So much for the ‘post-Delia plan’...

Political parties should exist to compete on the best policies for the future of the country which is only a means to an end; that of improving our quality of life and social wellbeing

Just a few hours before the PN parliamentary group voted against Adrian Delia last Tuesday, a nameless MP told this newspaper that “there was already a post-Delia plan agreed upon” which “had the widespread support of a vast majority of the parliamentary group.”

And that, to the best of my knowledge, was the first indication of any form of long-term planning at all by the PN’s so-called rebel faction – or ‘Blue Heroes’, if you prefer the title they have so modestly chosen for themselves – in the three whole years they have been busy plotting Delia’s political downfall.

Up until that point, the only apparent driving force behind their efforts was just an undisguised desire for Adrian Delia to simply ‘disappear’: ideally, of his own accord – I have lost count of the number of resignation calls coming from Nationalist backbenchers – but failing that… then by any means necessary, fair or foul.

More significantly, there was never any attempt to offer an alternative vision for the future of the PN. From day one, the rebels have always acted as though ‘getting rid of Adrian Delia’ were the only objective that mattered – thus betraying an underlying (and shockingly naïve) assumption that all the party’s current problems would simply follow Delia out of the building, the moment he was forced to leave.

There are, however, a few small snags with that approach. One very simple one is that the Nationalist Party’s electability issues did not exactly start with Adrian Delia – quite the contrary, in fact: Delia actually won the last PN leadership race on a promise to rebuild that party, following two consecutive (and incrementally disastrous) electoral defeats in 2013 and 2017 respectively.

And this forces us to confront an irony that most people seem to be missing in this debate. While we can all agree that Adrian Delia himself has failed miserably to live up to that promise – and that, following recent revelations, he has absolutely zero chance of ever succeeding in future – the fact remains that the rebels now calling for his removal, were themselves the architects of the PN’s current predicament to begin with.

It’s amazing how quickly everyone seems to have forgotten this: but two of those 17 rebels – Beppe Fenech Adami and Mario De Marco – were part of the PN leadership team (alongside Simon Busuttil) that had to resign en masse following the 2017 drubbing.

Others within the same camp – Jason Azzopardi, Claudio Grech, Karol Aquilina, etc. – were likewise either part of the last PN administration (you know, the one that imploded so spectacularly in 2013); or, at minimum, occupied some position or other within the structures of the Nationalist Party before the (even more bruising) defeat of 2017.

As for Chris Said – who led the first cavalry charge last Tuesday, before ceding command of the rebel forces to Therese Commodini Cachia – he was none other than the main contender against Adrian Delia in the last PN leadership race… and lost.

In a nutshell, then, what we are really witnessing is a very far cry from the ‘heroic struggle for the soul of the PN’ (as it has so far been presented)… but rather, nothing more glamorous or romantic than an umpteenth corporate takeover bid of the PN, by the same people who were actually rejected by that party three years ago (not to mention by the electorate… twice).

So exactly how these rebels can suddenly reinvent themselves as the only ones capable of ‘saving’ the PN – when they actually reduced that party to the sorry state it is in today – is, I suppose, anyone’s guess really.

But… well, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? They’re not even trying to do that, it seems: not even now, when the internal dissent has clearly passed the point of no return.

No, their only interest is still just to oust Adrian Delia, come Hell or high water… with everything else (including the entire future of a party that would, by then, be eviscerated anyway) relegated to the status of an afterthought.

This, by the way, emerges even from the wording of that plan I mentioned in the first paragraph. It’s a ‘post-Delia plan’, remember? That means it can only be implemented once Delia himself has gone… but oh look: Delia is still there, three days after losing a vote of confidence pushed forward by his own MPs.

OK, admittedly this might change at any moment between now (Friday) and Sunday. But at the time of writing, there is still no guarantee that this umpteenth mutiny will be any more successful than any of the same rebels’ previous attempts.

On the contrary: there is every reason to expect that it will not succeed… or at least, not in any way that can possibly lead to any form of meaningful renewal of the Nationalist Party.

For let’s face it: this ‘post-Delia plan’ seems to be rooted the same ill-conceived strategy that previously gave us the ‘Barra, Barra!’ motif in 2017: implying that the real concern was more with destroying one’s political opponents, than with replacing them as a fully-functional government, complete with its own agenda, and its own ideas.

Do I need to go on? Apart from those two electoral defeats I already mentioned, the same ‘Barra, Barra!’ approach also manifestly failed to prevent the election of Adrian Delia as PN leader in the first place (indeed, it arguably sealed his victory, against the run of play).

How, then, can it possibly be expected to work today?

And that’s before we get to the nitty-gritty of all the Constitutional loopholes and pitfalls. Here, I shall have to admit that I am no expert in Constitutional matters… but then again, not even Malta’s foremost legal brains seem to be in agreement on what, exactly, the Constitution actually decrees for an unprecedented situation such as this.

By now, you will all be aware that there are different interpretations of the all-important Article 90: which simultaneously holds that: “(a) if there is one opposition party whose numerical strength in the House of Representatives is greater than the strength of any other opposition party, [the President shall appoint] the member of the House of Representatives who is the Leader of that party”; and “(b) [the President shall appoint] the member of the House who, in the judgment of the President, commands the support of the largest single group of members of the House in opposition to the Government who are prepared to support one leader.”

Unsurprisingly, both the pro- and anti-Delia factions now argue that one or the other of these clauses somehow ‘validates’ their own claims to the PN throne. And for all I understand about Constitutional matters… either of them could just as easily be right.

At the same time, however… there is a level at which it doesn’t even really matter that much. For the same two Constitutional clauses also spell out an entirely different course of action that the rebels could have taken: one which would have ended this controversy before it even began.

If their intention really was to replace Adrian Delia as Opposition leader, and thus regain all the legitimacy required to keep up the fight for good governance, rule of law, and all that…

… well, those 17 MPs could easily have achieved all of that, and more, simply by resigning from the PN, retaining their seats in Parliament, and declaring themselves a new political formation under the leadership of Therese Commodini Cachia.

That way, all the provisos of both 90 (a) and (b) would instantly have been met. The new party would have enjoyed an automatic majority among the combined Opposition parties… so the President wouldn’t have had any problems appointing Commodini Cachia as Opposition leader… and besides: there wouldn’t even be any need to separate the roles of Opposition and Party Leader, either.

Under those circumstances, Therese Commodini Cachia would have been both at the same time: just like the good old days.

More to the point: this new political formation would also have stood a much better chance of actually reinventing itself as a serious, credible political alternative government… being unencumbered by either Adrian Delia himself, or any of the baggage that inevitably comes with the PN’s chequered 125-year political history.

But for that to happen in practice – for it still can; and the possibility will remain open in future, too - those 17 PN rebels would need to be motivated by more than just a knee-jerk, guns-blazing determination to simply destroy their political opponents at all costs.

They would also need the one thing they have never given any indication of actually possessing, at any point in these past three years: a political vision of their own.