Raphael Vassallo

When the going gets tough...

You can all come out of your hiding places now, and take your places on the PN Leadership Race Starting Line

Raphael Vassallo
22 June 2017, 7:30am
Potential PN leadership contestants Chris Said and Claudio Grech
Potential PN leadership contestants Chris Said and Claudio Grech
There seems to be something missing from the PN leadership race at the moment. Hmm... now what could it possibly be?

That’s it: runners! I mean, just look at that racetrack for a moment. Everything’s in place for the starter pistol to be fired... but there’s nobody actually in position on the starting line yet. Oh, wait, hold on... maybe I spoke too soon. Yes, there are two contestants who seem to be (somewhat reluctantly) warming up on the side. Claudio Grech and Chris Said, by the look of it... 

Ok, I suppose that’s not actually such a bad start.  Both seem reasonable contenders to me. Even if – no offence or anything – they’re also both part of the existing party establishment, and they both come with their fair share of baggage from past PN administrations.

Still, I’ll not hold that against them. People have been known to successfully reinvent themselves, you know... and I would say ‘reinvention’ (more than ‘renewal’, or whatever the chosen buzzword of the moment may be) is the real name of the game here.

Besides: the alternative to those two appears to be... nobody at all, at present. (Unless, that is, you count ‘outsiders’ like Franco Debono, Marlene Farrugia, etc). It reminds me of the classic Laurel and Hardy-style ‘call for volunteers’ sketch: they end up being the only ones volunteering, not because they took a step forward themselves... but because everyone else took a step back.

I shall have to admit: this has me confused. Where is all the enthusiasm, folks? Where is all the young blood, champing at the bit for a stab at the one thing they have all been dreaming about for so long? Power... their chance to finally sit at the high-stakes table with all the big-time players? Where is the hunger, the ambition, the visceral impulse to take the tide of human fortune at the flood, to ride the crest of the tsunami, etc. etc.?

Come on, guys, I’m running out of Shakespearean allusions here. Help me out a little. Can anyone tell me why the younger generation of Nationalist foot-soldiers – who have (let’s face it) been so vocal and so shrill on Facebook until only a few days ago - seem to be suddenly nowhere to be seen or heard... just when their input is actually needed the most? When this is undeniably THEIR big moment?

Who else do they think is going to step in and sort their party out for them, anyway? Father Christmas? It’s a bit too early for that, I’m afraid. No, no, this is a time for all the new kids on the block to be stepping forward with their ideas, their energy, their zeal and their egos. Heck, I was expecting an entire army of Nationalist whizz-kids to be pouring onto that racetrack from all angles... each overflowing with leadership visions, each scrambling and fighting for pole-position, ahead of a race that is (or should be) quite literary up for grabs.

Forgive me for being cynical, but I’m beginning to suspect that the task of ‘reinventing the PN’ may now appear a little too daunting, for a generation that clearly expects to find everything all ready for them to simply step into. Their big moment, did I say? Well... yes, it is: but only if they don’t mind getting their hands a little dirty... wading into the fray, fighting through the rat-race of party politics, building up structures and policies from literally ground zero, and all that.  You know, doing all the hard work that all successful, forward-looking and inspirational party leaders have always had to do, in order to earn their stripes and rise through the ranks. 

And ‘hard work’ the new party leader will certainly have to do. To assume the reins of the PN now, at this delicate stage, would entail refashioning the entire party into the unstoppable electoral force it used to be until only a few years ago. It is a mammoth challenge, certainly... but also one that should appeal to anyone with even a modicum of willpower, ambition, conviction and verve.

So come on, folks. Are we to understand that this challenge is beyond your collective capabilities? In all honesty – and without a trace of sarcasm – I find that hard to believe. Surely, there must be at least one or two of you out there with enough self-belief to step forward and take this bull by the horns. So start looking deep inside yourselves, O younger children of a forsaken party. Identify the places where all those brilliant ideas of yours have been hiding all this time. Flush out those previously unsuspected leadership skills you’ve all been suppressing, and learn to recognise a unique, once-in-a-lifetime political opportunity when you see one.  And above all, stop all this worrying about failure. Failure? Pah! Screw up your courage to the sticking place, and you shall not fail! (There, I knew I had one Shakespeare allusion left). 

Like I said, this is YOUR moment. There is much work to be done – which must be done for the good of the entire country, not just the Nationalist Party – and we’re all depending on YOU to get it started.

There. That should put a little rocket up your backsides for a change. And if it’s not enough, I’ll even throw in this next argument as an extra added bonus. Be warned, however. What I am about to say next may come as an overwhelming, earth-shattering shock to all of you, but... here goes... statistically speaking, whoever takes over the PN leadership now will actually have a pretty good fighting chance of becoming Malta’s next Prime Minister. 

Hey, now don’t get all carried away, do you hear? I said ‘a pretty good fighting chance’. You still have to fight a bit. And it won’t be easy, either: there’s an entire party to rebuild first, remember?

But so long as the new leader does indeed have the energy and vision to get all the necessary spadework done... the rest – yes, even winning elections: the PN used to be good at that once, in case it’s forgotten – becomes that much more attainable in practice. Here are a couple of reasons why:

One: a PN victory at the next election would actually conform to the natural political cycle.  Just look at Eddie Fenech Adami, for example. He took over the PN in 1977 after two successive electoral defeats, turned things round, and by 1981... hey presto! He won the first election he ever contested as leader (even though, for reasons of history, he had to wait until 1987 to actually become prime minister). Same with Alfred Sant. He replaced Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici in 1992, after THREE electoral defeats (if you count 1981), and within four years he had completely reinvented the MLP, only to become Prime Minister by 1996. 

OK, I’ll admit that this ‘natural cycle’ went a little haywire after that – certainly, I would not bet any serious money on that basis alone... but still: It’s good to know that Maltese electoral history is actually on your side for a change...

Two: I’m surprised I even have to remind you all of this one, but... those magisterial inquiries we were all talking about before the election? They’re still ongoing, you know. And there are no fewer than four of them. One into Joseph Muscat’s alleged links to Egrant, and the other three concerning one of his Cabinet ministers (Konrad Mizzi) and his chief of staff (Keith Schembri). 

Statistically, the law of probabilities weighs heavily towards at least one of those inquiries not going Muscat’s way. And it only takes one to plunge the present government - however humungous its electoral mandate – into deep crisis.

If the ‘one’ turns out to be the Egrant inquiry, the consequences would be catastrophic for Joseph Muscat. At minimum he would have to instantly resign, and there would presumably have to be criminal procedures instituted against him, too. To be perfectly honest I can’t even begin to predict exactly what would happen... but Muscat’s government would surely have to collapse one way or another.  

And let’s face it: if the Nationalists are sincerely convinced those allegations are true, this is the outcome they should all along be expecting from the inquiry. From that perspective, the electoral defeat becomes little more than a temporary inconvenience: with the imminent, inevitable collapse of the Muscat administration, everything should be about to go back to square one anyway.

Of course, there is the possibility of the opposite outcome... in which case: well, the incoming PN leader had better hope he or she never lent any weight to those allegations him- or herself. Otherwise, we may end up having two PN leadership races in quick succession...

Even so, however: there are still the other three inquiries. Muscat may survive himself, but a guilty verdict for either Mizzi or Schembri would be a serious blow to his government’s credibility. So again: if the PN is convinced that they are guilty... it should be rubbing its hands in anticipation of this development.

There: now things don’t look quite so bad after all, do they? So no more excuses, please. You can all come out of your hiding places now, and take your places on the PN Leadership Race Starting Line, like the good little future Maltese prime ministers you will all no doubt prove to be.

Are we all set, then? No false starts, now. Ready, steady...