‘We need to question everything’ | Roberta Metsola

Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola says that ahead of the PN’s leadership election, the party must start questioning itself in ways it did not do before

Roberta Metsola insisted that in the run-up to the election, the PN believed it was close to a win and was by no means expecting such a big loss
Roberta Metsola insisted that in the run-up to the election, the PN believed it was close to a win and was by no means expecting such a big loss

The Nationalist Party must “question everything” as it sets out to rebuild itself following its loss in last month’s general election, according to Nationalist MEP Roberta Metsola. 

Speaking to MaltaToday in Strasbourg, Metsola insisted that in the run-up to the election, the PN believed it was close to a win and was by no means expecting such a big loss. 

“In my opinion, it was worse than 2013 because [PN leader] Simon Busuttil led such a great campaign,” she said, adding that today the party finds itself in a leadership race which it was not envisaging before the election.  

According to Metsola, the changes needed in the party today go beyond a simple “rapport tat-telfa” – the report commissioned by the Nationalist Party to analyse the 2013 loss.

“We’re not at that stage, we’re beyond that, and that means we have to look at everything and question everything,” she said. “It doesn’t mean destroying what we have, but questioning it and seeing to it that what currently exists is conducive to a victory in five years.”

“We must also consider whether our electoral machine is adapted to today’s type of election campaign,” added Metsola. 

Another issue that must be worked on by the PN is its ability to listen and attract new people to the party, adding that it must also consider how it “feeds public opinion into its parliamentary debates”. 

“We need to attract better and younger candidates to make sure that there aren’t whole generations that are not represented in parliament,” she explained, pointing to the fact that the Labour parliamentary group “spans across more generations” than that of the PN. 

Of particular importance, said Metsola were section committees, which she said provide a clear idea of what makes the people the party aims to represent, tick.  

“I spend a lot of my summer going around village feats and it is essential that I do so because I meet people there that have never entered a political party office,” she said. 

Despite not being a part of any party structure, she said many of these people she meets vote and are very vocal about their thoughts and beliefs. 

“They spend all their time talking about the ‘festa’ but they don’t bother with who represents them in parliament, and I think Joseph Muscat was better at reaching out to them,” she continued.

Not just the leadership 

The need for reform goes beyond the party’s leader, said Metsola, who also insisted that most people would not point to Busuttil as being the reason for the loss. 

“He galvanised the party and implemented a number of changes,” she said. 

According to the MEP, Busuttil worked hard to reach out to the harshest of critics, however she acknowledged that this clearly wasn’t enough.

“It’s possible that in reaching out to these critics we lost sight of the people who were traditionally closer to us,” she added.

One common analysis of the PN’s loss was that it was too focused on corruption, and lacked a holistic narrative and vision that could compete with Labour’s which was a continuation of the Taghna lkoll vision which had been so effective in 2013, however Metsola pushed back against claims that the PN spent too much time discussing corruption. 

“We have to say, that in any other country, even a fraction of what was pinned on the government would have caused a number of resignations,” she stressed. “The fact that they didn’t, does not mean the PN should have given up and decided not to speak about corruption.”

In addition to this, she said that unlike the country’s last Labour Opposition, during the last legislature, the PN under Busuttil had tried to present alternative proposals and policies, insisting that the party’s economic competence, could have, and should have been extolled more. 

On whether the PN should have credited Labour more for the fact that the country was doing well, Metsola pointed out that in 2013, despite the economy “doing extremely well”, the incumbent Nationalist Party had still lost by a great majority and this meant that the electorate had perceived the PN as having been in government far too long.

Furthermore, she said that while the PN might have had “the best message”, it wasn’t being “transmitted to everybody”, and that the PN’s “podium politics” might not have been as effective as going into people’s houses and hearing their concerns. 

“The idea that Facebook is everywhere might not necessarily be accurate,” she said. “On social issues, on tackling poverty, and on looking at people who wanted attention on a one-to-one level, we should have done more.”

The liberal-conservative divide

On the Nationalist Party’s lack of flexibility in dealing with civil liberties issues, many of which have become more widespread in society, Metsola said the party should be proud of the fact that it has “an extremely vibrant and energetic parliamentary group”.

“Simon [Busuttil] really married the two extremes, and in fact you will see that in the same sex marriage vote there will be a vote in favour,” she said.

Metsola added that the party had understood it was the best position for it to take, having at the same time allowed for the necessary discussion to take place and to not allow Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to “take advantage of the situation by diverting attention away from the real issues at hand and throwing curve balls at the opposition”. 

“We will continue to analyse and learn, and I am part of a movement to make sure that the opposition behaves as a credible one, and that means criticising where we need to criticise while ignoring the fact that Labour will continue to paint us as being negative,” she said. 

She said that ultimately the party would continue to insist on the need of investment that will bring jobs and for more sustainable economic policies, while working both “internally and externally” to convince people that it has learnt from its mistakes. 

“At the same time, we must show that we are not ashamed of our past when we ran the country very well and that is something I will insist on because I am not going to accept anything that would require us to be apologetic for things we managed to do very successfully in the past.”