Before changing government, you have to change yourself | Adrian Delia

A year since his turbulent replacement as PN leader, ADRIAN DELIA shows no sign of bitterness or resentment over his own fall from power. But he warns that the Nationalist Party cannot hope to renew itself, unless it learns the lessons of that experience

Adrian Delia (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Adrian Delia (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

It’s been almost exactly a year since you were replaced by Bernard Grech as PN leader; after both the Parliamentary Group and Executive Committee declared they had no faith in you. What do you think you did wrong, to have turned so many people against you… or, at minimum, to have failed to earn their trust?

I would say it’s the second scenario, more than the first. I don’t think I ‘turned anyone against me’. It could well be, though, that I didn’t ‘earn their trust’… but it could be other things, too. At this stage, it’s all speculation.

Certainly, however, the fact that I was the first PN leader to come ‘from the outside’ – that is, not from the traditional stables of the PN itself – made it uncomfortable for some people who are more used to working with people they know. So everything I tried to do; all my efforts to instil a new way of doing politics… it took many people out of their comfort zone, so to speak.

But today, I find it difficult to even remember those events; to go back in time, and harbour any sentiments over what happened. I prefer to live in the present, and absorb that which is happening around me today. Quite frankly, it is not in my nature to dwell for too long on something in the past…

It is, however, important to understand what happened, and why. You seem to be suggesting that all the antagonism you faced was simply because you were an ‘outsider’. But wasn’t Bernard Grech an outsider, too?

Yes, but there is a difference. The way things unfolded, it is clear that the party had by that time [October 2019] understood that it was a non-starter, to once again choose someone from the inner circles. So they chose someone who was ‘from the outside’, yes; but who was perhaps more acceptable to the party insiders; and possibly after some form of compromise…

But I don’t feel it’s an issue I should get involved with, myself. For what it’s worth, my own perspective is that - despite having had the courage to extend the decision-making process to include the ‘tesserati’ [paid-up members] - the PN was evidently not ready for that sort of change, in practice.

All the same, I still think it was a worthwhile exercise. And I feel that, even if I didn’t manage to instil all the changes I wanted to… it was still important to give the party a ‘shock to the system’ [skossjatura]. Today, I take comfort from the fact that, when I meet and talk to people in the street, they no longer ask me about ‘what happened last year’; instead, they talk to me about their problems and concerns today.

So I feel that there are people out there, who think that I may still be able to make a difference. And that, to me, is a source of personal satisfaction.

On the subject of changes to the PN’s voting procedures: MaltaToday recently revealed some changes that, for some reason, were not publicised by the party. These include a Single Transferable Vote system, whereby the General Council narrows down the candidates to two after a first round of voting. Do you think this was a manoeuvre, on the part of the PN, to make it more difficult for ‘outsiders’ to get elected in future?

From what I’ve read so far – because obviously, I no longer have this kind of information coming to me directly - it doesn’t look as though any real changes, insofar as PN leadership elections, were made in the past year.

And I say this because, as far as I know – and I think I’m correct – according to the party statute, any changes to the PN leadership election process have to be decided not just by the Executive Council, but also the General Council. To the best of my knowledge, the General Council was not convened to decide on this matter, in the past year.

If, on the other hand, we are talking about changes when I was still leader – in other words, the ‘Louis Galea reform’, which overhauled the entire statute – there were some amendments, yes. And there was an internal debate, on whether we should go back to the previous system.

But I strongly opposed this; partly because – as the first PN leader elected by this new general franchise – it would have been a gross historical injustice, for me to have also been the first leader to dismantle that system.

But partly also because I believe that, for the party to renew itself, it needs to have its finger on the pulse of the grassroots. So the more candidates participating in leadership elections, the more chance you will have of an accurate reflection of the people’s concerns…

You say it was important to ‘shock the system’: but what has really come of it, in practice? Do you think that the Nationalist Party has learnt anything, from the experience of the past year?

I can’t speak on behalf of the Nationalist Party, as a whole; but I do understand – or at least, I’d like to think – that this experience was, in fact, a positive one for the party. There was a need for it to happen; and there is a need for it to continue happening today. God forbid we were to go back to our previous habit of ‘closing doors’… because it would mean that we have learnt precisely nothing.

If the party did learn anything, though: I think one lesson was that any change you try to bring about, will always create shocks to the system. And also that, when you effect change, you must have the patience to actually see the entire process through to its conclusion.

So, to step outside of my own character, and look at it from the perspective of what I myself have learnt: it was good, and courageous, that the PN decided to open up the leadership election to a wider electorate; but it was bad, that were no guarantees that the elected leader would remain in place for a full term… naturally, not counting any circumstances where there may be genuine cause for impeachment.

And I’m not saying this because I was the leader who was replaced; but because it takes time – and the certainty of stability - to effect any form of meaningful change.

You describe the experience as ‘positive’ for the PN; but isn’t it also true that it created a schism within the party? And that even today, there is still a tranche of PN supporters who remain loyal to you; and who still harbour grudges over what happened last year?

First of all, ‘schism’ is a very loaded word. And it is impossible to interpret what a lot of different people are thinking. So let me start with myself.

From the outset, I was already ‘controversial’ for the simple reason that I came from the outside. Inevitably, then there was going to be a certain reluctance, among some people; and a certain incomprehension, among others. All well and good.

But already, you can see that there was a big demand for change. And many of the people who voted for me, did not do so because of how ‘good’ they thought I was, on any personal level… but simply because I wasn’t one of the old faces. Let’s not forget that, not counting the previous four years, the PN had been in government for 25 years...

Already, then, there was a thirst for change. And we are still going through that process today, because the change itself has still not been delivered. Now: the problem is not that I myself won that election, as opposed to anyone else. And the problem is certainly not named ‘Bernard Grech’, either.

No, the real problem is that - on the first occasion where people were given the democratic right to vote for a leader of their own choice - the mandate they decided upon was not fulfilled. So many of them felt – and still feel – betrayed. Because they did not elect a leader for two, or three years: to be cut short, at the whim of a Parliamentary Group. They elected a leader for a full term. And that is where the real wound [weggha] lies.

Now: I’m the sort of person who always tries to think forward. I do see, and understand, that ‘wound’; and yes, I could easily exploit it for my own ends, if I wanted to.

But I have no need for any of that; as far as I’m concerned, I tried to make my contribution, as PN leader. And if, after two or three years, my own people turned to me and said: ‘Listen, we’ve had enough’… who am I, to say, ‘But I feel I can contribute more?’ I can always continue contributing in other ways…

But to answer your question directly: other people – the ones who decided that I could have contributed more, for a whole term – feel cheated. This is the crux of the matter…

At the PN’s Independence Day activities on the Fosos, however, your campaign volunteers all turned up wearing ‘Team Adrian Delia’ T-shirts… an initiative that was subsequently condemned by PN leader Bernard Grech. Doesn’t he have a point, that this sort of political stunt only exposes internal divisions further? And was it your idea to begin with?

No, no, let me explain what happened. The whole thing was totally blown out of proportion. For starters, the Nationalist Party has a long tradition of candidates whose supporters create, and wear, personalised campaign T-shirts. After all, we’re not talking about T-shirts with the logo of another party. It was the PN logo on those T-shirts…

But another thing is that – and this is the part the media left out – the whole idea was to encourage more people to attend the meeting. In fact, I was the one who came out on Facebook, to say: ‘Come to the Fosos!’ I was the one encouraging people to attend.

Now: it could well be that some of those people who attended were sceptical, or half-hearted…  but let’s face it: if I really wanted to damage the party, I would have told them to simply stay at home.

The bottom line, however, is that there was nothing even unusual about all this. Those volunteers did nothing wrong; it was just a case of ordinary campaigning, in support of a particular candidate. But there were sections of the media – obviously, from the opposite political camp - that did their best to add fuel to the flames. And they succeeded, too… because the fire did ignite.

Effectively, however: in the scale of political issues – finance, the economy, the cost of living, opportunities for young people, the elderly, etc. – what, are we seriously going to make such a fuss about four people wearing T-shirts? Come on, it doesn’t make sense. If I really wanted to be divisive, and put spokes in the wheel… it doesn’t take much, believe me…

Another factor contributing to your defeat last year was the PN’s negative performance in the polls. Under your leadership, the party made no progress from the 2017 result in three years. Ironically, however, surveys today suggest that the PN has failed to make inroads under Bernard Grech, either; in fact, it seems to have lost support. First of all: how much importance do you yourself give to surveys?

[Laughing] I can hardly afford not to give any importance to polls and surveys, considering how drastically they affected my own position in the party! But I am not in any position to confirm how accurate, or otherwise, they may be. Certainly, however, they are a form of indicator.

And yes, recent polls do suggest that PN has not gained any ground since last year… and I won’t go into whether it has lost more ground or not, because… let’s face it… [shrugs]… it didn’t move forward. And that’s what really matters…

What do you think the PN is doing wrong, to be still struggling so hard to recover from past defeats?

Part of the equation surely has to be ‘what the government is doing right’, on certain issues.  But I also think that the Nationalist Party, over the past eight or so years, has still not managed to go through the process of ‘undressing’ from its past mentality, of a ruling party for quarter of a century… and wearing instead the cloak of humility: to be able to understand that, before trying to change the government; or change what the government is doing; you have to first change yourself.

That, I think, is the starting point of the entire discussion. But if you’re going to ask me exactly where, and how, the Nationalist Party should change…

Yes, I am going to ask that…

… then we would quite frankly need a whole series of other interviews: even once a week. I’d be up for it any time…