Irrespective of Saturday's vote, the PN remains broken

Delia really is unelectable… precisely because his internal opponents have stolidly refused to rally around him since the day he entered his nomination for the PN leadership race

You have all heard the old saying: ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Ah, but what happens if it really is broke – well and truly smashed to atoms, in fact – and you want to fix it, but just… can’t?

Well, I guess we’ll find out soon enough. For make no mistake: I have consulted the Oracle of Delphi; I have poured over the prophecies of Nostradamus; I have read tea-leaves and Tarot cards; I have analysed the flights of birds, and observed the movement of the stars… heck, I even dissected the entrails of that lamb I sacrificed the other day. And they all say the same thing.

The PN is f***ed. No two ways about it: there is not a single conceivable outcome of yesterday’s vote – note: I’m actually writing this on Friday, but you know what I mean – that can possibly spell out anything but a weaker, more divided party at all levels.

At present, for instance, all indicators point towards a victory for Adrian Delia. In case you’re wondering, these include a counter-petition (i.e., in Delia’s favour) signed by considerably more councillors than the one calling for his removal; but also the rather non-chalant way Delia himself has suggested he would ‘take hard decisions’ when the time comes – suggesting he has enough inside information to know he’s going to have a few heads to affix to his battlements – and also the last-minute, somewhat panicky attempts to remind us all of his dodgy financial situation, his family problems, etc.

But I admit that at least two of those are speculative. So, tell you what: let’s take the least likely scenario first. Let’s suppose that Delia loses that vote by a hefty margin.

Part of the problem with that scenario is that… Jeeze, not even Nostradamus himself could possibly hope to entangle it. What would it even mean, anyway? Delia would presumably have to offer his resignation instantly… but does that translate into certainty that he will?

Past experience suggests otherwise. Let’s face it: if he didn’t resign when the electorate told him to, in no uncertain terms, just six weeks ago… what’s to guarantee he won’t repeat that stunt when told the same thing by his own party?

Even if he does resign, however… what then? The party will have to face another leadership contest, for which no one has even remotely hinted at any interest whatsoever… which also means there is no clear picture of what cards will be brought to the table, what policy directions will be on offer, etc, etc.

And what is that, if not a complete and utter leap in the dark?

Besides: whoever wins this vote will only inherit a party beset by the same internal bickering. For unless someone steps in clean from the outside (and… oh, so many ironies… that is precisely what Delia tried to do…) the next PN leader is still going to hail from one or another minority sub-grouping from within the same party.

If it’s Ivan Bartolo (to name but one who hasn’t actually ruled out the possibility), he will have to contend with the fury of the pro-Delia brigade he has just ousted.  

And if it’s anyone who expressed any level of support whatsoever for Adrian Delia over the past two years… he or she will constantly be reminded of those ‘bicca blogger’ comments they once applauded; or the time when Delia was booed at a Sliema vigil for Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 (more of this in a sec)... and so on, ad infinitum.

For even if the (real or perceived) ringleaders are made to walk the plank, as Delia has already hinted… the voters they spoke out for will still be there, scattered about the electorate in every single district.

Under those circumstances, ‘defeat for Delia’ would only mean his replacement by a new, but equally unelectable, leader. Because Adrian Delia will not take the actual problems dogging his own tenure with him when (or if) he goes. No, he will leave those on the desk for his successor to discover at his or her own leisure… much like Gonzi had left that ‘Send in the Clowns’ magazine at Castille, way back in 2013.

This leaves us with the much likelier prospect: Adrian Delia winning the vote of confidence by pretty much any percentage you care to name.

For roughly all the same reasons, the extent of his victory will hardly matter. Sure, a strong showing – say, anything above 75% – will give him more security of tenure in the short term.

But even if it’s anywhere near the 97% that endorsed Eddie Fenech Adami in 1996, or the 96% for Gonzi in 2012, it would only mean that Adrian Delia has consolidated his position with the party rank and file. It tells us nothing about his standing with the wider electorate… and we all got a glimpse of that, at last month’s European election.

Paradoxically, it was Delia’s very unelectability that (officially, at least) had prompted the calls for a confidence vote in the first place. In an opinion piece published on Friday, the prime movers of the original petition (including Ivan Bartolo) asked: “Why is it so important that we protect the Nationalist Party above everything and everyone? First, because Delia is unelectable. This is so obvious that the Labour Party and its cronies openly defend him so he can stay…”

One could, of course, question whether that really was the prime motive. Other possibilities spring to mind: including that Delia had won the 2017 leadership contest precisely on the grounds that he wanted to ‘reclaim’ the party from a faction that had ‘usurped’ it.

It is eminently understandable that the ‘usurping faction’ might have a thing or two to say about that, in the privacy of their own WhatsApp groups…

But no matter: fact remains that they are perfectly right. Delia really is unelectable… precisely because his internal opponents have stolidly refused to rally around him since the day he entered his nomination for the PN leadership race.

Much more devastatingly, a sizeable sector of the traditionally Nationalist-voting electorate has clearly indicated that it would sooner cut off its own arm, than use it to vote for a party led by Delia. This was evident from one of the very first candle-lit vigils held in honour of Daphne Caruana Galizia, back in 2017.

Adrian Delia was booed when he showed up at the Sliema venue… marking the first time in living memory that a PN leader was given the middle finger, in the middle of its most reliable electoral strongholds: the 10th District.

Again, there is an irony wrapped up in this paradox. Among other things, it was precisely the ‘loss’ of the 10th district to the PD – as a direct result of that ill-judged ‘Forza Malta’ coalition idea – that prompted so many Nationalist councillors to cast their vote for Delia after the 2017 election.  

There, alone, you can almost see the full extent of the PN’s existential crisis. The faction that lost Sliema, is now battling the other faction that got elected specifically to re-win it…

It follows, as sure as night follows day, that neither ‘side’ can possibly be expected to do that on its own. And if you take the 10th district as a microcosm of the PN’s support-base across the entire country… you will find that the same pattern unfolds everywhere else, too.

Delia has his own supporters; the ‘Barra Brigade’ – kudos to Louise Tedesco for coining that, by the way – has its own supporters, too… both depend on the support of the other, to have any hope of one day forming a nationwide majority… yet both have precipitated the one course of action that precludes all hope of possible future reconciliation.

They have separately asked the Executive Council to choose between the warring clans… without seeming to realise that this will only expose the full extent of the fault-line splitting that council into two… and, much more beside: they have paved the way for a ‘winner-takes-all’ scenario, in which the ‘winner’ actually only takes a fraction of the whole.

It’s reminds me a little of the Gunfight at the OK Corrall…  or whatever Western that line was from:

‘This [party] just ain’t big enough for the two of us. One of us has gotta go’…

So inevitably, it has to end with a long walk down that dusty, tumbleweed-strewn street at high noon, for a guns-blazing showdown that will leave one gang utterly wiped out, and the other limping away, mortally wounded…

Honestly: who even needs Nostradamus to predict the outcome? It’s like Highlander: ‘There can only be one’….