[ANALYSIS] Adrian Delia’s budget speech: Hard hitting but predictable

Adrian Delia’s budget speech was no game changer as this word by word analysis reveals

Opposition leader Adrian Delia
Opposition leader Adrian Delia

Adrian Delia’s budget speech was dominated by three themes: the economic dependence on the importation of foreigners, rising social inequalities and poverty and the reputational damage resulting from corruption and lax money laundering regulations.

Delia started his speech by capitalising on the anxiety created by riots in the Hal Far open centre, hitting hard on the government’s statement that only 300 of the 1,200 migrants had participated in the riot comparing the situation to hooliganism in a football ground.

“Imagine this happened in a football ground of 1,200, of which 300 started destroying everything in front of them including police cars… should we put our mind at rest simply because we arrested some and the others did not participate?” he asked provocatively.

While offering solidarity to the victims of violence was more than understandable, it is unclear what Delia wanted to achieve by nurturing anxiety.

Surely this prelude served as a curtain raiser for a speech in which Delia once again lashed at an economic model based on population growth referring to foreigners as a threat to working conditions, quality of life and wages. He walked a tight rope between legitimate concerns on “the importation of precarious labour” and a dangerous “us v them” polarisation.

This polarisation came across in his simplistic comparison of the current economic model to a house owner who decided to collect more money by increasing the number of dwellers from 10 to 15 with the result that the five new inhabitants ended up ruining the quality of life of the original 10.

One could not avoid the impression that Delia was capitalising on the events at Hal Far to give new impetus to his concerns on foreign workers, even if Delia himself has always taken a humanitarian approach towards migrants rescued on the high seas who end up living in open centres.

The pros: combative and down to earth

Delia turned Muscat's 'little rich men' slogan against him
Delia turned Muscat's 'little rich men' slogan against him

Delia replied to interruptions from the government benches using them as props for his own quips.

He was also effective in turning Muscat’s “little rich men” slogan against him, drawing comparisons with the new global rich and the earnings of political appointees making a facetious reference to former head of communications at the Prime Minister’s Office, Kurt Farrugia, who he said was enjoying a wage of around €180,000 a year as Malta Enterprise CEO (quoting the salary in the final year of his nine-year contract, which starts with a basic salary of €105,000 and €26,000 in allowances).

He even managed to portray interruptions as attempts to belittle the grievances of the common folk, which he voiced.

He also struck a popular chord by exposing the contrast between statistical surplus and every day life: “The government keeps saying that poverty is not on the rise. Tell that to the 90,000 people at the edge of poverty and hardship. Where is the surplus? Feed them your surplus, Prime Minister,” Delia said.

Even when addressing corruption, he was able to give it a social twist: “If the government didn’t grant €50 million to Vitals Global Healthcare to manage our hospitals, we would have had enough to build housing units for all those 4,000 people.”  

The main innovations in Delia’s speech was a greater emphasis on social issues like housing and linking the environment to air quality in an approach reminiscent to Muscat’s before 2013.

He also scored points by exploiting the own goal by some government MPs when they shot down the Opposition’s “climate emergency” Bill probably due to partisan antipathy towards its proponent. This antipathy was cast aside yesterday after both sides of the House found a compromise and voted for the Bill.

The cons: A broken record with very few compelling ideas

Delia's speech offered few compelling ideas
Delia's speech offered few compelling ideas

Delia’s speech was essentially a repetition of the themes he addressed before MEP elections, which he lost heavily. When lashing out at the government’s economic model he sounded like a broken record.

At best his speech may have been effective in galvanising his voter base. It meant to give this cohort a sense of purpose by ticking the migration box for the more conservative elements, and the reputation and environment box for the more liberal elements.

He was also careful to instil a sense of nostalgia in past PN governments when according to Delia the country’s reputation was intact, probably meant to heal the internal wounds.

In attacking the government’s economic model he was also very selective. While he criticised the government’s environmental record, he never mentioned over development in our towns and cities, possibly not to irritate the construction lobby.

And despite his strong words on climate change, he fell short on committing the Opposition to support an early cut off date for petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles.

While he lashed out at foreigners, he never once criticised the dependence on the construction industry. In short it is easier to blame the foreigner than those who are actually benefitting from cheap labour and high rents.

For while Delia rebuts the PM’s claim that “foreigners are coming because the economy is growing” insisting that the “economy is growing because of foreigners and not because they are attracted here by some new project”, the PN leader ignores the fact that Malta has become one big construction project which depends on cheap labour.

And while referring to growing social inequalities - “towers for the rich and garages for the poor” - he fell short of addressing low wages through concrete measures like raising the minimum wage and introducing a different COLA mechanism for low income groups as suggested by social justice activists.

Neither did he appeal to the middle class cohort that earns above €20,000 and does not take social benefits, which was the least to benefit from a budget, which imposed no extra taxes but gave little respite to categories, which are not seeing any improvement in their purchasing power despite economic growth.

In short, Delia came up with no great idea to address inequalities and wage stagnation.

His vision on tackling social inequalities remains hazy and contradictory with his single proposal to address the working class cohort, namely to reduce tax on overtime being partly included in this budget.

Key words used by Delia

Approximate number of times mentioned

  • Foreigners: 29
  • Environment/clean air: 14
  • Reputation: 13
  • Housing/rent: 12
  • Financial services/banks: 11
  • Climate change: 10
  • Passports: 10
  • Poverty: 8
  • Low wages: 5
  • Meritocracy: 4
  • Precariousness: 4
  • Population: 4

Overall assessment: No game changer

Adrian Delia's performance was no game changer
Adrian Delia's performance was no game changer

At best Delia’s speech can be seen as a mid-term attempt to galvanise the core vote and solidify his leadership in the party, being continuously applauded by his MPs including critics like Jason Azzopardi.

Delia also manages to thread across the ideological spectrum pandering to both left and right populism, without proposing anything which irks elites.

His speech fell short in conveying a compelling vision of what he would do as prime minister but confirmed Delia’s strength as a communicator, something which so far has not translated into votes for his party.

This article first appeared in MaltaToday Midweek this morning.