The wild vortex that has gripped the PN over the past 8 weeks or so risks uprooting the entire edifice. When the debate was about the hesitations of the conservatively inclined about gays and lesbians and bells and rings, the wind felt rough, windows were banging and dusty sheaves of shelved papers in trays marked with fading ‘pending’ labels flew around the room.
But compared to the storm that is blowing on the party now, that debate feels like fresh spring rain.
Bottled up differences have now boiled over and the mess is a sorry spectacle that is worse today than it had been yesterday just when everyone thought it could not get worse.
The party is coming to terms with old questions left unanswered for a long time. Some are visible and obvious, others more subtle and harder to grasp. Some of the incoherent babble that is going on cannot be taken at face value. It is cringe-worthy code that is becoming ever easier to decipher. And the shock continues to eat us alive.
The party is facing call-ins from metaphorical political creditors it had managed to keep at bay until now.
There has been much analysis of the party’s accumulated issues. Every little kennel club, every village council, every family has issues that accumulate over time. And there are times when the proverbial hits the fan and the group either gets busy living or it gets busy dying.
I will not go through the list of issues again. You will find more or less disjointed references to them in different blogs over the last several weeks if you are inclined to look for them. And maybe a post yet to be written will try to aggregate them coherently.
But there is one issue that does not come in handy in the current situation. The party is caught with a poor succession plan and there is a manifest break in the continuation of political culture that is tearing the whole fabric to shreds.
It is not after winning victorious elections that party members, activists and leaders, must remind themselves that ‘party comes first’.
It is in the dark, disheartening times of grief, defeat and embarrassment that the call to unity, loyalty, cohesiveness and leadership by example and sacrifice is of any real meaning.
And please, enough of the philosophical investigations into whether ‘party first’ is a challenge to one’s individual conscience or to patriotic loyalty to the country. There is no time right now for this intellectual self-absorption.
Our country calls us to prop up this party, dust ourselves off, bandage these ugly war wounds as best we can and stand up together again. Our conscience is in jeopardy if we prioritise our ambitions, our enmities, our prejudices and our grudges over the shared and collective interest of the party, and by extension the country.
There is no panacea. Please stop thinking that any one leadership candidate or other bears on his own the answer to all the painful questions that plague us today. Some of the supreme self-confidence of these candidates seems fed by basic ignorance of the challenges involved.
Please stop thinking that dramatic public gestures, legal and political theatre, threats and vicious rhetoric is going to bring us at any point where we can then face the electorate as a cohesive team that can govern.
Please stop using Labour’s playbook as your campaigning manual. It is destructive, based on conflict, devoid of any substance and utility.
Please stop wishing circumstances away. There is independent press out there and it is under no obligation to like us or to cover for us or to make life easy for us. If we’re to work in the business of politics in a democracy we need to remember how to handle that. And stop living under the utterly mystifying illusion that the Labour party does not exist. Just because they are silent right now does not mean they are not getting ready to kick us when we’re down.
Please stop apologising for our past. So we made mistakes. Who doesn’t? If the people who threw bodies over bridges, locked children out of schools, ransacked church buildings, burnt down presses, gave chunks of the country to the mad regime of Libya and fired live ammunition on crowds came back to politics without apologising, why are we so focussed on apologising for doing nothing worse than winning too many elections in a row and becoming smug about it?
Please stop mobilising portions of the party against other portions, pitching new members against old, councillors against activists, parliamentarians versus leadership candidates. Narrowly they may have distinct interests but surely all can see there is a shared objective they must all pursue.
Please stop subjecting the collective needs of the party to your own judgement of what is fair or not. Not one person can become a story greater than the party itself. If they do then the party becomes an extension of themselves and we have never allowed ourselves to serve demagoguery and cultism as Labour has through Mintoff and Muscat. We must never do that if we are to remain ourselves.
If you are the story, bow out. If you need to clear your name do so without dragging the party down with you.
If you are to function in a party, whether you’re its leader or its freshman card-carrying member, you must have one picture filling your mind’s eye: the greater good of the group. There is no space for your ambition or even for your disappointment over missed opportunities to realise your good intentions.
No one explicitly taught me these things when I started being active in my teens all those years ago. There was no induction manual telling me what I must give up if I wanted to stay in and help out.
I learnt from the example of Guido de Marco how there can be no bitterness about being runner-up to a leadership election but only unquestionable loyalty to the erstwhile rival.
I learnt from the example of Eddie Fenech Adami how the past is no guarantee of the future and one must know when to call it a day even without challengers to one’s status.
I learnt from the example of Richard Cachia Caruana and Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici how unfairness is beside the point and you have to leave when your presence contributes less than it costs through no fault of your own.
I learnt from the example of Lawrence Gonzi how patience, fortitude and clemency are greater values than power and authority even as he consciously passed on opportunities to parry the stabs from traitors in our midst.
I learnt from the example of Simon Busuttil how personal career ambitions are suspended when one receives the calling to serve the party against impossible odds and with negligible chance of success.
I learnt from the example of Joe Saliba and Paul Borg Olivier how silence is an adequate response to unfair criticism even after your term has expired and your legacy is trampled upon.
I could go on and on.
These values are sometimes described imprecisely as ‘loyalty’ or vaguely as ‘irġulija’.
Whatever you call them, they are very hard to describe but I know them when I see them.
And I know them even more when I miss them.
The party’s leaders of today and yesterday, its elders and its youth, those who have offered to lead it and those who thought themselves unworthy or unready: all of you must now step up to stay the madness that seems to have gripped us. Let us pause and let us not wait for the healing process to start only after a leader is chosen. By then we may have bled too much to recover in any politically meaningful time.
We must start the healing now.
Let those who have unwittingly and unintentionally drawn too much attention to themselves step back and relieve the party of the burden it does not need while those that are left rediscover that greatness that mobilised 138,000 determined voters at the last election to rally behind the gold-rimmed flag of party and country.