An uneasy compromise that resolves nothing

Editorial | Bernard Grech has missed out on an opportunity to acknowledge the division inside the party with a statement of his own, reflecting his role as party leader, before resolving the matter privately between both MPs

The latest war of words, between the same two Nationalist MPs, may have culminated in a joint declaration of ceasefire between the two; but if PN leader Bernard Grech seriously believes that “the feud between Jason Azzopardi and Adrian Delia has been resolved”, he must be delusional. 

First of all, this ‘feud’ has a long history behind it: indeed, it started ever since Adrian Delia first announced his intention to run for the party leadership, after the disastrous 2017 election result.  

Azzopardi had opposed Delia’s nomination from the very start: partly as a result of his public spats with Daphne Caruana Galizia (Azzopardi is today the Caruana Galizia family lawyer); but partly also because Delia himself was identified as a threat to a core party establishment – including Azzopardi himself, among others – that had controlled the PN’s direction for years. 

A lot has been added to that basic premise, over the past three years. But beneath the surface antagonism of a feud between two individuals, there lurks a much deeper malaise.  

Yet, on the surface, it remains merely a public tiff between two rival politicians – even if, deep down, Bernard Grech must surely know that this dangerous feud has long-term implications which, if left unchecked, may even threaten the future existence of the Nationalist Party as a whole. 

From this perspective, Grech’s handling of this situation has also raised serious questions about his own leadership skills. By convening an executive committee meeting, which includes the entire parliamentary group, to discuss this latest spat, Grech drew as much attention as possible to something he should have been minimising as just another Facebook fracas between sworn enemies.  

Instead of convening the two MPs to resolve the matter privately – as any level-headed party boss would have done – Grech gave advance notice that he himself deemed the matter worthy enough of party-wide attention.  

It was a move disliked by MPs from both sides of the internal divide, for indeed it also served as a very public reminder of those divisions to begin with. Even on a strategy level, the move made little sense: it would only have given the much-maligned Adrian Delia an audience to vent his frustrations about Jason Azzopardi (of which he has many; and grievous ones, too).  

Then, at the eleventh hour, it was announced that Grech’s executive committee meeting did not take place: in part because advisors feared that the effect would be to make a public show of disgruntled support for Delia (as had happened during the PN leadership election).  

Instead, Grech met the two MPs – one the former leader he himself displaced upon his election, the other a vocal antagonist to Delia’s leadership – and had a stern exchange with them. The outcome was a kiss-and-make-up statement by the two MPs, which, for all its language of absolution, lacked any real genuineness.   

In a nutshell: nobody out there truly believes that this war of attrition was ended by the mediation of party leader Bernard Grech with a forced statement in which two sworn enemies pay fulsome tribute to each other, and make a retraction of their most forceful accusations.  

If anything, it was Delia who savoured the moment, when he published the joint statement on his Facebook wall and parroted the much-loved PN slogan ‘is-sewwa jirbaħ żgur’ (Justice will always prevail).  

For someone who has been dogged with accusations of excessive chumminess with Tumas magnate Yorgen Fenech; and even of having attempted to skewer the electoral chances of PN MEP David Casa – which were indeed the reasons why the anti-Delia faction felt emboldened enough to engineer his removal – the former PN leader finally got to see Jason Azzopardi eat his words.   

Still, there is no doubt that this a declaration of falsity: and one that does Bernard Grech himself no favours, either. It is hard to believe that a self-avowed anti-corruption crusader like Azzopardi – like him or not – has suddenly backed down on his long-held views of Adrian Delia; and the same goes for the latter.  

In issuing such a statement, Grech has only drawn more attention to the fire that engulfed the PN’s house, rather than to his effort to put that fire out. Not only does the public show of division cost the PN in terms of its electoral bid to win government; but it also risks isolating Grech, who needs the loyalty of both factions of MPs, the ones who had backed his incumbent rival, Delia, and the ‘rebel’ MPs who backed him.  

Bernard Grech has therefore missed out on an opportunity to acknowledge the division inside the party with a statement of his own, reflecting his role as party leader, before resolving the matter privately between both MPs. 

One wonders whether Grech’s advisors are indeed attuned to the inner politics of the party, and able to manage such feuds without incurring further damage. In the meantime, Labour kicks back and enjoys the circus... who will stand up to the unchecked power of a popular government?