Game of thrones

If Simon Busuttil were not around offering coffee, biscuits and useless pleasantries, what would these four candidates truly be saying in their debates and clearly pointing out?

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan
31 July 2017, 7:28am
Busuttil’s message sailed past that audience without being noticed, for he chose to align himself with a group of campaigners who wanted to hit at anything that questioned their authenticity, the PN leadership, or their message
Busuttil’s message sailed past that audience without being noticed, for he chose to align himself with a group of campaigners who wanted to hit at anything that questioned their authenticity, the PN leadership, or their message
I’m engrossed by Simon Busuttil’s political style. Apparently in denial and still repeating some old arguments over and over again, this week he chose to invite the four candidates vying for the party leadership to the Pietà headquarters.

It was a puerile move. Busuttil has no role to play in the leadership campaign. He should stay out of it and allow the candidates to question his style of leadership if they wish to do so, and more importantly to offer alternatives to his political vision, which failed miserably.

Instead he wanted to keep them ‘close’ to him to ensure that they find it more and more difficult to question his style and point out his failures.

There is no doubt that Simon Busuttil should have resigned from his post soon after the election result and an interim leader appointed. That would have allowed the candidates eyeing the leadership the chance to be open about their ideas and concerns.

Busuttil must be thinking that he was robbed of the country’s premiership. He’d been on a streak of successes ever since Malta joined the EU, when he became Malta’s most popular MEP, then a Gonzi confidant, his deputy leader and finally PN leader. The logical next step was not to be. Maybe he cannot get himself to understand how the prospect of him as PM with Marlene Farrugia by his side did not sound so palatable to many voters, Nationalists included.

Busuttil should have had the humility to accept that the disastrous defeat was also a direct result of his campaign ‘strategy’, a media-driven blitz that was terribly short-sighted, and informed by a large degree of malice and partisan zeal. The same applies to Beppe Fenech Adami and Mario de Marco (the latter should have known better but did not have the political resolve to be his own man).

For we now know that Busuttil acted most of the time on his own, taking decisions without consulting with his parliamentary group, and that he took a dim view of inclusivity. His team was made up of yes-people who lacked the mettle to point out his deficiencies and what he was doing that was wrong, if they were savvy enough to see the hole Busuttil was digging himself into.

So this week, perhaps to convey a sign of cordial rivalry and political normality at home, he invited the four leadership candidates to sit around his table at the PN HQ (a monument to the legacy of Joe Saliba that left the party with millions in debt, as it became known after the 2013 election).

The imagery seems clear: Busuttil is still party leader and it is he who is presiding this democratic hand-over of power. But it is surely clear in the minds of those four candidates, that it is not on Busuttil’s experience that they must carve their new leadership: that is, not to irritate the business class, old-time Nationalists, or by imagining that the general public is being led by the nose by some sort of acquiescent press.

For if Simon Busuttil were not around offering coffee, biscuits and useless pleasantries, what would these four candidates truly be saying in their debates and clearly pointing out?

That the party continued with a policy of political apartheid that killed off its inclusive spirit.

That it imagined people had short memories and would not remember the PN’s own excesses in government.

That there were two types of Labourites, the ‘genuine’ ones (who would prove this only by voting Nationalist) and the horrid treacherous type.

That Muscat did nothing good and that all his successes were built on the back of the PN’s own achievements or that his gay rights revolution was simply a cynical ploy.

That without the Nationalists the country would spiral into an inferno of mayhem.

That Panama was enough to change people’s views. That people really took seriously Daphne Caruana Galizia’s scribblings. That Marlene Farrugia was an asset to the Nationalist party. That the PN had a good enough record on good governance to preach about the subject. 

Simon Busuttil was no political visionary. His discourse was squarely built around the stories in the press and he put all his eggs in one basket. Questioning his style, as I once did, would have invited that look of utter disbelief, his eyes bulging out as if someone had just skinned his dog alive. He could not understand the trust deficit he was suffering from, and that a substantial number of voters did not see him as the country’s Messiah.

People looked over their shoulders, and saw MPs who worked for big business, supported and gained from the golden passport boon, had their own histories of bad governance, had been silent accomplices in environmental rape, were themselves incompetent administrators and had refused to back reforms on divorce and gay rights as Malta underwent social change.

But then there was also another important factor that escaped Busuttil. There is a tendency for the Maltese electoral base to be Labour-dominated, and that the PN had won that vote back in 1987 by reaching out and retaining those moderate voters and those who were angry with the party.

Busuttil’s message sailed past that audience without being noticed, for he chose to align himself with a group of campaigners who wanted to hit at anything that questioned their authenticity, the PN leadership, or their message. In the process they became hate figures.

And Simon’s adaptation to the Maltese political climate seemed maladjusted. As an MEP he shone with incisive three-minute speeches and building alliances with other MEPs. In Malta, the endless rallies, party club meetings and radio speeches threw him into a media circus. His intellect was built around a sense of a mission, but he had few useful advisors and lacked the communication skills to convince new faces to his party.

The PN’s new leader, whoever it will be, has a gargantuan task ahead of him, if they want to assert their own way of doing things and clean up the PN HQ. But a new king needs a new court, and a new court will need new faces.

***

When I refer to four candidates, I am really eliminating one of them, there are actually only three. They are Chris Said, Adrian Delia and Alex Perici Calascione who make a lot of sense and offer some insight into their political stands. They clearly realise that politics is not about shooting from the hip.  

Should we even discuss the other candidate? It would mean having to go into his inexcusable examples of bad governance, specifically that part where one’s debts must be paid in full. Considering he has no chance in hell of getting elected, I can let this matter rest. 

saviour_balzan
Saviour Balzan is the founder and co-owner of MaltaToday. He has reported on Maltese poli...