricades…
So far, so 2019… I know! It gave me a warm pre-COVID flutter of nostalgia too…
Okay, but then what happened? Well, one of said snaps revealed that the owner of a popular resturant in Mgarr — Il-Barri — was at the frontlines of the barricades.
Restaurant owners are precluded from protesting, then? It seems that that’s what Labour-favoured construction magnates like Matthew Bongailas would like us to believe, yes.
Did he offer anything to support this line of argumentation? Only that said owner should feel grateful for Robert Abela for the support he is likely to have received during the pandemic, and that he should feel “ashamed” for daring to express his dismay at what is essentially a fresh political crisis on the island.
Makes sense. Yes, after all, politicians exist only to be praised.
Or to gain direct orders from. It seems as though the construction industry is well placed to decide who gets plum treatment and who doesn’t.
So he called for everyone to boycott the restaurant? Yes. Thus singling out a business owner and attempting to siphon away their livelihood…
That strikes me as the polar opposite of the neoliberal Muscat era that would have given any go-getting businessman a fair shake. So much for ‘Taghna Lkoll’, right?
Then again, someone who lives on direct orders wouldn’t be too happy with a level playing field. People have observed that this feels like ‘going back to the 80s’, and that does seem to be the case, in more ways than one.
But did it work? Nope. Backfired atrociously.
The PN naturally rallied in support of Il-Barri. But both Foreign Minister Ian Borg and Prime Minister Robert Abela distanced themselves from the attempted boycott, validated the owner’s right to protest, and even promised they will be dining at said establishment at their earliest.
Modern problems require modern solutions. And if the Muscat era taught us anything, it’s that PR savvy goes a long, long way.
Until it doesn’t. Until the courts catch up with you, yeah.
Do say: ”While it’s fortunate that this particular story climaxed with a moderately ‘happy’ ending, it also reminded us of the impunity that large business interests still feel entitled to on this island, not least after the weaponised consensus-machine that was the Muscat administration, which labelled any dissent as an attempt to destroy our economy and goodwill through gratuitous ‘negativity’.”
Don’t say: ”Now that galaxy-brained Bongailas failed in his quest, can we go ahead and finally boycott the construction industry as a whole?”