Time is running out for Bernard Grech

Bernard Grech has indicated that he understands this; but so far, he has not come up with a workable formula to resolve these issues, once and for all

To state that our latest poll results are ‘bad news’ for Opposition leader Bernard Grech, would be somewhat of an understatement.

After getting off to a very good start since taking over from Adrian Delia last September, Grech’s trust rating has clearly taken a hammering in recent weeks: with a 10-point drop in just one month.

The Nationalist Party leader achieved a trust rating of only 25.7%: his worst result since becoming leader.

Even more worrying for Grech, Prime Minister Robert Abela’s trust rating has continued to climb and now stands at 49.6%: increasing by more than two points since last month. This also means the Prime Minister has effectively reversed a downward trend, that was registered last March: a time which coincided with an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases.

Grech’s response has so far been to blame the dip on the recent public spat between MPs Jason Azzopardi and Adrian Delia: itself, indicative that the deep internal divisions within the PN are far from resolved.

However, the Nationalist Party leader also acknowledged that: “let’s not delude ourselves and think that this was the only reason that the survey gave us the results it gave.”

Bernard Grech is right on this latter point. If nothing else, the timing of the spat – which occurred towards the end of the week in which the survey itself was conducted – suggests that the incident would only have had a marginal effect on the outcome. Clearly, there are other reasons to account for the evident disenchantment among Nationalist voters.

It is hardly a coincidence, for example, that a young, upcoming PN candidate – Tiffany Abela Wadge – announced her resignation from the party just this week. A cursory glance at her reasons will reveal an ominously familiar pattern. In a Facebook post, Abela Wadge complained that “The party seem to want to steer clear of my way of politics - that of working with the opposite side to bring about a change from within, rather than always fighting, always complaining and never agreeing with what the government is doing.”

Indeed, this reflects a wider sentiment that is becoming all the more palpable as the next election approaches. Ever since 2017, the Nationalist Party has been locked in a state of permanent warfare. It’s anti-corruption mantra - while undeniably still relevant – risks losing its sheen, among a growing section of the PN voter-base that is clearly tiring of this endlessly combative approach.

Moreover, Abela Wadge also complained that “she tried to speak up about women’s issues in the party, but was shut down.” She is certainly not the only one to have made similar complaints. The PN has often demonstrated that it is seemingly reluctant to take on new ideas, coming from its younger members. All too often, public discussion within that party always seems to involve the same old faces… without injecting anything new or dynamic into the mix.

Ironically, this is precisely the opposite of what the PN truly needs right now. Unless the party somehow extricates itself from this situation, it may well find itself on a collision course with yet another catastrophic defeat at the next election.

Meanwhile, there are other, more practical reasons to account for the status quo. A closer analysis of the figures reveals that 6.5% of Nationalist voters now intend to vote Labour: by far, the highest cohort since October.

Disgruntled Labour voters, on the other hand, appear more resolute on not voting at all, rather than switching over to the PN. This suggests that, increasingly, PN voters are not simply repulsed by their own party; but also approve the performance of the Labour government.

One factor in all this is that, so far, the PN has simply failed to present itself as a credible alternative government. Nor does It help that the party seems to be forever locked in discussion stage about policy decisions: without seeming to ever actually formulate any fresh policies of its own.

Perhaps the most alarming revelation, however, is that Bernard Grech registers his lowest ever trust rating among 16-to-35 age bracket. Coupled with a failure to entice tertiary educated voters – formerly a stronghold of Nationalist support – this may indicate disgruntlement with the party’s approach to issues of interest to the young: ranging from construction, the environment, hunting and also the sale of passports.

Ultimately this shows how complicated the PN’s balancing act, between different categories of its own voters, has become.  This would create serious problems for the PN, even without the internecine factional feud to complicate matters further. Taken together, however, it only cements the perception that the PN cannot afford to approach the next election as a ‘house divided’.

Bernard Grech has indicated that he understands this; but so far, he has not come up with a workable formula to resolve these issues, once and for all. And as our survey also indicates: time is not on his side.