It's Bernard Grech who has to kick-start the change in his party

Bernard Grech’s political career may not be over but if he does not act now, it will be too late for the PN

You either have it or you don’t.

You don’t succeed in politics by reading a textbook, but because you know when to seize the moment and because you know when you have to respond to a crisis or opportunity.

Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech did just the opposite this week. He reacted to a spat between Adrian Delia and Jason Azzopardi by putting the spotlight on an internal crisis – which everybody and their cat know about in Malta – involving two personalities who have proven beyond any doubt that they will not be taking the PN places.

Ill-advised Grech called an executive meeting to discuss Adrian Delia and Jason Azzopardi’s spat on Facebook, and by doing so he amplified that social media discord and turned it into a national discussion over how the PN was still in squabble-mode.

In the end there was a sort of public statement about everyone laying down their hatchet. But it turned out worse than one expected. Grech’s deposed leadership rival, the former PN leader Adrian Delia, blew his trumpet at having had his sins ‘forgiven’ while Jason Azzopardi spent the evening licking his wounds.

I do not think anyone believes Delia when he tries to play down his relationship with Yorgen Fenech, but people (if they care in the first instance) are sick and tired of reading about Yorgen Fenech and bored at Jason Azzopardi’s antics. Which is why Azzopardi is suffering at constituency level.

What happened this very week was inevitable. Respondents participating in a MaltaToday survey reacted to the PN crisis with a deafening repudiation for the PN. It almost seems people have apparently lost hope that the Nationalist Party will ever find its feet.

It is a tragedy. A tragic moment for Maltese politics. Bernard Grech’s political career may not be over but if he does not act now, it will be too late for the PN; and there is little doubt in my mind that with the survey results as they appear in today’s MaltaToday, Robert Abela could be heading to a landslide victory that could overshadow the last election that saw Joseph Muscat win a historic victory.

But democracy needs a strong opposition. And the real changes have to also happen within Bernard Grech. His first task is that of allowing himself to be surrounded by two deputy leaders that will inspire modernity; yet change here did not happen. David Agius and Robert Arrigo hang on to their posts, completely disregarding the interest of the PN.

Grech on the other hand has not found the courage to say it as it is to the two men: them clinging to the leadership as appendages from a past leadership, will never get the PN out of its rut. What is Grech waiting for?

The same applies to Francis Zammit Dimech, for even with his political experience, his role is surely not that of secretary-general. In the past, these roles were occupied by formidable political operators who not only ran the party but seemed to be the stewards of the party and its political programme in lieu of the party leader – they acted as caretakers, and they were not simply organisers, but also tub-thumping political bosses.

Now this role has been removed inside Labour, whose party is today run by a CEO and, politically, by its deputy leader of party affairs and party president. The Nationalists have lacked an energising secretary-general for at least a decade and a half. And a renovated party cannot have a secretary-general who represents the PN of yesteryear. That person must represent the aspirations of the electorate and drive the party towards modernity.

Bernard Grech must have the courage to put his foot down: he has to put forward new faces and cannot hope for this to happen on its own. He is going to have to be ruthless. Decapitate and defenestrate those who stand in the way of change.

The next question is how can this country see the reforms that need to happen if the Labour government continues to enjoy a sizeable majority and puts electoral exigencies as a top priority.

To make myself clear, one would imagine that a party with such a huge majority would herald major reforms. Yet the reforms that really need addressing are apparently not in Robert Abela’s to-do list. If I had to mention the considerations that would normally excite a Labour party, it would be a revolutionary change to planning laws in favour of communities and the environment, offering real protection for the environment and taxing excessive wealth and consumption.

These three elements are not high on the list of the Labour Party of Malta. It is time to think of a vision for the years to come and not of short-sighted gains.

Which is why when I heard environment minister Aaron Farrugia state on my programme Xtra this week, that changing the 2006 local plans was an impossible task because it would result in billions of euros in compensation, I told myself... ‘bollocks’.

Contrary to what Farrugia states, changing policies and local plans can happen without some alleged “massive compensation”.

The mindset just now is that development has to happen and we have to work our way around it and that somehow we have to make development have an environmental flavour. ‘Living’ walls and energy-saving skyscrapers in Mrieħel are attempts to sweeten a bitter pill. They are not environmental measures but acts in tokenism.

There has to be a conscious decision to steer away from our dependence on the construction industry and come to terms that this minuscule nation has a very limited footprint. Yet this has not quite sunk into our politicians’ minds.

And if we are going to seek more ‘financially transparent’ economic models, we need to return to the traditional method of taxing those that can contribute more and who are far wealthier. Understandably the Labour party does not want to shake the tiger economy but it does not mean that it should not seek to have a more equitable tax system: one that will allow the half a million of its inhabitants and future gener-ations to continue to prosper and receive the best education, health and services.