Franco Debono for PN leader? Excellent idea!

What the PN needs now are good ideas. And Franco Debono is literally swimming in them

With regard to Franco Debono in particular, this has special relevance to this latest defeat
With regard to Franco Debono in particular, this has special relevance to this latest defeat

And the best thing about it is... you probably think I’m joking, don’t you? Like, I’m trying to be funny or something. Funny like a clown...

Well, yes, of course I think it’s funny. It would be the single most hilarious thing since... um... Marlene Farrugia saying she’d consider the same thing herself, after only just winning a seat as the leader of the PD. Even though she actually contested the election on the PN ticket, and therefore represents the PN in parliament. 

I mean, work that one out if you can. And let me know what you come up with; I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it all day...

But there are so many other funny things about the aftermath of this election – funny as in ‘peculiar’, more than ‘ha-ha’ – that quite frankly, an unexpected comeback by the most maligned former Nationalist blue-eyed boy in history would almost come across as perfectly normal. And perhaps it is. Stranger things have been known to happen... like Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando contesting with Labour, after his very public clash with former Labour leader Alfred Sant in 2008.

So, all things considered: no, actually, I am not joking at all. This is crunch-time for the PN. Which also means it is crunch-time for the entire country, as – whatever state it may be in today – the PN remains Malta’s only viable Opposition party for the foreseeable future.

That is not to say it is the only viable Opposition party ever possible. It helps to remember that, before World War Two, Malta’s two foremost political parties were the PN and Lord Strickland’s Constitutional Party... with the Labour Party still a tiny, fledgling party tucked away under Lord Strickland’s wing. 

Where is the Constitutional Party today? If we had to travel back in time to, say, 1933... how would people react if they were told that, in less than 10 years’ time, one of the two biggest giants in the political firmament (which, incidentally, was studded with a host of other parties of various shapes and sizes... all of which have also since vanished) would no longer even exist?

I don’t want to sound alarmist, but political parties do not last forever. Italy’s Democrazia Cristiana likewise bit the dust in the early 1990s. It was an eventuality that none of us would have predicted only a few years earlier. And the DC was also a formative influence on Eddie Fenech Adami’s PN in the 1970s and 1980s.

The danger that the PN may follow suit is – unfortunately, I repeat – quite real. With all the accusations of corruption flying about in this election, it was easy to temporarily forget that the PN was known to be struggling with financial and governance woes of its own. Like colossal, historical, and unpayable debt. It was also (allegedly) in breach of the Party Financing Act; and if those allegations were true yesterday, they will be just as true today. 

And with the Labour Party now doing the unthinkable, and actually increasing its already-extraordinary majority since 2013 (here I shall have to admit: that is something I completely failed to predict, and which has me totally gobsmacked) the outlook for the PN now looks very bleak indeed. 

Still, it would be a great shame if the PN went belly-up. Apart from the aforementioned concerns with the state of our democracy, the Partit Nazzjonalista does have a history to be proud of. Its foundations are not light and fluffy: they are ponderous, deep and rooted in great big epochal clashes and upheavals that have (for better or worse) shaped this country into what it is today. Like certain international banks I can think of, the PN is simply ‘too big to fail’.

Drastic circumstances call for drastic measures, and I strongly lean towards the view that the party must now bite that bullet, and do what it failed (or refused) to do in 2013. It must come to grips with why so many people have abandoned it in droves. And ‘funny’ though this may seem – the Franco Debono experience would be a good place to start.

OK, bear with me and I’ll break it down in a few simple steps. 

One of the things that intrigued me throughout this campaign was the sheer number of former Nationalist figures who ‘crossed over to the Dark Side’ (looking at it from the PN’s perspective, naturally). Debono himself was conspicuously (and unusually) silent; but other former party officials like Kevin Drake, Karl Stagno Navarra, Robert Musumeci, etc., were all extremely vocal in favour of Labour. It cannot be a coincidence. And they cannot all be ‘traitors’ or ‘mercenaries’, either.

A simple truth that the PN must now confront is that it has succeeded in alienating several of its own former ‘partitarji’... and therefore, by extension, great chunks of its own voter base.  In many cases – Franco Debono being the most graphic example – the party has mauled and savaged these perceived ‘turncoats’ to an extraordinary degree. It is one of the PN’s nastier habits... to lets its dogs loose on its own people. Sometimes, on those of its own people who could have been its greatest assets... had the party just known how to handle them better.

You cannot hope to win a war if you can’t even keep your own foot-soldiers from fighting for the other side. Honestly, I find it incredible I even have to point this out. 

With regard to Franco Debono in particular, this has special relevance to this latest defeat. What have we all been talking about from five weeks ago onwards? The visible collapse of all Malta’s most strategically vital national institutions: the police, the AG’s office, the MFSA, etc. Well, these were all the things Franco Debono had tried to draw our attention to in the latter years of the Gonzi administration. Had the reforms he suggested been taken on board at the time... quite frankly, none of this would have even happened.

But be honest: you were all too busy laughing at his Form 2 report to even notice. This, by the way, is another fatal flaw that has dogged the Nationalist Party (especially since it allowed itself to be hijacked by a single blog). It has tended to focus on all the trivial things, while disregarding matters of huge importance to its own long-term survival.

I’ll grant you, the Form 2 report was hilarious at the time. But I never found it contemptuous myself. It was actually the sort of thing I liked (and still like) about Franco Debono. He has a sort of eternal ‘boyishness’ about him: he vaguely reminds me of the ‘Just William’ character created by Richmal Crompton. A frenetically self-absorbed teenager who can’t keep himself out of trouble, yet is constantly visited by the most extraordinary brainwaves (the kind that “happen to other people only once in a lifetime, but to William, five or six times a week”).

You can’t not warm to that sort of person, really. Even if they do sometimes make you cringe. Yet just look at how much excrement got hurled at him in the stocks. All because he pointed out flaws in the Nationalist Party, that are now painfully visible to one and all.

What good did the PN do to itself, I ask you, by expelling one of its brighter (if admittedly mischievous) schoolboys... and retaining all the dull ones who (no offence or anything) wouldn’t recognise a good idea if it sprang out of nowhere and kicked them in the nuts?

No, make no mistake. What the PN needs now are good ideas. And Franco Debono is literally swimming in them. Admittedly, making him leader might be swinging the pendulum back a little too suddenly and forcefully. But I don’t see any hope for the PN’s long-term prospects, unless it finds the humility to re-open its doors to its outcast rebels... and at least hear them out a little.

At the end of the day, one thing is certain: their input today will most definitely be more valuable than all the ‘advice’ given to the PN by all its ‘core strategy group’ throughout this campaign. The election result alone puts that beyond any reasonable doubt.

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