This party ain’t big enough for both of us…

Based only on a lifetime of watching Westerns, my own prediction is that neither PN faction will be left standing, when the gun-smoke finally clears; and both will be condemned to ‘wander forever in between the winds’

One of the consequences of having been brought up on old, classic Western movies – you know: the sort that (to quote another cliché) “they just don’t make like they used to” – is that… sooner or later, you will start seeing all the classic topes of that genre, almost everywhere you look.

The one I spoofed in the headline, for instance. If you don’t count a 1929 Western called ‘The Virginian’ – where the line is actually “this WORLD (not town) isn’t big enough for the both us!” – the more familiar wording can be traced to a 1939 movie entitled… ‘The Western Code’.

And there is undeniably a ‘code’, of sorts, that runs right through the entire genre. It may vary greatly, from film to film: but what most (if not all) Westerns have in common, is that they pit two diametrically opposed world-views against one another: in a zero-sum game, from which only one can possibly emerge alive.

Still: if that were the full extent of it, there would be no real difference between a classic Western and, say, a classic war-movie, or even a classic zombie flick…

And nor, strictly speaking, would it even qualify as a ‘code’.  For codes also require ‘rules of engagement’… and because, by definition, Westerns always tend to occupy an essentially lawless space:  those rules are dictated by the strict exigencies of survival alone. (Calling to mind another classic quote, this time from an unknown source: “A man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do…”)

One of the keys to survival, in any context, is ‘adaptability’; and the same adaptability factor also pre-determines exactly which of those two incompatible views will be left standing, when the gun-smoke of the final duel clears…

… and which, on the other hand, will either ‘bite the dust’; or – like John Wayne at the end of ‘The Searchers’ – be condemned to “wander forever between the winds...”

Now: admittedly, it might be difficult to recognise that pattern anywhere in the later, revisionist movies (it only very loosely fits the traditional Sergio Leone Spaghetti Westerns, for instance); but those films, too, still incorporate a second, unmistakable trope of the old classics.

There will always come a moment, in any Western – usually around two-thirds of the way through – where a single event, or occurrence, makes the final showdown inevitable.

Just to mention one iconic example: in George Stevens’s 1953 ‘Shane’, there is a long, drawn-out confrontation between a small community of homesteaders, who are trying to cultivate the land…and a greedy, psychopathic cattle-baron across the picket-wire, who wants the whole territory for himself.

But it is only when one of the former gets violently murdered – in broad daylight, slap-bang in the middle of the village square – that Alan Ladd’s character finally realizes that… well, “a man’s gotta do…”, etc.

There is, of course, a little more to the Western code than that. Another turning point is when Shane also realizes that he himself – a former gunslinger, and equally mistrusted by the society he had just helped to save – has no real place either, in the new paradigm that will arise from the ashes of the old...

But let’s not ride too far into that sunset. The point is that – flawed though the analogy may be – what is happening in the Nationalist Party today, could almost have been directed by a Western master from the 1930s: John Ford, Howard Hawkes, Raoul Walsh…

Let’s start with the obvious: since (roughly) the 2017 election, the PN has been a territory hotly contested by two discernible factions. For ease of reference, I will refer to them by the labels they chose for themselves: on one side of the picket-wire, there is ‘Team Adrian Delia’ (note: not just his official canvassers, but all his supporters across the party); and on the other, the ‘Blue Heroes’ (i.e., the rebel MPs who ousted Delia two years ago: to whom we can also add Repubblika/Occupy Justice, which actively pursue the same objectives; and all their combined supporters).

As in any self-respecting Western, there can only ever be one winner in this scenario. This much was clear even from the opening credits: Adrian Delia’s entire leadership bid, in 2017, was rooted in his stated intention to “reclaim” the PN, from a “faction which had hijacked it”.

Already, that leaves little room in that party for any but one of the two groups. But the stakes were dramatically raised by the Blue Heroes’ reaction, which was to: a) make it impossible for anyone but themselves to actually lead the PN, and; b) oust Adrian Delia from that position… precisely because he had failed to lead that party (to better poll results, anyway).

But that’s just the historical backstory. Since then, we have had a new PN leader… and what do you know? Bernard Grech instantly fell into a recognizable Western trope, too. The ‘bungling sheriff’, who tries – and fails – to keep the two rival factions from marching down the main street, for a High Noon showdown...

And why, I wonder, has Bernard Grech proven every bit as unsuccessful as his predecessor, in steering the PN in a different direction? Could it, by any chance, have anything to do with the fact that the exact same tactics are currently being used against him… by the exact same people?

Well… to be fair, it could also be because Bernard Grech made the same mistake as Delia before him: i.e., he tried to ‘unify’ the party, even though – honestly, has he never watched a single Western in his life? – it should have been obvious, to anyone familiar with the Western code, that this was never on the cards to begin with.

This is why Grech’s earliest attempts at a Shadow Cabinet reshuffle were (successfully) resisted; and also why he failed to influence the party’s position on things like abortion, or cannabis reform… and this, too, explains why he still faces calls to banish Delia from the party, to this very day.

Because if Grech himself doesn’t understand the Western code: the Blue Heroes certainly do. They know that nothing short of the total annihilation of their adversaries can possibly put their own, total control of that party beyond any real threat… and that only their own ultimate victory – over a defeated, humiliated rival – will ever bring this feud to an end.

As for Team Adrian Delia: if they haven’t come to exactly the same conclusion by now… who knows? Maybe they do deserve to get wiped out, after all, in the inevitable ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral’ climax.

For that ‘turning point’ I mentioned earlier – remember?  The one which normally happens two-thirds into the film – was actually reached well over a year ago now: ever since the PN Executive voted to dethrone Adrian Delia in June 2020… which was (let’s face it) the direct equivalent of that classic Western quote: ‘This party just ain’t big enough for the both of us…”

And like any other movie turning point: there can be no coming back. Least of all now: when a recent poll registered an even greater popularity decline for the PN… this time, under Bernard Grech.

This, too, marks a ‘climax’ of sorts (which might explain why the Blue Heroes are suddenly so keen on diverting attention from it). For one thing, it inevitably raises a few teenie-weenie questions of its own – like, ‘if negative polling was a good enough reason to get rid of Adrian Delia in 2020… why not Bernard Grech in 2021’?

But for another… it sort of demarcates the entire frontier that has all along separated those two rival factions, in their bid to control the PN.

From the moment Delia won the leadership race (actually, before), the Blue Heroes have always behaved as though the party was their own, uncontested (and uncontestable) domain…

.. while Delia originally gave the same impression, by attempting to regain control over that party by replacing the leadership himself.

And yet, not only did the polls fail to register any significant improvement, after June 2020  – suggesting that there never was much electoral distance between the two sides anyway – but the gap between the two parties has actually grown from 40 to 50K, in just over a year.

Again: there may be other causes, apart from the internecine feud, to account for this; all the same, however… at a glance, it pretty much nullifies either side’s claim to be the authentic – or ‘legitimate’, or ‘rightful’, or whatever – claimants to the Nationalist Party throne.

And this is hardly surprising, either: because neither faction has ever really paused to consider how their own actions, and behaviour, would impact the party they are fighting over. By excluding the possibility of a future PN which both can equally call home… they have, quite frankly, behaved exactly like the greedy, psychopathic cattle-baron in ‘Shane’…

So for what it’s worth (and based only on a lifetime of watching Westerns), my own prediction for the ending is that: neither faction will be left standing, when the gun-smoke finally clears; and both will be condemned to ‘wander forever in between the winds’.

This I predict, not because of any prescience on my part; but only because the old Western code demands it. Simply put: it is not that the Nationalist Party is too small to accommodate both; it is that their own, self-serving greed is way, WAY too big, to ever actually fit.

And… CUT! That’s a wrap, folks.