Waiting for the messiah

Bernard Grech cannot win a game of dominoes, let alone an election

Nationalist Leader Bernard Grech
Nationalist Leader Bernard Grech

The other day I bumped into an old acquaintance at a shop. Way back in the years, we had drawn swords at his workplace at a prominent authority, and about his political views. Like most other people who worked diligently for a party, he was later appointed to a cosy foreign posting as ambassador.

After some pleasantries were shared, he came to the point with a rejoinder: “It is not the Nationalist Party you should hit out at, but the Labour government and Robert Abela. I remember him at the Planning Authority – he accuses us of being self-entitled and privileged? What cheek! He is part of the past if anything.”

I pointed out that, media though we are, we are also not the Opposition. “Don’t give me that,” he replied. “When you took Lawrence Gonzi to the cleaners, he deserved it and you enjoyed it. You are soft on this guy – he avoids the press, runs off to New York with two dozen officials, without one Maltese press member present... it’s no excuse that our party has a sitting duck as leader. You have a job to do...”

Now this is quite a paraphrasing of a long conversation, but you get the gist... and I was about to reply when...

“I will go one – imagine it was the PN in government that gave out those millions in handouts to early retirees at Air Malta, or that contract to Vitals and Steward... two weights, two measures... and then you say the Nationalists are bad...”

Now some onlookers were curiously waiting for me to reply...

“You of all people should speak up: the Planning Authority is a free-for-all, literally run to the diktat of Sandro Chetcuti or Joe Portelli. In our time we made planning mistakes, big ones, but nothing like what they are doing now. And every time someone raises an issue on planning they mention George Pullicino! Laughable – this country has become unliveable, ugly, a shithole...”

I managed to get in a few words here: “I agree with you on this.” But there was more...

“And this thing,” he continued, “about foreign workers... so, if I suggest that this country cannot support more foreign workers and that our economy is overheating, I am called a racist, or a downer. But we simply cannot go on like this. Why should I walk into a place to ask for something in English simply because the person who is serving me either hardly speaks English or because I cannot find a Maltese waiter to take my order??”

And then he said: “The problem is not the foreigners, but the political direction which is based on a reckless, free market economy, where money comes first and fuck the rest.”

Now, loyal readers, you will understand that, in truth, without having to trawl the countless stories and editorials on these issues, this newspaper has indeed said and reported all of the above.

“No – you have to hit back,” he insisted. “You call yourself left-wing; you have a government that is more neo-liberal and right-wing than any other government. They are subservient to the business class and only talk of the workers to keep their hardcore happy. They retain some socialist facade by going hard on civil liberties, which we stupidly opposed.”

Now I interjected: “Look, you cannot expect the press to do the job of an opposition party. It is the PN that must be seen doing its job, and the press will certainly follow and play its part.”

“And until then?” he replied. “Is the country going to wait for the Messiah? It won’t happen just like that. The PN has to rid itself of Bernard Grech – the guy is there simply because he has nothing better to do. He never knew the party, he has no idea of politics, no charisma, and he lost his chance... we need someone young, who inspires people across the board, someone who sees the big picture – not the morality issues – who instils hope to the people who want to support another party.”

And who did he see being ideal for this role?

“You groom someone and you make him or her your leader. Nobody was an ideal leader on the first day of the job. But we can’t afford any more mistakes – first Simon Busuttil, then Adrian Delia, now Grech. We need someone who understands politics, understands the PN’s history as well as Labour’s, and with a plan.”

True, Grech cannot win a game of dominoes, let alone an election.

“Robert Abela is not difficult to beat, it is his power of incumbency that is tough to overcome. So you need someone who will offer people a dream. Like that rogue Joseph Muscat did, when he appeared out of nowhere and won people’s hearts... because he had a dream.”

I had to leave. “You know it is not as simple as that,” I told him as I extricated myself from his impassioned speech. “There are still many people who are hurt with the PN. I have to go, good meeting you.”

“I’m late too, but remember this,” he called back. “Don’t forget that Gonzi lost the election, and that the party paid the price for those years. And don’t forget who paid the ultimate price – Daphne – for stepping on the toes of those who wanted to enrich themselves.”

I walked out of the shop for some fresh air. He was right.