A leadership election, without leadership

On both sides of the divide, it seems the one thing that has been conspicuously absent from this leadership debate is - ironically - leadership itself

It might be a stretch to compare the ongoing Nationalist Party leadership contest to the unfolding US Presidential elections; yet at some levels, a fleeting analogy can be made.

A few days ago, Bernie Sanders - who lost the Democratic Party’s nomination to former Vice President Joe Biden earlier this summer - said he believes that Biden is in “an excellent position to win this election.”

“But I think we have got to do more as a campaign than just go after Trump,” Sanders said in an interview. “Trump is a disaster. I think most people know it. But we also have to give people a reason to vote for Joe Biden…”

It is on this level – i.e., the need to ‘give people a reason to vote’ – that parallels can be drawn. Like Joe Biden in the USA, Bernard Grech is also viewed as being in “an excellent position to win” the leadership race

Also like Biden, Grech’s hopes appear to be pinned mostly on the sheer unpopularity of the current incumbent: Adrian Delia, who – while not comparable to Donald Trump in any other meaningful way – is nonetheless widely regarded, even among sectors of his own party’s support-base, to be something of a ‘disaster’ (as attested, among other things, by his dismal standing in repeated trust ratings surveys).

It follows, then, that Bernie Sanders’ words of caution regarding Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign, should also be applicable to Grech’s bid to unseat Delia.

Simply put, Bernard Grech cannot expect to win his contest merely on the strength of Delia’s weaknesses. He also has to give the Nationalist Party’s tesserati a good, solid reason to prefer himself as leader: something which he has not quite done to date.

Likewise, the challenge posed by Bernard Grech should really have prompted Adrian Delia to rise to the occasion, and show a little of the leadership mettle he displayed (albeit briefly) during the last such contest in 2017.

But this, too, has not really happened. Instead, what we have witnessed from both campaigns is at best a tired, cliched and entirely predictable clash of personalities, between two equally uninspiring, middle-aged, male lawyers.

On his part, Adrian Delia seems to be stuck on an endlessly repeated mantra against immigrants and foreign workers: and while he has raised some valid points on the risks of ghettoization, and the danger posed by cheap labour, he has so far failed to present any form of coherent vision of his own.

Besides: having already irked moderates with his belligerent xenophobia, Delia’s approach is unlikely to win much support from the Far Right either. Like Prime Minister Robert Abela before him – who raised expectations of a hardline stance, which he later had to retract in the face of international pressure – Delia’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is also destined to collide with harsh reality.

As such, it is more than obvious that he is exploiting this complex issue, merely to revive his own, flailing candidacy.

Grech, on the other hand, has limited his input on this subject only to voicing irrelevant clichés. Neither candidate seems to have brought any depth to the discussion on migration. This is one area where the absence of Roberta Metsola and Therese Commodini Cachia from the race is clearly being felt.

Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is that the debate has so far failed to tackle any of the more pressing issues facing the country. Neither candidate has indicated how they themselves would handle the current COVID-19 crisis; or, for that matter, the now-inevitable financial crisis that will follow.

Nor have they even mentioned the environment; still less outline how they would respond to calls to (for instance) regulate the construction industry, with a view to safeguarding both the environment and the economy.

Meanwhile, the fall-out from Bernard Grech’s recent tax revelations has derailed the entire discussion along similar lines.

Rather than present himself as an alternative leader, with a policy vision of his own, Grech has been reduced to answering questions about his personal tax problems: including how he managed to settle his dues, and why he did so only after deciding to contest for the leadership.

So instead of listening to how the two candidates intend to boost the country’s finances, voters ended up listening to how the two candidates sorted out their own personal finances.

In so doing, neither Delia nor Grech has given the country any real reason to prefer one to the other. On both sides of the divide, it seems the one thing that has been conspicuously absent from this leadership debate is - ironically - leadership itself.

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