‘Do the math’, he said...

For all their claims to superior intellect, the ‘people with brains’ now seem hellbent on unpicking the one asset that has always stood their own party in such good stead over the years – its traditional ability to appeal to people from all sorts of social backgrounds

Right: I’ve decided not to wade into the issue of what Andrew Borg Cardona really meant to say with that “admittedly silly” comment of his on Facebook last week.

And this, for a number of reasons.

1) I don’t feel like getting bogged down in interminable discussions about semantics… which tends to be a pointless exercise at the best of times (let alone with people who automatically assume they’re always right about everything anyway);

2) Like all other examples of writing, the words he used have a meaning that is independent of the author’s actual intentions when using them. As such, they (consciously or unconsciously) betray a mindset that, in any case, we all know is very tragically real;

And, most important of all:

3) It doesn’t really matter much whether Andrew Borg Cardona was being ‘classist’ or ’elitist’ (or neither) with that remark. Whether you understand the word ‘tier’ as a reference to social background, or party allegiance – or any other definition you care to choose – it still remains the thing it is: i.e., an indicator of division; a way of categorising different Nationalist voters according to different criteria… and then judging one particular category to be somehow ‘better’ – ‘classier, ‘brainier’, ‘holier’: take your pick - than all the others put together.

And let’s face it: we didn’t really need Andrew Borg Cardona, or anyone else, to confirm the fact that the Nationalist Party is now hopelessly divided into two warring camps; and that the division itself is rooted in a deep sense of entitlement over that party.

This is something we can all see perfectly well for ourselves… with or without any assistance from our self-styled intellectual ‘superiors’.

Having said this, though… let’s take another look at that comment, shall we?

“Do the math: pro-Delia staying, the MLP and its trolls and assorted third-tier Nationalists. Pro-Delia leaving, first-tier Nationalists and people with a brain.”

If you ask me, only the first three of those words are even remotely worth discussing in the first place.

“Do the math”, he said… even if (somewhat bizarrely) the rest of the comment doesn’t give us any actual figures to do any math with.

And I suppose that’s probably just as well… because only a couple of days after the comment was posted, this newspaper ran an umpteenth survey about voter intentions in Malta… and…

Oh dear. It turns out that the ‘assorted third-tier Nationalists’ – you know: the ones ‘without a brain’ - actually outnumber their superior first-tier antagonists, even if only by a whisker.

Which also means that, for all its presumed brainlessness, the pro-Delia faction would be more successful at closing the electoral gap with Labour, than any corresponding tier led by Therese Commodini Cachia.

Strange, isn’t it, that the ‘people with a brain’ have so far been unable to capitalise on all the superior intelligence they claim to possess… by actually outperforming a man they clearly consider to be an idiot?

But that was just an aside. The real problem is that ‘doing the math’, in this instance, also spells out a much more worrying state of affairs.

For when you combine both ‘pro-’ and ‘anti-Delia’ factions – which stand at 13.2% and 13.1% (of former PN voters) respectively – the result works out at just over 26%: i.e., around half of what the Nationalist Party would need, to command an absolute majority of 50%+1 in a general election (as it managed to do so often in the past).

Taken as a percentage of the total electorate, however, the PN’s share actually works out at even less than that: 20.8%, with the gap between the two parties widening to 72,000 votes.

This, by the way, is yet another reason why it matters little whether the PN’s internal split is related to class issues or not.

‘Doing the math’ reveals not only that neither side can possibly hope to rebuild the PN on its own – something that simple logic would dictate to us anyway, even in the absence of any figures – but also that the PN’s support-base as a whole (including both camps) has now dwindled to arguably its lowest ebb in recent history.

At which point… well, who cares if this catastrophe has been brought about by the ‘elitism’ of the brainy few, or the ‘populism’ of the uneducated masses?

The stark truth is that this civil war has only managed to utterly annihilate what little was left of the Nationalist Party: an outcome that will not be changed by the eventual victory of one faction over the other (on the contrary, the PN can only expect to emerge weaker either way… having automatically lost around half its traditional voter-base, in one fell swoop.)

Nor would it change, even in the exceedingly unlikely (I would say impossible, at this stage) eventuality of a last-gasp compromise between the two sides.

And this brings me to the part I have consistently struggled to understand, ever since the PN’s warring factions have been openly at each other’s throats.

This is not exactly the first time that internal divisions have been exposed within the Nationalist Party, you know. And it’s not the first time such mathematical calculations have had to be made, either.

Back in 2009, Daphne Caruana Galizia had published an anonymous blog-post entitled ‘Why liberals matter’ (which, interestingly enough, resurfaced on social media over the past week).

I happen to remember that article quite well: partly because I considered myself one of the ‘liberal voters’ that the PN, at the time, seemed so keen on alienating forever; and partly also because – for much the same reason – some people out there thought that the anonymous author was none other than myself (note: it wasn’t).

But to paraphrase the article: departing from an analysis of PN performances at general and local/MEP elections over the years, the author concluded that:

a) “the Nationalist Party’s core vote is not more than 100,000 while Labour’s is over 120,000”, and;

b) “The Nationalist Party […] performs a miracle in every general election, when it convinces two-thirds of the non-party-core vote to vote for it.”

For fairly obvious reasons, the figures themselves have to be re-evaluated in the light of present circumstances. But the underlying message nonetheless remains relevant.

Simply put: if the PN succeeded in winning six out of seven elections between 1981 and 2013… it was precisely because it had always managed to attract a  large swathe of disparate voter-categories to take shelter under its broad umbrella: despite not actually representing all those voters when it came to matters of policy or party identity.

That included the so-called ‘liberal’ faction back in 2009, when the article was written: i.e., the ones who, like myself, voted ‘Yes’ in the divorce referendum two years later; or who (also like myself) were outraged by the PN’s drive to entrench abortion laws in the Constitution a few years earlier.

But it also includes both the ‘first-’ and ‘third-tier Nationalists’– however you choose interpret those labels – who are now busy tearing the same PN apart at the seams.

Somehow, the Nationalist Party had always succeeded in being home to both those categories simultaneously.

It had always embraced the ‘pro-Delia’ faction – which includes old-time party die-hards like ‘Censu L-Iswed’; but also long-standing veterans like Robert Arrigo, Edwin Vassallo, et al – as well as the self-styled ‘first-tier’ inhabited by the likes of Therese Commodini Cachia, the rest of the 17 rebel MPs, and Andrew Borg Cardona himself.

And granted: it might not always have been a picture-postcard of ‘family unity’… indeed, it was never more than a marriage of convenience to begin with: united only by a common desire to keep Labour out of government, at all costs… but…

It worked.

It worked so very well, in fact, that the PN succeeded in remaining in power, almost uninterruptedly, for over a quarter of a century: making it arguably the most successful political experiment this country has ever seen.

Hence the part I could never really understand: for all their claims to superior intellect, the ‘people with brains’ now seem hellbent on unpicking the one asset that has always stood their own party in such good stead over the years – i.e., its traditional ability to appeal to people from all sorts of social backgrounds, with all sorts of political leanings, and regardless of their presumed intellectual abilities - little realising that, in so doing, they are also demolishing their only hope of ever getting themselves back into power again.

And where, pray tell, is the ‘superior intelligence’ supposed to be in all that?

Oh wait, let me guess: you have to be part of the ‘first tier’ – a ‘person with a brain’ – to be able to actually see it… don’t you?