Big Chief he say: ‘Follow your leader…’

In a nutshell, Delia has himself delineated the precise extent of his own authority over the Nationalist Party.  And the results are painfully obvious: it is more than evident that he doesn’t really wield any authority within that party at all

“When our leaders don’t lead, we walk away from them. When they lead well, we stay with them.... A leader is a leader as long as the people believe in him and as long as he is the best person to lead us. You can only lead as long as people will follow…”

I bet you’re all just dying to know where that wonderful quote comes from, aren’t you? But all in good time.  For the moment, just let the words sink in a little. They are as relevant to today’s situation, as to the situation they actually refer to around 150 years ago (that’s a big hint, by the way).

And they only become more relevant when compared to another, slightly more recent quote by Adrian Delia: “We must be one party, behind one leader and whoever has a problem with the leader should speak up… anyone who isn’t behind the party leader shouldn’t be in the party.”

I think it’s only fair to point out that those two statements are diametric opposites: one holds that a leader should only be followed because of his or her leadership qualities; the other, that a leader should just be followed, full-stop… regardless whether he or she even has any leadership qualities at all.

And while the latter comes across as, at most, a spot of fanciful egomania… the former is demonstrably (and logically) TRUE: as our own, recent history amply confirms. Indeed, Adrian Delia’s own ascendance to the PN throne came about precisely because of a text-book illustration of its veracity: Simon Busuttil did not ‘lead well’; and for that reason, a sizeable chunk of his ‘followers’ chose not to ‘follow’ him in the 2017 election.

So you’d think that Adrian Delia, of all people, would be the first to realise that it might not have been the wisest thing for him to say… least of all, when there is undeniable evidence of all-out revolution against his leadership by other factions within the PN.

But I’m glad he did say it, because he finally gave me an excuse to point out an uncanny resemblance between today’s dilemma within the PN – which is in turn symptomatic of a much broader ‘leadership cult’ mentality affecting Malta as a whole – and the dilemma that underpinned the entire Native American/US Government relations throughout the late 19th century (because of course, you can’t think of one without instantly evoking the other, can you?)

The words I quoted above were uttered by a Native American elder named Dan, in a 1996 book called ‘Neither Man Nor Wolf’ by Kent Nerburn. He was generally referring to traditional, millennial leadership structures present within all (or most) North American tribal communities until around the end of the 19th Century. But, consciously or unconsciously, he also echoed a specific incident that took place when Sioux Chief Red Cloud went to Washington to negotiate a peace settlement with President Ulysses Grant in 1868.

At that meeting, Red Cloud tried to warn Grant that, while he himself – a Sioux ‘leader’, in the eyes of the US Government – was willing to sign the treaty, he couldn’t guarantee that the other tribes and warrior bands would follow suit. For as Dan put it over 100 years later: ‘You can only lead if people will follow’; and Red Cloud knew that his people would never accept to return to another reservation.

And in fact, the treaty was duly rejected by many of Red Cloud’s people. Other warchiefs and tribal elders - Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, etc. - soon arose to replace him; and they, too, were only considered ‘leaders’ because they had followers… and even then, only for as long as those followers chose to follow them.

There, in a nutshell, you have a clash of two totally different and mutually exclusive worldviews, playing out with catastrophic results (for the Native Americans, anyway: it must be said that both directions – peace settlement, or all-out war – pointed equally towards the end of the Native American paradigm as the world once knew it).

And personally, I find that a terribly sad story. There is a certain inevitability to it all: you can immediately see how it was never even possible to reach any form of lasting, peaceful agreement to begin with… when both sides were coming to the table with vastly different concepts of ‘governance’ in mind. (And not just governance, of course: land-ownership, State/national borderlines, the market value of gold and silver… these are all things that would have had completely different, almost alien significance to either side at the time).

And if this clash of opposing worldviews could only end in tragedy, in another continent between around 150 and 100 years ago… is there any reason to suppose that it would turn out any differently here, today?

The specific circumstances may be vastly different – though it is tempting to draw parallels with the massacre of the Little Big Horn – but the underlying clash of contrasting perspectives is almost identical. Adrian Delia evidently thinks his nominal position as ‘leader’ of the Nationalist Party – in and of itself – is enough to command the respect and obedience of those who call themselves ‘Nationalists’.

And just like President Grant’s presumption that his own concept of ‘leadership’ would be shared (or at least understood) by Red Cloud… something tells me he is about to discover that his ‘followers’ may have a very different understanding of the entire ‘leader-follower’ rapport. He will learn to his cost that he was only ever the ‘leader’ of the Nationalist party for as long as the broad spectrum of Nationalists continued to accept him as leader. And while he may retain brackets of loyalty here and there (speaking of which: a survey to this effect would be helpful, as at the moment there is no way of plausibly gauging the actual extent of his actual grassroots support)… Adrian Delia is now very clearly ‘PN leader’ only in name.

How much of this was brought about by his own actions or failures, and how much by the active attempts to discredit and undermine him ever since he became party leader in 2017… that is something I won’t get bogged down right now. Because to be fair, this is not just about Adrian Delia. He is certainly not alone in sharing the misplaced belief that ‘leadership’ is a quality that comes automatically, as part of everything that goes with the package (like a personal driver, for instance; or free season tickets to the Manoel Theatre.) I’ve already mentioned Busuttil, and he made the same mistake in his time. So did Lawrence Gonzi, when he steered the PN in a direction that grated with the party’s more liberal wing. And so did Alfred Sant, when his economic policies wakened the Labour Party’s slumbering Old Guard…

But that’s around as far back as you can trace it. Before that, you will find that the same belief was still there… only it wasn’t ‘misplaced’ at all. There was indeed a time when party leaders were accorded all the respect and gravitas of a ‘Kap’ or ‘Mexxej’ – two words that carry the same connotations as ‘Mafia Don’ and ‘Messiah’ respectively – just because they occupied the post of ‘leader’.

Eddie Fenech Adami, Dom Mintoff, and everyone who came before… these people could, and often did, say things like: “anyone who isn’t behind the party leader shouldn’t be in the party.” And they would be, and often were, taken very seriously indeed (Mintoff’s ‘Min mhux maghna kontra taghna’ springs to mind).

No offence, but Arian Delia is the product of a very different generation: my own generation, as it happens, so I can confirm from experience that the days of automatic acceptance as ‘party leader’ are now firmly OVER.

Not even Joseph Muscat – who, for all his other problems, isn’t facing open rebellion within Labour right now – can safely rest on his laurels in this respect. One single, radical policy change could easily disenchant vast segments of his voter base: on migration, for instance; or abortion (which explains why the PN keeps harping on it so incessantly). He knows – or should know, by now – that ‘unquestioning party loyalty’ is a luxury that, unlike Mintoff or Fenech Adami, he can no longer rely on.

Delia, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to realise this at all. And again, I find it a little sad. Because he is not technically ‘wrong’, either: he is only playing to the same script that Nationalist party leaders have always stuck to in the past... and which always used to work, while the age of political demagoguery was still in full swing.

Nor is it Delia’s own fault that the cultural mentality regarding such things as ‘leadership’ has evolved so drastically over the past decade or so. Paradoxically, it was this very change that had catapulted him to the position of leader in the first place: his own electoral slogan was all along to ‘reclaim’ the PN from the usurpers who had ‘hijacked’ it, remember?

But viewed from the perspective of those who have already made the shift – i.e., those who no longer regard themselves as ‘Nationalist’ or ‘Labour’ by default, and now who ‘follow’ their leaders on the basis of how (or if) they actually lead – his own words hang as a heavy verdict over his predicament. It was reported, for instance, that at least one member of the PN executive council responded with a blunt: ‘If it’s war you want, it’s war you’ll get.’

And I’m certainly not seeing a wave of resignations from the party, in the wake of Delia’s ultimatum that “anyone who isn’t behind the party leader shouldn’t be in the party.”

In a nutshell, Delia has himself delineated the precise extent of his own authority over the Nationalist Party.  And the results are painfully obvious: it is more than evident that he doesn’t really wield any authority within that party at all.

So I find it mildly surprising that, among the many and various calls for Delia’s resignation in recent weeks, no one to date has supplied the only existing political reason for Delia to actually resign. No, he shouldn’t have to resign because of unconfirmed allegations about domestic violence or money laundering; or because of any videos of his family life currently circulating on Facebook; and least of all, because a small coterie of Nationalist detractors simply can’t stand his guts, and never accepted him as leader in the first place.

If there is any real and pressing reason for Adrian Delia to resign, it is because he is no longer enjoys the support and trust of either the PN’s executive structures, or the party rank and file, or even wide swathes of the Nationalist electorate itself. (To put it another way, if he were Prime Minister, he wouldn’t have a hope in hell of surviving a vote of confidence).

But that, of course, only raises the question of who could possible claim that title – and all the respect and loyalty it implies – after Delia’s resignation. And you can’t expect me to answer all my own questions myself, can you?

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