Put up, or shut up

Above all, Delia must give the parliamentary group his stamp of authority. As for his detractors, they must now put up or shut up. If they are unable to do either, then their place is outside the party

In last weekend’s General Council vote, Adrian Delia won a renewed mandate from PN councillors to continue leading the party until the next general election.  

There can be no dispute about this. He won, and the result should be respected.

Whether the outcome is the best predicament for the PN, is beside the point at this stage. What matters now is that Delia has a fresh mandate to set the ball rolling and bring about change within the party, after two years of internal sabotage and constant public humiliation by some of his MPs.

Even if the internal division still exists, those opposed to Delia’s leadership have no further excuse to continue hindering him as previously.

The vote itself was held on their own insistence; their choice is now to either toe the newly reconfirmed party leader’s line… or to show themselves to the door.

But above all, the Nationalist Party must reorganise itself – with or without the nay-sayers on board. Adrian Delia must now show that he can deliver on policy; and to do so he has to have the right people, doing the right things, within the party and in Parliament.

Delia must build bridges with his opponents, but he must also lead; and as a first step, he should reshuffle his Shadow Cabinet to reflect the renewal requested by councillors.

This is not to say that Delia should not reach out, seek reconciliation and listen to his detractors; but he must not do this at the expense of rendering Saturday’s result toothless.

Just as much as a third of councillors want him out, two thirds have asked him to pursue change. Any successful reform of the party can only be achieved if Delia is given a clear guarantee of loyalty from his colleagues: something that is unlikely, if some of his most outspoken detractors remain a consistent presence in the Shadow Cabinet.

But Delia’s biggest difficulty remains the lack of a clear party identity to build upon. This is ironic, as Delia was specifically elected PN leader for that purpose in 2017. But beyond vague slogans that seemed to look backwards towards the 1930s, the voting public was not given much in the way of substance in the past two years.

Cartoon by Mikiel Galea
Cartoon by Mikiel Galea

This, too, contributed to the historic defeat in last month’s European Election. And unless the PN manages to address this lacuna in time for 2020, the next election is as good as lost, too.

The good news for Delia, on the other hand, is that cracks are finally beginning to show in Joseph Muscat’s ‘Golden Age’. Recent controversies appear to have pitted ‘the economy’ directly against ‘environment’ and ‘quality of life’ issues; resulting in an apparent wave of disillusionment that is not, currently, being tapped into by the Opposition.

If Delia is as passionate about climate change as his rhetoric suggests when speaking to the PN youths, he should also show initiative by coming up with feasible plans to reach (or at least approximate) Malta’s UN-imposed Climate Change targets. Nor is it enough to jump on an environmentalist bandwagon that is already there… Delia has so far failed to convince voters that his party can make a difference on his front. And the PN’s past record in government is not a very good endorsement, either.

But Delia does now have to distance himself from that record: for instance, by appointing someone unconnected to previous PN administrations as his spokesperson on Climate Change.

On the fiscal and economic side, Delia needs a voice of reason and competence who can counter the scholarly demeanour of Edward Scicluna; while also working on policies to address the issues he himself raises as opposition leader: poverty, social exclusion, quality of life, etc.

On the social front, he needs moderate voices who are not uncomfortable with the civil liberties changes that happened over the past five years. Indeed, this remains a crucial handicap to the PN’s electoral chances. For all his previous talk about ‘renewal’, Delia’s rhetoric before the European election was uncannily similar to Gonzi’s arch-conservativism… though this same approach had already cost the PN first the Divorce Referendum in 2011, then the 2013 election.

His greatest challenge will be on corruption and good governance, where his own credentials are under scrutiny. But the PN stillneeds a voice that is firm, but not hysterical.

Above all, Delia must give the parliamentary group his stamp of authority. As for his detractors, they must now put up or shut up. If they are unable to do either, then their place is outside the party.

This is not to say that criticism should be stifled. But there is a massive difference between being a critical voice, and a constant thorn trying to undermine the leader at every turn.

A divided PN cannot even start to hope to be an effective alternative government. People will not even bother to look at the PN, if its own members are unable to find common ground.

The earlier Delia’s detractors realise this, the sooner the PN can start to function as a proper Opposition. And the future of our democracy may well come to depend on it.