‘When you point your finger cos your plan fell through...’

Franco Debono, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Jesmond Mugliett… these were all Nationalist MPs ‘punished’ for ‘disloyalty to the party’… at a time when Lawrence Gonzi himself was its leader

I think I was around 13 when I first heard the Dire Straits album ‘Making Movies’: that is to say, young enough to be much more impressed by the lyrics of a rock song, than by the combined wisdom of religion, philosophy, literature or politics.

So when I first heard Mark Knopfler singing ‘Solid Rock’, I was bowled over by what struck me as probably the most incisive and profound rock lyric ever written:

“When you point your finger cos your plan fell through, you got three more fingers pointing back at you…”

Looking back on those words again 40 years later… well, I’m pleased to report that it’s one of those childhood convictions that doesn’t need any readjusting (unlike, for instance, my earlier appraisal of Show-Waddy-Waddy’s ‘Under the Moon of Love’ as undeniably the greatest song in the history of popular music...)

In any case: it is still the lyric that plays in my head, every time I am confronted with outrageous examples of political double-standards in this country (i.e., every single minute of every single day.)

Right now, it feels like it’s been on a permanent loop ever since last Tuesday. For that’s how long it has been painfully clear that the ‘plan’ to oust Adrian Delia as Opposition Leader has ‘fallen through’… and, well, just look at all the finger-pointing that is going on; and how much of it seems to instantly rebound on the people doing all the pointing.

Take former PM Lawrence Gonzi, for instance. This morning, he emerged from the shadows to regale us with his views on the crisis currently gripping the PN: saying that he would “oppose any proposal that is designed to punish individuals who have exercised their democratic right to express dissenting views, as this contradicts the very nature of what the PN stands for.”

This, after Adrian Delia had hinted (only to later backtrack) that he might ask the PN’s executive council to expel the 17 MPs who voted against him last Tuesday.

OK, I suppose you can probably already see the applicability of that Dire Straits lyrics to this particular case. Gonzi is clearly pointing a finger at Adrian Delia here - calling him out over his earlier intention to ‘punish’ those among his parliamentary group who were disloyal to him – and not only does he have three of his own fingers pointing back at him… but they even have names.

Franco Debono, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Jesmond Mugliett… these were all Nationalist MPs who had similarly been ‘punished’ for ‘disloyalty to the party’… at a time when Lawrence Gonzi himself was its leader.

In all three cases, their crime was to ‘exercise their democratic right to express dissenting views’, in a way that Gonzi now feels ‘contradicts the very nature of the PN’.

And in much the same way, too: all three found themselves censured over ‘confidence votes’, in 2012, which had defied the official party line. Franco Debono had voted in favour of an Opposition motion against former justice minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici; Pullicino Orlando likewise supported a motion that called for the resignation of Malta’s EU representative Richard Cachia Caruana; a vote in which Mugliett had abstained.

The PN’s reaction, as I recall, was to issue a statement formally ‘condemning’ the three party rebels ‘for how they voted separately in parliament’; and Gonzi himself had described Debono’s actions as ‘politically unacceptable’.

But while Pullicino eventually resigned of his own accord, and Mugliett simply chose not to recontest with the PN in 2013…. the situation regarding Franco Debono was slightly different. He went on to be expelled from the party altogether, and banned from ever contesting elections with the PN again… in exactly the same way as Gonzi now urges Delia to refrain from replicating (i.e., by convening the PN Executive Committee, and turning it into an ‘Execution Committee’ instead.)

Yet fast-forward nine years later, and the same Lawrence Gonzi now defends another, entirely analogous case where Nationalist MPs have voted against their own party line in a motion of no confidence… only this time, not to remove a single minister, or the permanent representative to the EU; but to remove none other than the party leader himself, and replace with him with one of their own.

Almost makes you wonder how Lawrence Gonzi would have reacted, had France Debono tried to oust him (instead of just Carm Mifsud Bonnici), in the same way as those 17 rebels did with Delia last week. To be honest, I shudder to even imagine…

But that’s another thing that makes that Dire Straits lyric so memorable. Just as we never see those three fingers pointing back at us, every time we accuse others of our own shortcomings… I imagine that neither Gonzi himself, nor any of the people who supported him when he expelled Franco Debono in 2012, will ever see any form of contradiction between these two scenarios.

Naturally, the same goes for the 17 rebels: who issued a short statement to justify their loss of confidence in Adrian Delia…. evidently, without realising that their arguments can be made to apply just as much to themselves, as to the man on the receiving end of all this finger-pointing.

In numerical order, this was their first reason: “Adrian Delia hasn’t managed to unite the traditional PN electorate, or convince previous PN voters to vote for the PN again. This was confirmed by the poor results achieved at last year’s European Parliament and local council elections, and by several surveys…”

Hmm. Yes, well I think it’s only fair to say that I agree with that overall assessment. Delia has clearly failed to restore the PN to its previous electoral strength, in the three years he’s been trying; and it is now abundantly clear that he has no hope at all of ever succeeding in future.

But to quote yet another genius song lyric (this time, by Charlene Victoria Mula)… ‘Tort ta’ min?’

Whose fault is it, exactly, that the PN remains so viscerally divided to this day… if not of the rebel faction who stolidly refused to ever co-operate with their party leader; who tripped him up at every conceivable opportunity; and who, in the end, chose to collectively knife him in the back?

But it’s the second part of the argument that rebounds directly onto the rebels themselves: some of whom seem to have forgotten that they were, until quite recently, part of the PN ruling elite under its previous leader, Simon Busuttil… who (like Delia) was also elected PN leader to ‘turn things around’, for a party that had just suffered its most humiliating defeat ever at the polls.

And oh look: Busuttil, too, ‘failed to convince previous voters to vote for the PN again’, or in any way improve the party’s electability issues: with the difference that – unlike Adrian Delia – he was given the opportunity to actually lead that party into the 2017 election… and managed to lose by an even wider margin than in 2013.

Likewise, under Simon Busuttil the PN had earned its most dismal European election result to date in 2014: gaining only 40% of the national vote, and electing only two MEPs to Labour’s four (a result which was, de facto, broadly comparable to Delia’s efforts in 2019). And he fared no better at local council level, either.

Yet strangely, I don’t recall any of those 17 rebels ever trying to oust Simon Busuttil at any point in his five-year stint as PN (and Opposition) leader. No, not even when virtually ALL the country’s independent polls and surveys had unanimously predicted a whopping defeat for the PN in the 2017 election… just like they do in the case of Delia today.

It seems, then, that all such considerations only really count when the leader of the PN happens to be someone our 17 Blue Heroes don’t like very much. When, on the other hand, it is one of their own… then suddenly, it’s a whole different ballgame.

Suddenly, ‘party loyalty’ once again becomes the only political virtue that has ever mattered… and anyone who ‘rebels’ against their party leader (as Debono and co. did in 2012) becomes a ‘traitor’, to be booted out of the party at the earliest opportunity.

All this while, however, there have been three of their own fingers pointing back at them, for every one of the 17 fingers they now point at Adrian Delia. And if you ask me, this only goes to prove one thing.

It proves that… um… that Mark Knopfler was a genius, I suppose. Something I have suspected ever since I was around 13 years old…

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