‘Sorry, but support for your party leader is no longer available…’

Short of cloning Eddie Fenech Adami himself… there is simply no one in that party, or outside it, who can possibly bridge the gulf that has now opened up between the two warring factions

Adrian Delia with predecessor Simon Busuttil
Adrian Delia with predecessor Simon Busuttil

The first car I have a memory of riding in was a Triumph Herald. A ‘Peacock Blue’ Triumph Herald, to be precise. And surprisingly (for someone who pays about as much attention to cars on the road, as to cracks on the pavement) I happen to remember it in quite vivid detail.

It had red leather seats, a varnished wooden dash-board, and pointy tail-lights that vaguely resembled the rear end of the Batmobile. Oh, and instead of a ‘bonnet’ (or ‘hood’, if you’re American), the entire front chassis would open up outwards like a tin of sardines…

And while I’m not usually the type to wax lyrical about ‘automobiles’ – horrible, smelly things, if you ask me – that old rust-bucket also oozed character and personality by the bucketful. Our specimen had round headlights and a bucktoothed radiator grille that lent it a curiously adaptable facial expression: depending on your mood when you looked at it, it could either appear ‘happy’ to see you, or as mournful and pathetic as a beaten dog. (In fact, the Triumph Herald had a distinctly ‘canine’ look about it... as opposed to the Citroen 2CV Dolly, which was a basically a cat with wheels). But there were other, ‘grumpier’ models, too, whose headlights seemed to permanently ‘frown’ under their slanted front spoilers…

Ah, those were the days! When cars were designed not just to take you from A to B… but also to have distinct, inimitable, ‘cartoony’ personalities of their own; and enough charm to outshine human actors in movies like ‘Herbie Goes To Montecarlo’. (Let’s face it: would any of us still remember that film, if ‘Herbie’ was a Vauxhall Vectra instead of a Volkswagen Beetle? Not a chance!)

And they were built to last, too. That Triumph Herald I mentioned earlier? It probably rolled off the assembly line in the late 1950s/early 1960s. My memories of it don’t stretch much further back than the late 1970s/early 1980s.

And if it wasn’t stolen at one point or other – so much, by the way, for the ‘crook-lock’: another feature you won’t see on many cars today – it would probably still be going strong now, almost 40 years later.

Today? Totally different ballgame. Like so many other products in this consumerist age, modern cars are designed to simply fall to pieces after clocking up a certain mileage. Spare parts are priced so as to make it cheaper to buy a new car than fix your old one.

And don’t even get me started on computers… my version of Windows will probably become obsolete by the time I get to the end of this sentence; and as the new one will no doubt require a whole different motherboard, I’ll probably have to buy a new computer just to finish this article.

Speaking of which… by now, you’re probably wondering where the heck I’m even going with all this. A bit like those Sunday family drives in that old Triumph of ours… ‘we’ll get somewhere in the end, I promise; just don’t ask me while I’m driving…’

But yes, you probably guessed it. This is an article about the incredible shrinking longevity of Maltese politicians. For it’s not just cars and computers that are no longer built to last: political parties, too, seem to be in the process of just falling to pieces after clocking up a few too many miles.

Take Adrian Delia, for instance. Just over one year ago, he was like a well-oiled, newly spray-painted sportscar, fresh out of the showroom:  revving up in pole position, and raring to go. Yet today – barely 14 months after roaring past the chequered flag at the PN leadership race, leaving all his competitors to literally ‘eat his dust’ – he already looks like a battered old karrakka gathering rust in a scrapyard somewhere.

Or at least, that’s the impression you’d get if you listen to his political adversaries. And no, I don’t mean the Labour Party (which, incidentally, seems to have tacitly decided to give the guy the break).

I mean Adrian Delia’s own colleagues and supposed ‘allies’ within the Nationalist Party itself: some of whom have even reportedly described him as a ‘piece of shit’ (when he ‘has a few drinks’, anyway).

Now: just as I’m not one to see beauty in cars, I’m not usually one to stick up for politicians on the receiving end of this sort of abuse. But there’s something in all this that doesn’t quite add up. Oh, sure, Adrian Delia has not exactly been the most awe-inspiring Opposition leader we’ve ever seen… but then again, the last Maltese Opposition leader to fit that description was probably Eddie Fenech Adami, and that takes us back to pre-1987. The Triumph Herald years, if you know what I mean…

To put it more succinctly: Delia has been kind of crappy as PN/Opposition leader so far, that much is obvious. But as far as I can see, he hasn’t been that bad. Certainly no worse than Simon Busuttil before him; and unlike the latter, he hasn’t even been electorally tested yet. And besides: he’s only been in the job for 14 months.

I mean… not even Bill Gates could design something that becomes obsolete so darn quickly. Yet already, Adrian Delia seems to have reached the ‘Sorry, support for this product is no longer available’ stage. In itself, the speed of this turnaround is nothing short of staggering. But when you compare it to how political party leaders used to be perceived, until not so long ago… it is quite frankly mind-boggling.

Back in those Triumph Herald years, the Prime Minister was a certain Mintoff, Dom. I only experienced the tail end of his bumper career (I hope you’re getting all the car puns, by the way)… but it remains a fact that Mintoff became leader of the Malta Labour Party in 1949, and stepped down in 1984… 35 years later. Year for year, he was active in politics for longer than most of us can realistically hope to even live…

George Borg Olivier? Party leader from 1950 to 1977. Eddie Fenech Adami? 1977 to 2004 (and you can add another five years as President of the Republic). After that… the rapid decline begins. Lawrence Gonzi managed nine years. Simon Busuttil, four. And… um… at this rate, Adrian Delia might not even manage one-and-a-quarter….

Something clearly doesn’t add up here. Even by my standards, it is too simplistic to suggest that this is just another case of ‘they don’t make them like they used to’. Yes, it is true that the politicians of yesteryear were made of more formidable, durable stuff. It is true that (in their own way) they had personality and charisma by the bucketful. But I don’t think Adrian Delia’s meteoric nosedive in political fortunes can be put down to a lack of either personality or charisma on his own part. Nor do I think it has anything to do with the troubles he seems to be going through in family life.

No, I am beginning to think the real problem lies with the party itself, rather than the person trying to lead it. It is something I have been trying to communicate through this column for decades now, evidently without any success (which is why I end up writing about ‘cartoony cars’, by the way: nothing else has ever worked, so why the hell not?)  The Nationalist Party cannot retain its leadership for long, not because of any particular problem with the leader of the moment… but because it is simply becoming more unmanageable by the minute, in and of itself.

Up to a point, I can see the sense in calls for Adrian Delia’s resignation. After all, the mere mention of his name recently elicited instant boos and hisses at a vigil in honour of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Valletta: and I need hardly add that those doing all the booing and hissing were not what you would call ‘dyed-in-the-wool Labourites’.

So yes, I can see the impossibility of retaining a leader who is so evidently detested by a sizeable chunk of his own party’s voter-base. You cannot hope to ever win an election, when you can’t even persuade your own supporters to attend a mass meeting without forming a lynch-mob (still less actually vote for you).

From that perspective – and only from that perspective – Adrian Delia clearly has to go.

But Adrian Delia’s departure will not solve the problem… because the problem, in itself, was never ‘Adrian Delia’ to begin with. Nor was it ‘Simon Busuttil’, and even less ‘Lawrence Gonzi’.

The reality is that – short of cloning Eddie Fenech Adami himself… and I’m not even sure that would work – there is simply no one in that party, or outside it, who can possibly bridge the gulf that has now opened up between the two warring factions.

Until yesterday, we might have been able to talk about that divide as if it were some form of political ‘spin’, churned out from the bowels of the Labour Party; but not when private communications (between a party stalwart and the PN leader’s own wife, no less) are leaked to PN-friendly media, for the sole aim of discrediting him utterly. (‘Piece of shit’, remember?) Not when so many within Delia’s own party are now openly urging him to resign, on the basis of the (likewise leaked) break-up of his marriage.

No, indeed. Hostilities are now too far out in the open to be so easily argued away. And those hostilities will remain, for as long as the Nationalist Party continues trying (and failing) to be a political home for two totally incompatible political viewpoints.

So ultimately, it is not a case of simply uninstalling the current leader from the PN’s system, and downloading the latest, updated version instead. Ultimately, it is more a case of throwing out the old operating system altogether, and just investing in a new computer instead.