If the polls are negative… they’re lying!

Small wonder, I suppose, that Bernard Grech would have suffered a momentary ‘lapsus’, during last Sunday’s speech; and briefly got his different interpretations of our survey results, all ‘muddled up’. Clearly, he must have a heck of a lot to occupy his mind with, right now…

Out of curiosity: how many speeches did Bernard Grech actually deliver, at the close of the PN’s General Council last Sunday?

Reason I ask is that – even though I am well aware that the answer is ‘only one’ – it seems from the press coverage that Bernard Grech might have made as many speeches, as there were newspapers reporting the event.

How else are we to explain that every news report has given us a ‘unique’ summary of the same speech: in some instances, even creating different (and conflicting) impressions, of what he actually said?

Let’s start with the newspaper you’re reading at the moment. MaltaToday’s coverage chose to lead with Grech’s apparent ‘Mea Culpa’, regarding the internal divisions that still evidently plague the Nationalist Party under his own leadership (in other words: the same internal divisions that Grech himself was originally elected – more than two years ago – to ‘resolve’).

The headline was: “Bernard Grech in heartfelt appeal for UNITY [my emphasis] and humility”; and we were also told that he “did not shy away from describing lack of unity within the Nationalist Party an ‘open wound’ when addressing party councillors on Sunday.”

Elsewhere, other media - including The Malta Independent, Lovin Malta, Newsbook, etc. - may have focused on other specific details: but they all at least mentioned the same aspect, somewhere in their own coverage.

On that basis, I find it entirely reasonable to conclude that the Opposition leader must indeed have finally come round to understanding, what everyoneelse has been patiently trying to tell him for the past two years.

Namely, that the ‘internal division’ we’re talking about is very REAL (as opposed to all Grech’s previous claims, that it was some kind of ‘concocted media conspiracy, to discredit him as PN leader’); and that this ‘open wound’ is inflicting MASSIVE damage to the Nationalist Party’s electoral chances (a fact which has only just been reconfirmed, for the umpteenth time, by our latest survey – more of which later).

So far, so good (and just to throw in another pointless cliché, for free: ‘Better late, than never!’)

Except that… when you switch channel to One TV, the impression you will get is the clean opposite of all that. According to One News, Bernard Grech actually said that “the division within the PN is a ‘PERCEPTION’” [my emphasis, again]; and the bulletin came complete with the usual (split-second, ultra-edited) soundbite, in which Grech himself can be even heard describing it as such, fleetingly, in a single sentence.

Hmm. Strange, is it not, that something can be both a ‘reality’, and a ‘perception’, at one and the same time? We are left to believe that either Bernard Grech must have ‘converted to Buddhism’, while the rest of us weren’t looking – a faith which holds, among other things, that “all reality is an illusion” - or, conversely, that one or the other of those media coverages must be somehow incorrect (if not, ‘wildly inaccurate’.)

Well, guess what? It turns out that – after piecing together a more complete picture, from here and from there – Bernard Grech really DID utter both those contradictory remarks, in one and the same speech. He really DID both acknowledge the reality of the PN’s inner divide; whilst simultaneously also (apparently) dismissing it as a ‘media conspiracy against him…’

And it shouldn’t even surprise us all that much, either: because in another speech, delivered just a week earlier – specifically, on the same day that our latest survey came out – Grech had likewise lashed out at what he described as ‘Robert Abela’s state capture of the media’.

To quote our own news report: “Referring to the Prime Minister’s admission last week of having spoken to a magistrate, the Opposition leader told supporters at the PN club in Mqabba this was Abela’s way of controlling institutions.

“If he can do that with the judiciary, God knows what he does with journalists and editors,” Grech exclaimed, adding the national broadcasting station was simply a mouthpiece for the Prime Minister…”

Now: to be fair, Bernard Grech didn’t quite come out and say, in so many words, what he very clearly had in mind… i.e., that our latest survey on the subject of Maltese politics - which registered the lowest level of nationwide support for the Nationalist Party, in as long as this newspaper has even been conducting political surveys, at all - was just another example of ‘what Robert Abela might do, with journalists and editors’ [Note: I apologise in advance, for any unpleasant mental images that might be evoked by that expression. I myself tried to visualize the metaphor, in the context of certain ‘journalists and editors’ I happen to know, and… Ugh! What can I say? It’s sort of thing that can NEVER, EVER be ‘unseen’, again!)

But no matter: the point is that – just two short weeks ago – Bernard Grech was still implicitly urging his supporters to ignore (or at least, be sceptical of) ‘negative polls and surveys’: as if to suggest that those polls do not reflect the REAL political landscape… but were simply ‘Labour propaganda’, to add to all the rest (a category which, by the way, also includes the ‘perception of a divided PN’).

And he wasn’t the only one, within the PN, to argue that way. Interestingly enough, the same PN General Council was also addressed by Dr Mary-Anne Lauri: who has been occupying the role of PN President of Political Research since last November. And while she didn’t exactly imply that this newspaper’s survey was itself an example of ‘State media-capture’… she did, at various points, seem to question its accuracy (if not, its entire validity).

“A survey is not a snapshot,” she argued. “A survey has a margin of error, so if the statistic is showing you 30%, this means that this could be anything between 27% and 33%.”…

Now: it fell to my colleague Kurt Sansone to point out at least one of the flaws in that assertion. Namely, that the ‘margin of error’ in MaltaToday surveys (the methodology is usually included at the bottom of the page, by the way) is of ‘+/-4.2%’; which also means that - even if we accorded the Nationalist Party the fullest advantage possible, of the maximum margin that ‘error’ can even offer… “the difference between the parties would still stand at almost eight points, or 27,000 votes.”

And as Kurt succinctly put it: “Would this really make a difference to how PN councillors and supporters should interpret the results [of this, or any other survey]’?

There is, however, another flaw I could add to the list: and that’s the fact that both Dr Lauri’s speech last Sunday – and all recent speeches by Bernard Grech– could just as easily have been delivered by the last PN leader to complain about ‘negative polls’: a certain Adrian Delia, as I recall… who not only faced open revolt, by a faction of his own party, in PRECISELY the same circumstances, as the PN finds itself today… but was eventually forced out of the leadership altogether (even though the polls themselves weren’t even as bad, as they are right now…)

And to be replaced by none other than Bernard Grech himself, of course! You know: the same PN leader who now – just like Delia did before him, in 2020 – first dismisses the polls themselves as a ‘(Labour-orchestrated) media conspiracy against him’; and then, goes on to blame the PN’s disastrous nationwide polling - not on his own ‘lack of leadership’, of course – but on the ‘lack of unity’ within the party… on the fact that (then as now) a sizeable chunk of the PN’s administration simply doesn’t want Bernard Grech as party leader anymore… and is trying - however politely – to ‘gently nudge him towards the Stamperija door’…

And just in case I haven’t already made it clear enough, WHY this is so intensely problematic for the Nationalist Party, right now… well, just ask some of Adrian Delia’s former supporters (or, for that matter, peruse their various – often very ‘colourful’ – reactions on the social media).

Here, in fairness, I feel I have to let Dr Mary Anne Lauri herself off the hook (after all, she has only been ‘Political Research President’ for three short months… and for all I know, she might even have argued exactly the same way, in private, two-and-a-half years ago. ‘Nuff said.)

As for Bernard Grech, however: he might it find it slightly harder to get let off so lightly, in the end. Not only because he himself was supposed to be the PN leader to actually ‘heal’ this ‘open wound’, in the first place; but because it is now HIS own failure, as PN leader – and not Adrian Delia’s – that is causing all those ‘negative polls’, to begin with.

And if the same dynamics, two years ago, dictated that Adrian Delia should be ousted from the leadership, precisely because of those failures… doesn’t it follow – by Bernard Grech’s own logic, please note – that the same fate should now be shared by the PN’s current leader, too?

Small wonder, I suppose, that Bernard Grech would have suffered a momentary ‘lapsus’, during last Sunday’s speech; and briefly got his different interpretations of our survey results, all ‘muddled up’. Clearly, he must have a heck of a lot to occupy his mind with, right now…