‘Nice party, we’ll take it’

'Let's face it: words like 'contest' or 'election' don't really do justice to the spectacle of political violence we are all currently witnessing

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan

For what it’s worth, I wasn’t one of those complaining when Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature last year. If it were up to me, I would have given him that award more than three decades ago... even just on the strength of the lyrics of just one song: ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’, off ‘Highway 61 Revisited’.

The chorus alone reverberates across generations: “Something’s happening here, but you don’t know what it is... do you, Mr Jones?”  

There is a certain inevitable timelessness to that verse; as well as to that creepy descending bass-line that accompanies it. ‘Mr Jones’, in the context of 1960s America, might have been any representative of a wider generation which simply couldn’t fathom the generational changes that country was going through: the Civil Liberties movement, the Sexual Revolution, Vietnam, Frank Zappa, Flower Power, etc. 

But you can lift them out of that context and plonk them wherever you like: they will still resonate with equal force. There are always ‘Mr Joneses’ among us who just don’t know what’s really going on... not even when it is spelt out to them in large capital letters for all to see.

This is true even of the ongoing PN leadership battle... for let’s face it: words like ‘contest’ or ‘election’ don’t really do justice to the spectacle of political violence we are all currently witnessing. No, this is very much a battle... a final showdown, if you like... and what’s at stake is ultimate control of whatever will be left of the PN by the time it’s over. 

There: I didn’t use capital letters, because that would be considered ‘shouting’ in online parlance. But I have half a mind to just shout it out from the rooftops anyway. This is not about choosing the squeakier-cleaner of two candidates (if it were, Adrian Delia wouldn’t have got this far to begin with). Still less is it about comparing ideas and visions for the future of a party. No, this is a plain old fight between two mangy dogs over the same chewed-up old bone. It starts with snarling and baring of fangs; it ends with one dog disembowelled, and the other limping off wounded to bury that bone once and for all.

Well, try telling that to Mr Jones. In this context, that means all the people who can’t seem to see that the issue under discussion has now moved beyond the accusations that Delia once owned an offshore account in a Jersey bank... which may or may not have been used to launder the proceeds of an illegal prostitution racket.

Yes, crazy as this sounds, that accusation – serious enough to topple any sitting Prime Minister in almost any country – is no longer even remotely the issue. On a practical, realpolitik level, this is because the result of the first round (coupled with polls showing that ‘corruption’ has taken a nosedive as a popular concern) has clearly nullified the potential effectiveness of that particular weapon. Incidentally, this might also explain why the emphasis has now shifted from criminal accusations, to purely gratuitous allegations of Freemasonry (and presumably Satanism, when that tactic doesn’t work either). 

But there is another, less immediate level that I find more interesting. If Delia’s shady past is no longer really an issue in this battle, it is also because the ‘Jersey connection’ simply pales to insignificance compared with the new issue that has risen to replace it. (You know, the issue that is staring Mr Jones directly in the face... though he just can’t seem to ever see it.)

It fell to Delia himself to point it out... or should I say, blurt it out like a rabid Rottweiler straining at the leash.  These were his exact words (note: imagine them all capitalised, because he certainly was shouting): “Just remember that the Nationalist Party does not belong to you... it belongs to the councillors, to the paid-up members, to the Nationalists... and we want it back. We will take it back. Give us back our party.”

So whatever your personal opinions about Dr Adrian Delia may be...  we should all at least be thankful to him for so precisely defining the battle-lines of this duel to the death. He might be wrong about any number of things... but on this, he is spectacularly right.

It is true that there is a type of person out there – in the sense that Mr Jones is a ‘type’ of person – that has mentally annexed the Nationalist Party and made it their own. Not only have they appropriated it, in the sense that they clearly regard it as their own private property... but they also feel entitled to dictate to others what a ‘true Nationalist’ should all be about.

I know this type very well... many (if not most) of my online acquaintances would easily fit the bill. I could describe their characteristics in the minutest of detail... but to save time (and word-count) I will simply say this. You will recognise them by the way they speak of the Nationalist Party... as though it was created, in their own image and likeness, for their own exclusive delectation.

You will also immediately recognise the pitfall in that line of thinking. We all know the Nationalist Party has attracted under its umbrella a wide variety of diverse opinions and viewpoints over the decades... and we all know how the only way it ever managed to keep it all together was to hitch the wagon to some grand, overarching ‘theme’ (the EU being the most recent, and relevant, example). 

We can all also see how the PN remains internally divided on various issues, including marriage equality and IVF (as it was some time ago with divorce)... so it follows that ‘to be a Nationalist’, in this day and age, cannot possibly mean ‘to subscribe to one – and only one – particular worldview’.

This also implies that no one particular set of opinions... no matter how valid or unassailable they may seem to be... can set itself apart, and lay claim to exclusive rights over the identity of the Nationalist voter. Yet that is precisely what has happened over the past decade or so. One dominant viewpoint has arisen to ‘set the record straight’ about what ‘being a Nationalist’ actually means: and this viewpoint came exclusively from the more educated, ‘Europe-oriented’, and above all, most distinctly upper-middle class of Nationalist backgrounds. The sort who see others as ‘hamalli’, and who take to Facebook to complain about rumours that Joseph Muscat might be moving to Sliema (thus, presumably, contaminating the entire neighbourhood with his ‘hamallagni’).

Even the PN’s sudden interest in ‘good governance’ these last two years – so easily belied by the 25 years it actually spent in government – comes from this tiny (but exceedingly spoilt) segment of the PN support base... and even then, mostly because they saw it as a useful weapon in the fight against Joseph Muscat. 

Well, they have now been proven wrong on at least two counts. One, it didn’t work in the fight against Muscat. In fact, it only succeeded in strengthening his mandate, and dramatically reducing the PN’s parliamentary presence. Two, the rest of the National Party support-base... i.e., the vast majority who are not spoilt at all, who resent all this talk about ‘hamalli’, and who are sick and tired of seeing their party consistently humiliated at the polls... have now had enough. 

And guess what? They think the PN was created in their own likeness, too. They also consider it to be ‘their’ party; and they arguably have more cause to... seeing as they were the real backbone of the PN, long before this new upstart generation came along and casually said: ‘Nice little party you’ve built up there... now we’ll just take it off your hands, thank you very much...’ 

At this point, the question of personal preference becomes purely academic. One contender will throw the ‘good governance’ card out of the window altogether... exactly how that can be something to celebrate is a mystery to me... and the other will condemn it to permanent annexation by the same upstarts who have already caused the PN so much irreparable harm. 

Not much to choose from really, is there? I see absolutely no reason to be enthused by either prospect. Both seem pretty grim to me.

But I’m not a PN tesserat. And my hunch is that, when the chips are down, the tesserati’s actual choice on September 17 will be made, not on the basis of any actual assessment of the two candidates concerned... but on the basis of the battle-lines drawn by Delia in that outburst. Put bluntly, their dilemma now is: ‘two irreconcilable factions are vying for the throne: which do we back, at the cost of instantly losing the other? The one that already lost two elections on the trot, and only promises to stick to the same doomed strategies? Or the one that looks and sounds like a 1930s Chicago mobster, but who can at least throw a good punch?’

With such high stakes, the matter is hardly going to be settled by a single scandal that is already four weeks old, and which in any case already fell at the first hurdle. But like I said earlier: trying telling that to Mr Jones...

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