The PN Punch-and-Judy show

A number of PN activists or sympathisers are at war with each other. They are fighting over who it is that professes sincere loyalty to the PN’s creed and ideology

Most of you will probably remember the famous British Punch-and-Judy show, and some might even have watched one sometime. It’s complete slapstick, and as a child, I regarded it as great entertainment, with Mr Punch no more realistic than the characters in Tom and Jerry cartoons. How wrong I was! I now realise that the Punch-and-Judy show, far from being harmless entertainment, was, in fact, a key to understanding Maltese culture and politics.

PN activists and sympathisers have lately been washing their dirty linen in public. They are rival factions within the same party, fighting like rats in a sack.

They continue to hate each other with vengeance while driving further wedges between the PN and the electorate.

They say that there is no honour among thieves. Well, there certainly isn’t much between this bunch of PN sympathisers who delight in internal bickering. Initially, it was a triumvirate of Franco Debono, Edward Debono and Manuel Delia. When, however, their public exchange of reciprocal jibes reached unparalleled heights, Kevin Cassar joined the verbal fray.

It all started when Edward Debono went on air last month, claiming that Franco Debono’s statements on social media indicated that he did not just expect to be welcomed back to the PN but even expected to be involved in its leadership.

Of course, Franco did not take it lying down, so he soon romped into RTK’s studios, forcefully demanding to intervene in the ongoing programme, followed shortly after by a crew from the Labour media outlet.

This he did, and he somehow managed to get his own back by labelling Edward Debono a “liar”.

That, however, was not to be the end of the show. Writing a few days later in a local leading newspaper, Kevin Cassar, a professor of surgery and a former PN electoral candidate, clearly asserted Franco Debono’s unfitness for leadership. Professor Cassar described Franco’s jibe at Edward as a perfect illustration of how one can make an utter fool of himself as only Franco can.

Again, Franco was not going to take all this lying down, so, in comments to Cassar’s article, he stated that discord within the PN wasn’t created by himself.

It was created by those who are synonymous with successive PN defeats, like Manuel Delia & co.

Franco then took pains to go into detail on how Kevin Cassar has a turbulent history within the PN. Contesting the 2017 general election, he garnered the “grand” amount of 354 first-count votes (227 from the second district and 127 from the sixth). Just for comparison, Franco went on, he contested his first election in 1998, when he was still a law student at the university, and got 467 votes from one district.

Franco reminded Cassar how the latter waged for years a continuous mud-slinging campaign against elected PN leader Adrian Delia.

In essence, Franco’s point was that, here, we had a case of Mr Kevin Cassar supporting Edward Debono’s lying about him and expecting him not to repel those lies with all his might. To better prop up his case against Cassar, Franco commented that it is always people like Cassar, Manuel Delia and Andrew Borg Cardona who seem to join forces and attack him whenever they see a huge wave of Nationalist sympathy in his regard. Cassar ended this unique Punch-and-Judy episode by telling Franco to “grow up”.

In one of his blogs, Manuel commented that “Franco Debono is on the agenda again”.

He continued: “He comes back like a re-emerging tumour, for some time too small for scans, and before you know it, too big to carry.” But what, to my mind, was a far-reaching quip worthy of a blockbuster Punch-and-Judy show was when Manuel literally asserted that: “When you let Franco Debono through the door, when you invite him to contribute, you won’t be accused of corruption. You’ll rightly be accused of chaotic instability, egomania, a pathological inability to fit in a team, and stormy, pubescent, utterly unpredictable spontaneity.”

Such Punch-and-Judy episodes dominated the local political scene for quite some time.

You see, a number of PN activists or sympathisers are at war with each other. They are fighting over who it is that professes sincere loyalty to the PN’s creed and ideology.

On one side, tired but not yet beaten, is an older, more liberal-minded conservatism, reconciled to working at the political centre. Facing it on the other side is an energised centre-left, a strange but powerful hybrid of national-first populists and market-minded globalists.

As in any large struggle of ideas, each side claims to represent the true faith and denounces the other as apostates. Centrists look at the hard right as a perversion that betrays the label “nationalist.”

To the hard right, centrists are an exhausted remnant that has ceased to speak for “the people” and treacherously sided instead with the true right’s main enemy, the “liberal elite.”

It is tempting, especially for those who aim to look at politics with greater calm through a longer lens, political scientists or political philosophers, for example, to treat such conflicts as ordinary factionalism, with perhaps the volume turned up more than we have grown used to.

Although that corrective is fair enough, clearly something big, possibly treacherous, is happening within the PN that none of us fully understand or can see the end of.