[ANALYSIS] Brand Delia: Saving ‘mother’ Malta

Delia presented his ‘brand’ of soft nationalism and his popular touch is  giving his party signs of life but his vision of the future remains foggy, says JAMES DEBONO

By harping on nationalism Delia is also fighting on Muscat’s turf. But while Muscat’s patriotism is highly pragmatic emphasising Malta’s economic success, Delia’s is based on a defence of national identity – a flexible concept which also caters for increased concern on environmental issues and corruption
By harping on nationalism Delia is also fighting on Muscat’s turf. But while Muscat’s patriotism is highly pragmatic emphasising Malta’s economic success, Delia’s is based on a defence of national identity – a flexible concept which also caters for increased concern on environmental issues and corruption

PN leader Adrian Delia did not single out foreign workers or lash out at elitists within his party as he did in the past weeks.

Instead, at his concluding speech at the PN’s week-long General Council, he delivered an inclusive message bearing the imprint of soft patriotism, some marks of conservative identity and an emphasis on opening up the party to people’s daily problems.

Speaking on Mothers’ day, Delia constantly referred to Malta as a mother whose honour, health and identity are in various ways threatened by Muscat’s government.

Comparing Malta to a mother that has always loved her own children, he insisted that the government led by Joseph Muscat was on the other hand determined to sell her soul for personal gain. In this way he had taken the traditional Mediterranean honour and shame code to a new level.

By harping on nationalism Delia is also fighting on Muscat’s turf. But while Muscat’s patriotism is highly pragmatic emphasising Malta’s economic success, Delia’s is based on a defence of national identity – a flexible concept which also caters for increased concern on environmental issues and corruption.

Delia also speaks a Labour-friendly language, repeating the Mintoffian mantra of “our country (pajjizna) first and foremost.”

He fends off attacks on his MEPs – depicted by the Labour Party as traitors – by referring to them as the ones “defending” Malta’s honour by fighting corruption.

Yet this issue may become problematic for Delia, whenever Article 7 – a mechanism which censors EU members with rule of law failures – is invoked by MEPs, especially those hailing from the European Popular Party, the PN’s political family.

To counter the perception that his nationalism is pandering to xenophobia, he also evoked the image of Malta as the welcoming nurse of the Mediterranean during World War I. He emphasised that while there was nothing wrong in attracting foreign labour where this is needed, the focus should be on improving working conditions of those who already work here. This comes in the aftermath of Delia’s visit to the Farsons plant during which Delia was reminded that the company would not have been able to cope with last year’s export demands without its complement of foreign workers.

Delia made no reference to these ‘do or die’ elections. Instead he recognised that the party faces an “uphill struggle”

From Latin to Maltese identity

Perhaps to counter the impression of elitism conjured by his own reference to ‘Latin’ identity in last year’s Independence speech, he came up with a stanch defence of the Maltese language.

Despite his linguistic fervour for Maltese, Delia, whose extensive use of the Italianate legalese word “trapass” is frequently made fun of, could not resist using the Italian “ignoti” (unknown) with reference to the mysterious owners of Vitals.

It was not clear to what linguistic threat Delia was referring in his speech although one could presume that he was referring to an educational reform which could see Maltese being offered as a vocational subject. The reform, which has been shot down by a number of academics, aims at making Maltese more accessible to children not used to speaking the language.

By harking on the defence of the Maltese language, Delia showed an ability to redefine his party’s historically elitist concept of identity. The party of italianità, which was later associated with the English-speaking middle class, is now re-inventing itself as the party fighting for the Maltese language.

  Flowers for mumsie: Adrian Delia’s mother sends him his love
Flowers for mumsie: Adrian Delia’s mother sends him his love

Women and the unborn

In another cavalier remark towards the female gender Delia has accused the government of turning women into objects or “vehicles”.

In this way the pro-life politician is trying to use a feminist argument against surrogacy, which is probably the most ethically controversial aspect of the proposed IVF bill.

Yet there is a flipside to the feminist argument; it is also the other side of
the coin of the demand for reproductive rights. Ironically countries like Sweden which ban surrogacy also
offer abortioon demand.

Delia has linked the defence of the unborn to one of the five pillars he outlined in what could be a clear message that those who believe that zygote is a cluster of eight cells with no attributes of personhood, have no place in the party.

The fact that nobody challenged this fundamentalist retrenchment in the general council does not augur well for a party whose voters are more pluralistic than the party when it comes to moral issues.

On the IVF issue the PN faces a fundamental problem. Can it afford to sacrifice the pursuit of happiness of people seeking a more effective remedy to infertility problems on the altar of a very rigid ideological point?

One way to tone this inherent conservatism involved a couple of token references to the LGBTI community and single mothers but in both cases Delia did not say anything substantial.

Where will the money come from?

Delia was at his best in delivering a strong social message. He gives an impression of being in synch with popular concerns on rising rents and the realities faced by separated people who have to pay for court maintenance from meagre wages. He is also in synch with popular concerns on traffic, pollution and endless construction. Yet again Delia did not present any concrete solutions.

One of the running problems with Delia is that he rambles on from one topic to another, without really addressing the issues at stake.

Where will Delia find the money to spend more on social policy? In his speech he hinted at a better use of the surplus but this begs the question; will Delia retain the same economic model, which contributes to the surplus but depends on a greater influx of foreign workers and sectors like gaming and the sale of citizenship, which have elicited international concern?

Perhaps his aim was to commence a discussion in his party on those themes dear to his heart. Yet he gave no idea of a road map and an indication of his preferences. He limited himself to identifying the five areas where he wants his party to focus, namely: respect and dignity towards all, access to decent employment and living conditions, a merciful society, a fitting infrastructure and national identity.

On a more positive note Delia also emphasised two issues which are increasingly given importance in social policy; solitude and mental health – two crucial issues where the Nationalist Party may well break new ground in social policy.

Corruption and the national soul

It is not clear where corruption fits in the five pillars presented by Delia. But he cannot be accused of ignoring this issue. His numerous references to corruption were made in the space of a few minutes where he also thanked his predecessor Simon Busuttil, thus sending a message that he is comfortable with him taking leadership on such a crucial issue.

On the other hand, underlying Delia’s speech was a constant reference to the dilution of the morale fibre, which came across in references to the everything for sale mentality, rampant consumerism, and the vilification of the mother nation’s reputation.

Yet how does this translate in concrete policy choices? Will the PN stop the passport for sale programme? Will it introduce new checks and balances? If elected will Delia be able to rein in Nationalists hungry for positions of trust after 10 years in Opposition?

A party for the people

Delia was at his best presenting his new way for the party. It may be easy to dismiss his appeal on his party “opening its heart and not just its ears” as cliché, but such statements must be seen in the light of the recent past during which the mass party which was created by Eddie Fenech Adami has been increasingly perceived as one dominated by a clique.

Perhaps this may be Delia’s greatest contribution if he survives next year’s MEP elections. Delia made no reference to these ‘do or die’ elections. Instead he recognised that the party faces an “uphill struggle” and that the road of recovery “is a long one”. This may be an admission that nobody should expect miracles out of him.

Key Quotes

How Delia wants to change his party

“We thought we knew it all…but even the most knowledgeable amongst us does not know anything in comparison to the many… We should not just open our ears to listen but we have to open our hearts wide... We should not only open doors but also our minds to the suffering of the people. The PN does not belong to us only (taghna biss)… It belongs to the people.”

How Delia evoked Mother Malta

“Malta is our mother and we should never dishonour her name”

How Delia changed his tone on foreign workers

“Good that, if necessary, we bring people from abroad to work here but we also have to see that the people who already have work here, work in good working conditions…Where is the struggle against precarious work?”

How Delia panders to conservatives

“The unborn child is not a clump of eight cells. For us the unborn remain children in the womb and we will speak for them”

How Delia reaches out to anti-corruption faction

“Some tell us how long will you keep on repeating the same thing? We will stop talking about corruption when they stop being corrupt. We will speak about corruption till the last breath.”

How Delia says ‘Well done’ to government

“They are saying that there is no unemployment. We say ‘Well done’…. but let’s not live in an illusion…some are working an 80-hour work to pay court maintenance…We are creating a consumer society where one needs three jobs to cope…we are talking of many who earn 950 euro a month in their payslip.”

How Delia makes it a point to mention everyone

“It is great that LGBTQI people have been given rights but let’s start reflecting this in daily life. We should not marginalise people through our actions.”

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