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Burning down the house: politicos whose road to power was outside the party

How far can Adrian Delia be seen as the local version of a wave of insurgent anti-establishment politicians taking the world by storm, and turning their political parties into fan clubs?

james
James Debono
13 September 2017, 12:00pm
Adrian Delia, a former football club president, lawyer and businessman, never occupied any post in the party he now aspires to lead, and never ran for office. As a political upstart he fits in a pattern of self-styled ‘anti-establishment’ politicians taking on traditional establishments. He said the PN will remain “detached from reality” if it does not have leaders who have “life experience” away from partisan politics.

Anti-establishment politicians come in various stripes. Donald Trump won his own party’s nomination after lashing out against the establishment within, but others like Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo founded their own parties – personal political vehicles that are filling the gap on both the political left and right.

And yet these politicians hail from the very establishment they denounce. Berlusconi was a property tycoon and football club owner. French president Emanuel Macron was educated at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) where three other presidents were schooled. Writ small, Delia – a property entrepreneur in his own right, former club president, and like many MPs and prime ministers an old Aloysian – starts to fit into a ‘pedigree of establishment’.

These politicians are certainly not immune to accusations of impropriety, having to spend time defending their reputations and attacking the media which puts them under scrutiny. Unsurprisingly they accuse the media of being part of the elite. These common threads unite this breed of politician.

Not all insurgents fit the model. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn won his nomination against all odds after serving on the party’s backbench as a “career politician” since 1983. Instead of lashing out at an abstract establishment, Corbyn is focused on inequality. Even Joseph Muscat, who is keen to advance the anti-establishment spiel, created his party in his own image after serving as MEP and being widely seen as the preferred choice of his party’s establishment.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump
Trump: not draining, but flooding the swamp

Donald Trump beat established politicians like Florida governor Jeb Bush who hailed from a political dynasty, and senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. He vowed to “drain the swamp” in Washington while lashing against immigrants, promising to build a wall on the Mexican frontier. This approach won him grassroots voters and white working-class voters in key Democratic states that secured his election, even while losing the popular vote by nearly three million. Lack of transparency on business deals and tax returns haunt him to this day.

Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi: man of providence

Silvio Berlusconi has been referred as a precursor of Trump. A media tycoon and AC Milan president, he crafted his Forza Italian party in 1991 to fill the gap from the collapse of the socialist and Christian-democrat parties in the wake of the Tangentopoli bribery scandal. He portrayed himself as a doer but was dogged by his own corruption scandals and accusations of impropriety.

He polarised Italy for two decades, thriving on confrontation but ultimately losing power as Italy came close to bankruptcy. At 80 he can still unite the Italian centre-right but he also faces similar ‘anti-establishment’ rivals: nemesis Beppe Grillo, a comedian turned politician, and the centre-left’s Matteo Renzi, a former mayor who dubs himself a “rottamatore” – a demolition man.

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn
Corbyn: PM in waiting

Jeremy Corbyn defeated Labour’s establishment as a career politician for his Islington constituency since 1983. In an ideological reaction to two successive Labour defeats tarnished by Tony Blair’s legacy, Corbyn was faced with mutiny in his parliamentary group, but enthusiastically backed by the left-wing Momentum movement that backs him with cultish fervour. Blamed for failing to make a convincing case for Remain in the Brexit campaign and facing off a leadership challenge, Labour actually won more seats in 2017’s snap election which the Tories won by the skin of their teeth.

Emanuel Macron
Emanuel Macron
Macron: insurgent against populism

Former minister Emanuel Macron became President of France by defeating far-rightist Marine Le Pen outside of his former socialist party, and then creating En March to win a majority in parliament. A pro-European platform attracted left-wing support; his promises of tough labour market reforms won him the business establishment. Snubbing the socialist party, he displaced it as the centre-left’s mainstream, but Le Pen dubbed the former Rothschild investment banker a “candidate of finance”. He won riding a wave of enthusiasm, but labour reforms and spending cuts have dropped his ratings by 10 points. Tant pis.

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...