Everyone’s fault but theirs

Sadly, we can’t rely on God to step in and clean up the mess. Instead, we have to rely on Adrian Delia... 

Manuel Delia recently wrote an illuminating article entitled ‘Reasons the PN is trailing so badly (that are not Adrian Delia)’. OK, OK, I know it might not exactly sound like a nail-biting read – not, at least, in the context of a summer that has just about (but not quite) started, and something called the ‘World Cup’ which is apparently on TV at the moment – but, unlike other articles that have asked more or less the same question, Delia’s does indeed spell out at least one clear explanation for why ‘the PN is trailing so badly’... only it’s not any of the official ‘reasons’ listed in the article itself.

There were four of those, by the way: one, because the PN has lost its capability to mobilise street-level support; two, “the PN is flimsy on most matters of policy”; three, the PN’s frontbench is too much of an embarrassment to compete with Labour’s, and; four, “the sycophantic and fawning reporting of the party leader on party media is off-putting to anyone but the core vote”.

Manuel Delia concluded that: “That’s four reasons and none of them include Adrian Delia, his abilities or lack thereof, or even the timeliness of his tax returns.” And it’s not the only example, within the same article, of somehow drawing all the wrong conclusions, from an otherwise correct analysis of the surface details.

‘None of them include Adrian Delia’, my eye. All four of those reasons can be laid very squarely at Adrian Delia’s front door. He is, after all, the PN leader: and last I looked, it was the leader’s responsibility to address all those issues, and many more beside.

Take Reason Number Four, for instance. As far I can see, it is equally applicable to the PN throughout its recent history. The Nationalist Party media does not fawn, simper or drool over Adrian Delia any more than it did over Simon Busuttil, Lawrence Gonzi or Eddie Fenech Adami before him. So much so, that it was Lawrence Gonzi – not Adrian Delia – who turned that very adulation into a campaign strategy in its own right (‘GonziPN’, remember?) and actually won the 2008 election against the run of play.

Eventually, of course, the same strategy backfired so utterly and so completely that we are still today – 10 years later – openly questioning the same party’s actual future survival chances. Yet strangely, some people seem to have awoken to this reality only now... i.e., when they themselves are no longer part of the PN’s collective decision-making process – and not at a time when it might have actually prevented such a catastrophic nosedive in the first place.

For another thing we all seem to have forgotten is that the PN’s sudden downward spiral began almost immediately after the 2008 election (some might say even before, but let’s not split hairs). And do I even need to spell out why?

Oh, OK, if you all insist (twist my arm, etc). It goes like this: the same ‘deification’ strategy that had worked wonders for a political giant like Eddie Fenech Adami, simply couldn’t be expected to work indefinitely when applied to manifestly lesser political figures such as Gonzi, Busuttil and now Delia.

So even if Manuel Delia is clearly right (I can confirm it myself) that the PN media’s habit of eulogising its leaders has become a painful embarrassment to that party’s current (and former) voters... it is only because the leaders themselves have progressively devolved in stature over the past 15 or so years. This also means that, contrary to the headline, you cannot divorce the failure of that strategy from the persona of Adrian Delia as party leader. It is very much that man’s ‘abilities or lack thereof’ that undermines the strategy from within.

Anyone would think Manuel Delia was never part of a government that repeatedly jacked up water and electricity prices to unsustainable proportions

Likewise, the lack of any clear policy direction is another trait Delia simply inherited from his predecessors. As I recall, the only time the PN ever adopted a ‘clear policy direction’ after the 2003 EU referendum – which emphatically closed the book on the PN’s entire long-term political vision – was its decision to oppose divorce in the 2011 referendum. On all other matters, it chose to simply hang out a banner saying ‘Mission Accomplished’... without realising that, with the accomplishment of that mission, any reason we may have once had to ‘vote PN’ was permanently consigned to history.

All the same: Lawrence Gonzi did at least try and give the party some sort of ‘vision’... even if it was a vision that a sizeable chunk of the PN’s own voter base could not, realistically, ever be expected to identify with. And on his part, Simon Busuttil did try – however unsuccessfully – to reverse that unfortunate policy decision, and hammer out some sort of ‘compromise’ between the PN’s internal conservative-liberal divide.

What about Adrian Delia? What has his contribution to the PN’s core identity been, over the 10 or so months since he got elected leader? Manuel Delia gave us an answer to that one: nothing at all, except to stick doggedly to a tiresomely misplaced obsession with abortion. What I don’t get is how he can also describe that as an issue which has ‘nothing to do with the party leader’.

The equivalent in football (seeing as we’re all suddenly experts on that particular sport) would be a coach who is not at all responsible for his team’s strategy or performance on the pitch. In which case... well, what the heck is he even doing on the bench?

Same goes for ‘street level mobilisation’... though I’ll keep this one brief, as the point has already been made. Granted, the PN’s erosion in that department may have predated Adrian Delia’s leadership by a good few years: but whose job is it to rebuild the PN’s ailing machinery today? Is it: a) the PN’s current leader, or; b) the PN’s current Fairy Frigging Godmother?

Anyway: by this point you will all surely have noticed a small anomaly in all this. Despite the headline, and the fact that all four of his ‘reasons’ seem designed to pre-emptively exonerate Adrian Delia from all blame for the PN’s woefully abysmal state... Manuel Delia is not (as you all know) Adrian’s biggest fan.

Quite the contrary: he has positioned himself at the fore of the ‘Popular People’s Front for the Liberation of the PN’ (no, wait... was it the ‘Liberation of the PN’s Popular People’s Front’? Big difference, you know...) And more than ‘exonerate’ Adrian Delia, his purpose was very clearly to drive home the point that Delia – in and of himself – is by no means the only problem afflicting the PN today.

In this, he is (again) entirely correct. What I find utterly fascinating, however, is how he can simply absolve himself, and the ‘revolutionary movement’ he is part of, of all blame for that party’s current predicament. In his own words: “...Nor is it [...] the result of a critical blogger thankfully retired from frontline politics after a certain bus reform....”

As someone who habitually suffers from periods of self-doubt, I find that sort of unbridled, dogmatic self-confidence... disturbing, to say the least. On what grounds does Manuel Delia simply decide that none of this – none of it whatsoever – is in any way his own fault? When he was (as he himself admits) on the frontline of Maltese politics for years... right-hand man of Transport, Energy and Infrastructure Minister Austin Gatt (no less), and architect of numerous policies and ‘reforms’ that all contributed in no uncertain terms to the PN’s headlong collision with disaster in 2013?

I have to admit, I could never understand how people manage to so thoroughly re-invent themselves in so short a time. Anyone would think Manuel Delia was never part of a government that repeatedly jacked up water and electricity prices to unsustainable proportions, and then told us all to ‘stop moaning’ when we complained. Or that there was never any corruption scandal in the oil-procurement sector, at a time when oil-procurement fell squarely within his own political remit...

But no: none of that, it seems, had any impact whatsoever on the Nationalist Party’s ailing fortunes since around 2011. If the PN somehow managed to alienate an unprecedented number of voters before the 2013 election, and has carried on doing so ever since... apparently, it has nothing to do with the people who were actually running things within that party at that time; or even with the people running the show today. So, I guess it must be the fault of nobody at all... a classic case of what an insurance company might call an ‘act of God’.

Sadly, however, we can’t rely on God to step in and clean up the mess (and it’s a great pity, because ‘omnipotence’ and ‘omniscience’ sound like just the right qualifications for the job). Instead, we have to rely on Adrian Delia... because another thing we’ve all forgotten is that the only reason an ‘outsider’ like Delia got elected PN leader in the first place, was specifically that the mess had been made by the party’s ‘insider’ administration over the preceding years: an administration which also included Manuel Delia, among others who have now made it their mission in life to scuttle the PN altogether.

This, in fact, is perhaps the most supreme irony of them all: that the very people who originally wrecked the PN’s political fortunes, are now hell-bent on ensuring that Adrian Delia does NOT succeed in turning that party around; that he does NOT solve the internal problems bequeathed to him by their own incompetence and lack of vision. In a word, they seem to prefer watching their own former political party die of asphyxiation, rather than allow anyone else even try and give it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Then, of course, they’ll all complain about Malta becoming a ‘one-party state’; about democracy being ‘undermined by the lack of a serious Opposition party’, etc., etc. And whose fault would that be, I wonder? Same as always, I expect. Everyone else’s, but their own...