Forget the mass meeting: Labour goes all Eurovision in final 2022 election rally

Labour’s election campaign comes to a close in Ta’ Qali as supporters flood the MFCC to show their support ahead of next Saturday

Prime Minister Robert Abela and his wife Dr. Lydia Abela at the MFCC in Ta Qali
Prime Minister Robert Abela and his wife Dr. Lydia Abela at the MFCC in Ta Qali

Robert Miles’s ‘Children’ was once the techno-requiem that scored the Yugoslav conflict as it beamed through the television sets of the mid-90s… but for Malta, it was the sound of Labour’s surprising 1996 election victory.

A staple of Labour’s dancefloor fillers, its pulsating beat and instantly recognisable piano tinkle usually would belt out of a stack of speakers onto a stage, sending thousands of revellers into a frenzy.

But in 2022, ‘Children’ has now been turned into ab orchestral spectacular at the MFCC, complete with a children’s choir, on a stage and lighting set-up straight out of a Eurovision contest in Sweden, in what was Labour’s choreographed end to its election campaign.

All the One TV atelier of singers were on stage singing ‘We Are The World’. Labour darling Mary Spiteri came out for the rousing chorus to massive applause (she also sang Tema 79, the Bohemian Rhapsody of socialist republicanism, with the audience flickering on their smartphone light). Choreographed shots of the audience’s diversity marked the culmination of Labour’s artful manipulation of image and soft power. This year’s euro-socialist in attendance (by Zoom) was Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez.

It was no longer a mass rally, nor was it political. This was entertainment: glitzy, expensive, and stage-managed down to each second.

Ramona Attard, the PL president, beckoned Labour voters to “make history” and vote “for Robert Abela”. Labour’s playbook was laid wide open: “don’t let the PN take us to the past”; “we are united”; “we are the only ones who can take you into the future”; “you only know where you stand with Robert Abela”. These were the lines robotically delivered throughout the entire 33-day campaign.

Then came deputy leader for party affairs, the youthful Daniel Micallef – decked in a sweater emblazoned with 26.03 in Varsity lettering on it.

Micallef betrayed Labour’s concern about voters planning not to cast their ballots – people who are ‘hurt’ by Labour, or Labour voters who want the administration and their super-majority cut down to size. “I know there are many who think this way. These people agree that Labour has created wealth, brought about unprecedented reforms… we’re certainly not perfect, but staying at home is no solution if you want a Labour government in power. The choice is clear: give your vote of confidence to this movement.”

Micallef paid tribute to the administrations of 1971, which saw Labour introduce an expansive welfare state; that of 2003, when the Nationalist Party took Malta into the EU – a nod to Labour’s own Europeanist vocation today; and of course the “social revolution” and economic growth heralded in 2013, that would later build a war-chest for Malta to face up to the COVID pandemic.

“Don’t let others choose your future for you,” Micallef said, name-dropping Labour’s most reviled of Opposition critics – Jason Azzopardi, Karol Aquilina and Beppe Fenech Adami. “Do you want to see these people elected to power?... The choice you have is for Robert Abela’s first elected administration.”

At 8pm on the dot, Robert Abela walked onto the MFCC stage with his wife Lydia to chants of ‘Viva l-Labour’, strolling onto a V-shaped catwalk, waving to his raucous audience before starting on his final speech, peppered from the start with his favourite keywords – talent, kburi, bieżel – all taken straight out of the Labour handbook of aspirational politics.

COVID marked Abela’s premiership, and the Labour leader made it a point to showcase his stewardship of the pandemic, never forgetting to thank the Maltese nation for their trust in him.

“Whatever your choice, the lessons I’ve learnt in these years will never leave me,” Abela said, before turning to Lydia Abela to thank her for her support, and then to his eight-year daughter Giorgia. The beaming father was unable to hide his emotion.

Even Abela appealed to undecided voters, such is the prospect of a lower than expected turnout this year. “Reflect on it, think about it, this is an important decision to take.”

“Can you believe that the PN is telling people to stay home and not vote, such is their lack of vision... but I am listening to you, your message, I have met you, knocking on doors, meeting you at home and at work.”

“The first decision you must take is whether you want me to take you forward. But I want you with me to enact our 1,000 proposals – I need your strength to change this country to the better.

“We can do more – if you stay at home on Saturday, the politics of division will triumph. With me, you know where you stand.”

Abela’s tour de force was a rundown of Labour’s state aid and cash injections that kept the Maltese people and economy buoyant throughout the COVID pandemic, its pro business policies, and his promise to “make people happy”. After 20 minutes, his voice started to gently strain as he hit his high notes.

“The question for you now is ‘who do you trust’ – who do you trust with this country’s security, the economy, to give you more rights? Let your vote be the answer. Lend me your trust for my very first mandate.”