PN election: Brutalised Delia is finally spat out

Delia was an unwelcome pretender to the PN throne. It was always impossible to heal the festering wound in his party

Adrian Delia speaking to the press after losing the election. Photo: James Bianchi
Adrian Delia speaking to the press after losing the election. Photo: James Bianchi

It was not the leadership campaign anyone expected. Adrian Delia was fighting to keep his unhappy reign in place, and started off at a great disadvantage, with multiple coups finally presenting a new outsider, Bernard Grech, as a pretender.

Before that, his MPs pushed through successive votes of confidence to nudge Delia out, but the PN leader insisted he was in power through the supreme vote of the PN’s paid-up suffrage.

Delia endured his party’s long knives for three years on end. When finally a backbench rebellion had the audacity to demand the President of the Republic to appoint a new Opposition leader, Delia was pushed into calling for a new vote of confidence from the PN’s General Council; they instead chose a leadership election.

But instead of a diverse line-up that could have included the Opposition-leader-apparent Therese Comodini Cachia or even the high-flying MEP Roberta Metsola, the rebel MPs chose the telegenic Bernard Grech, a one-time anti-divorce campaigner who had curried favour with the Net TV and Xarabank audiences.

Grech came with little or no baggage at first, before an embarrassing reveal on a tax probe by the Tax Compliance Unit in 2018 and two other call-ups from the Commissioner of Tax to pay unpaid dues from the 1990s ruined his squeaky-clean image: Grech was a habitual non-taxpaying citizen who only cleaned up his act on the eve of his decision to run for PN leader.

Still, Grech appeared to give PN members a taste of renewed normality they craved, and which had proved so elusive for Adrian Delia. He was the socially conservative ‘Mondeo man’ with a stable family life, armed with bland catchphrases and a mediative outlook that promised unity for the divided PN.

Delia – after three years a Pythonesque black knight intent on fighting with no limbs – dug his heels in: instead of reaching out, the litigation lawyer who had once heralded a ‘new way’ and marshalled the strength of the PN’s working class, kept appealing to his loyal constituents. He promised vague retribution for dissidents who made his political life impossible, and even in his last interview with the right-wing-conspiracy-conservative pundit Simon Mercieca, spent over 20 minutes replying about the accusations made on his corporate services to Maltese brothel owners in Soho, his own tax issues, and other accusations.

Delia’s badly-scripted campaign, handled in part by loyal deputy leader Robert Arrigo, was yet another confirmation of the loneliness of the Opposition leader. The endorsements from MPs were nowhere to be seen; even his deputy leader David Agius and one-time allies like Clyde Puli or Hermann Schiavone had disappeared.

Remarkably, a gushing endorsement from his own father, produced an aphorism for the way the PN’s paid-up members felt mistreated by the so-called party elite: “Back in the day all they would do is blow the whistle, and we would be there, either with our flag in hand or with the money... this is a chance for you to take back the party that’s yours.”

It was also clear that Delia had been left the worse for wear after three years of disappointing polls, but mostly from the accusation that he had entertained WhatsApp requests from Yorgen Fenech after the Tumas magnate was revealed as the owner of the mysterious 17 Black company (of Panamagate fame) after the PN had so vociferously campaigned on this black hole of corruption. That event intensified the backbench rebellion.

Brutalised by the MPs who in 2017 had refused to welcome him into their home, Delia found it impossible to heal the festering wound in his party. He lacked party unity, expert advice, and spin doctors to help the Opposition grow. Crucially for any PN leader, he had earned the black spot from Daphne Caruana Galizia, who in 2017 first reported on his Soho corporate services link. When she was assassinated soon after, the PN voters who swore loyalty to her memory refused to be part of Delia’s PN.

Grech on the other hand had the old guard behind him, the crucial part in his guarantee for party unity. But even on the eve of the election, Grech was talking about COVID-19 deaths in Malta, taking to task Silvio Parnis, the ineffective and invisible parliamentary secretary for the elderly. Grech was evidently more attuned to the messaging that a prospective Opposition leader should be putting out.

Once again, the PN is bringing out a new broom. Robert Abela has lost the ineffective nemesis that was to guarantee him a divided opposition for him to pick at. The game has changed yet again.