28 June 2006

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The feel good factor is skin deep as the great unwashed fear more strain on their spending power while the ossified middle classes are struggling to keep up their standard of living

This month heralds the start of the world cup tournament. This is a time when local politics is temporally relegated to the back burner. Throwing caution to the wind, politicians make sure that their propaganda machine is switched off and the party faithful are kept well amused enjoying their teams snake their way towards the knock out stages.
It is circus all along. Local politicians still try to holler their qualms against the other side but they are hardly audible to the electorate. For the next two weeks they try and lead by example and merge quietly with the pangs and joys of soccer fans particularly as this takes the path of the quintessential divide of Italy versus England.
One cannot generalise but the trend over the years has been that neo-conservatives and the centre right tend to side with Signor Totti’s squad whereas Beckham leads the brigade of left and centre –left acolytes in Malta.
Business is slow and many retailers seem to complain that consumers are not bothered to reach for that extra item while the soccer fever is on. Only the handful of restaurants that bother to set up open projectors win the audience to grace their eateries. So is there a silver lining to this four week tournament that steels our political fraternity of their omnipresent grip on daily news?
Yes there is and the answer is that we all we need a reprieve from the mud slinging conundrum. Citizens are fed up with incessant in-fighting among the red and blues of this finely balanced political divide. There is too much flak in the air. To add salt to the wound, columnists incessantly cry out about the negative wave of globalisation that is sweeping over us and widening the gap between the poor and the upper crust. Again we are being reminded of heated debates in newspaper columns and on radio shows about the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. Déjà vu or is this the birth of another class war by a different name. It sounds so surreal and distorted at a time when one hears expressions of joy amidst honks of flag carriers in car-cades driving down the undulating roads after each qualifying world cup match. But the feel good factor is skin deep as the great unwashed fear more strain on their spending power while the ossified middle classes are struggling to keep up their standard of living. While the working classes fear their jobs are on the line, some are now discussing the threat of immigration which is looming bigger by the day. The middle classes are also feeling the pangs of inequality of opportunities and for those who envy the political appointees who patronise top jobs in government institutions there is no prize for guessing why they feel that meritocracy is on the rocks.
Economists warn us that unless we nurture a dynamic, faster-growing economy the chances for the lower paid will stagnate. What was once a land of milk and honey is fast becoming a stressful, hard slog where inflation is slowly rearing its ugly head and job mobility is on the wane.
The rich are becoming richer and the vast profits being reaped by land speculation, and by financial institutions fuelling large scale building developments is synonymous with the meteoric speed that 52 German luxury saloons were auctioned last year. The cool Lm3 million tag for the glowing vehicles was settled on a cash basis. Some may argue that this is a confirmation that the whirlpool of cash in circulation (the last count approximated Lm500m) can be indicative of the widening gap between the cash strapped SMEs and the fat cats clad in designer labels berthing their yachts in Portomaso.
Back to football, does the world cup tournament provide the masses with a temporary relief from the daily chores and stressful life? Just consider shopkeepers who are seeing their sales dwindle and the workers in the tourist sector who are ever cognisant of the drop in business. Can the game of football provide a fleeting elixir to the many white collar workers who were permanently tethered to their desks risking a far higher rate of burnout and depression than those who "truly chill out" watching the games in German stadia. Some lament that the distraction that is generated by the tournament during the four weeks is too long a break particularly for those who travel to Germany. Just consider the other side of the coin as moaners and workaholics who are always complaining that the football season is too long. Inevitably they stress that things are always urgent and they are constantly going into never-ending rages. For a moment, stop and ask yourself if your boss fits the pattern of being a chronic complainer.
Is she/he always playing the victim? This is the person you should be most worried about when the time for the early afternoon game starts and everybody rushes out for home. Yes, the tournament does come at a price when considering the time lost by staff away from work watching games. The plus side is that for the beleaguered working classes it provides an instant respite where mates meet over a pint and enjoy the thrill of the game. For two hours you may be excused to forget the nervousness and pressure of work more so if you happen to be a victim of power maniacs and office bullying.
Listen to GRTU and they tell you that small business owners are working themselves into the ground to make ends meet. It is true that SMEs work long hours, hampered by red tape in a highly competitive market. Party apologists disagree. In their opinion this view appears to contradict the government’s philosophy of "think small first" as part of its goal to modernise Malta. What is the root cause of this added level of stress and tension? The answer is that post accession, small business owners have been watching sales dwindle partly due to reduced purchasing power following the weight of indirect taxes and the indomitable 67% fuel surcharge.
According to the unions a feeling of workers being downtrodden by bureaucracy lingers on and might even be exacerbated in the light of more regulatory overload following EU accession.
That all this may prompt the coach to make substitutions to his team of ministers is not likely. This is a sensitive issue and party apparatchiks hate to change horses in mid-stream even though players have been on the saddle for fifteen years. Regrettably with no pain there will be no gain and with such handicaps we cannot expect an instant feel good factor that was so much brandished by the yes movement prior to the EU referendum.
Naturally, one cannot doubt the long term rewards of membership for which we have toiled so long. Paradoxically if world cup can make us forget the tribulations of a stressful life so be it. Let’s hope it makes us more relaxed if only for the next ten days so that we can truly enjoy the football tournament. But not all is doom and gloom. While apologising for my transgression from the subject of the excitement during the fabled world cup season, may I remark there is light at the end of the tunnel. Advice is at hand that taking a break brings in more long term benefits and in the end yields higher dividends to the incumbent. Take a break and let’s thank God for the football fiesta.

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