Dead man walking

Unfortunately, the PN leader is a dead man walking, who can easily be brushed aside in his own house by an audacious bartender and overshadowed by Metsola, who has grown into a larger than life figure for Maltese politics

Hamrun’s St Cajetan’s feast is marked by political allegiance as much as band club rivalry and over the years it has served as a go-to feast for politicians and party leaders.

Coming bang in the middle of August at the height of the summer season when politics normally takes a backseat, it is one of the occasions to be politicking casually.

So, when Bernard Grech was ‘politely’ asked not to enter his own party’s clubhouse by the bartender at the height of the festive march it was a snub of the first order.

To cite a religious analogy; within Malta’s political framework, asking the leader to stay outside of his own party club is akin to asking the Archbishop not to enter his church.

And how did the party react? For starters, its secretary-general initially tried to play down the significance of the snub by claiming the whole affair was a misunderstanding, even attempting to put forward the purported justification used by the bartender, who told Grech to stay outside because there were people of all political hues drinking inside the club.

And then, days later, the party issued a one-line statement saying that the administrative council decided to temporarily shut the Hamrun PN club. No justification or explanation was given as to why, and under what circumstances it will reopen.

All the while, a party activist, who protested over Grech’s treatment and was accosted by as yet unknown individuals inside the clubhouse, was being operated upon at hospital. Not one word of solidarity with this activist, or at the very least condemnation of the violence that occurred, was issued by the party or Grech, although it was reported that the party leader and PN MPs did visit him at hospital.

But beyond the violent altercation that took place – most probably fuelled by the alcohol that normally flows in these occasions – Grech’s snub tells us something is seriously amiss in the PN.

A bartender with the audacity to tell the party leader to stay outside is symptomatic of the lack of authority and respect Grech has within his own party.

He has failed as a leader to fire up the grassroots, much less the rest of the electorate preoccupied with national problems the government seems to have lost control of.

Even during the height of the power cuts last July, when Malta was in the grips of an intense heatwave, Grech showed a lack of leadership when he could not foresee that his party’s proposal to liberalise the distribution network would backfire. Rather than capitalising on the right noises he was making when calling for a national emergency to be declared, Grech instead threw government a lifeline by allowing his energy spokesperson to come up with a contentious proposal.

The snub goes to explain why the PN’s relative success in MaltaToday’s last poll was only made possible because the Labour Party crashed. The minor gains the PN made do not tally with the wider sense of disgruntlement that is punishing the PL.

The latest incident came as a reminder that despite the focus of the media on the first signs of divisions within the PL, the PN still cannot capitalise on this simply because its newly found unity in the wake of the hospitals scandal rests on shaky ground.

Although the motivation behind the latest incident remains unclear, the symbolism of a leader ejected from his own club is bound to leave a mark on popular perceptions. In this sense, the PN is the victim of a premature move in 2020 to replace Adrian Delia with Bernard Grech in a failed bid to narrow the electoral gap. This left behind a legacy of bad blood which has filtered down to the grass roots and which cannot be wished away by superficial shows of unity.

Grech’s leadership lacks charisma. Admittedly, Grech’s position, especially since last year’s general election, is more complicated as PN voters wait for their Messiah to appear in the form of a Roberta Metsola – if ever she decides to give up her European career and relocate to Malta.

Inevitably, with every inspiring status, even if it lacks substance, Metsola decides to put out on social media – now increasingly touching on local issues in the run-up to next year’s European Parliament election – Grech’s own status diminishes further.

Unfortunately, the PN leader is a dead man walking, who can easily be brushed aside in his own house by an audacious bartender and overshadowed by Metsola, who has grown into a larger than life figure for Maltese politics.

Dar Centrali truly has a problem.