An open letter to Bernard Grech

Enter this race with a vision in mind. This cannot be an opposition of hysterics, that shames opponents, that punches down on heretics and radicals or ignores the diversity of families

Bernard Grech shared his thoughts with the MaltaToday newsroom
Bernard Grech shared his thoughts with the MaltaToday newsroom

Dear Bernard, 

I trust this letter finds you in the best of health. The job you intend to embark upon will require rude health, mental stamina, and a serene disposition in the worst of times. 

You are undoubtedly aware that the PN leadership election you are contesting comes at an incredible time for the world, and an especially difficult one for Malta. We face a pandemic which has left us none the wiser as to whether things will get worse or better any time soon. Political solutions appear to help but, most of the time, we know that the less politicians are involved, the better. What is certain is that by the end of 2020, COVID-19 will have destroyed many businesses, especially small ones; it will have practically obliterated our tourism season; and the lives of so many families, some with added domestic strain, will become all the more stressful. 

We could discuss your views on how you envisage the ‘post-COVID’ world. But let’s stick to the state of the Nationalist Party. 

The truth is that, even by looking back at the state of the party in 2012, you can easily make the comparison with what it is today. It is close to becoming a moribund party. And that signifies the end of something. Perhaps it is the end of the PN “as we know it”, that is, the umbrella party it represented in the 1990s and the run-up to EU accession, presiding over the advancements of modern Malta which I’m aware you are quick to laud. And so be it. 

But after 2004, the party refused to change. And it seems that in 2013, it refused to change yet again in the hope of maintaining a convincing facade of obdurate opposition. Labour, in spite of corruption’s heavy cloud chasing it, remains a force to be reckoned with. 

Now we have a PN leadership election which, in the minds of many, should serve to give hope that things will change. 

And change is what we really need. 

I have voted for the PN in my lifetime. Today, I am no longer a fan. But I was there in 2003, casting my vote for the PN to ensure that Malta becomes a member of the European Union. That was indeed the most important time for the PN, a time in which the party gave everyone a dream, and hope. Many of us, many who were not PN card-carrying voters or supporters, wanted to be in Europe. 

And yet even before that, there were many reasons to support the PN: the opposition to authoritarianism, media pluralism, the opening of the economy, and the diversification of the private sector economy. 

But let us move on from past glories, and ask ourselves why so many people migrated to Labour and what the mistakes of the past were. 

Bernard, more often than not, I have not heard a genuine and real declaration from Nationalist bigheads about the errors of the past. They have sort of mumbled something about being humble, but no one has pointed a finger. 

And yet, many of the people associated with your leadership bid come from that very mould and class that drove the PN to the doldrums. 

Deep inside, I have always resented the social conservatism of the PN that rendered it a totally inert party, almost committed to ‘middle-managing’ the economy. Despite my serious misgivings about Joseph Muscat now, nothing can take away the fact that he captained brave and courageous reforms that would have never happened under the PN. And although many of the PN’s former apparatchiks, shameless political servants (and a few ‘direct order’ leeches) left the party to reinvent themselves as street activists, the PN’s biggest drain has been its ideas. There is no opposition that inspires. 

You need to enter this race with a vision in mind. 

We need an opposition to propose new legislation that will have an impact on the fabric of our society. We need it to raise its hand when things get of hand, when the mistakes of the past are repeated over and over again, and to question decisions made and political responsibility that is not shouldered. 

But this cannot be an opposition of hysterics. It cannot be an opposition that shames opponents. It cannot be an opposition that employs social media and unofficial mouthpieces to carry out takedowns of its critics, external and internal. It cannot be an opposition that ignores the diversity of families. It cannot punch down. It cannot demonise the vulnerable, the minorities, the working-class, or the heretics and the radicals who call into question the nation’s fundamental beliefs. 

Bernard, Malta is a young democracy that needs serious checks and balances, but they must be delivered by capable people and new politicians who are respectable and credible, who put their political career first – not their business interests; not old political codgers with a facelift. 

Bernard, the PN has to be ready to engage with society, warts and all, and that means you have to look beyond the parochial patch. Sweet-talkers and nice chappies are all right, but leaders offer vision and ideas, and they need allies who can help you reach out to the public, not keep you preserved in your own world. 

This is a brave new world. Our new generations are more affluent than before. They refuse to be pigeon-holed, and they will assert their rights and their space in the public sphere of ideas. Sustaining a dynamic economy will not be possible with the usual mantras of ‘balance’ or hoping voters will understand when you capitulate to influential business lobbies. Quality of life is more important than ever, and that means ecology, culture and history. 

Bernard, beyond the TV punditry, you will convince people when you show you mean business by the sheer power of your wits and your political vision. 

Who knows, if you do get to lead the PN into the next general election, I could even vote for you. No promises, though. 

Bon chance!