Where the analogy stops

Where the analogy stops

I have drawn parallels between Maltese politics and Donald Trump before. When Joseph Muscat blamed the Russian Secret Service for the Egrant revelations – that’s not what he called them of course – I wrote that Muscat was taking a page out of the Roger Stone playbook and imitating Trump’s methods in the interest of his campaign. He was doing that when the rest of us were laughing because we thought the sheer absurdity of his suggestion would expose him to ridicule with everyone. It did not. Far from it.

It does not take a genius however to work out the fact that my post from earlier today about Trump’s rise to power from the outside was also a parallel being illustrated to paint a picture of Maltese politics but that this time Joseph Muscat was not the subject.

It is cartoonish and grotesquely simplistic to compare Trump’s deviousness, his malice, his transparent racism and un-medicated and undiagnosed confusion to Adrian Delia. That would be grossly unfair. There is no reason to think these things of him. His speeches and his writings, to the extent that they have discussed matters of policy, have shown his political position to be sensibly compassionate.

He spoke on poverty, on education, on justice reform, on policing and on small business growth. And in all of these interventions he emerged as a centre-left politician of moderate but enthusiastic views. There has not been enough time to understand either the programmatic detail of his intentions nor to measure his ability to negotiate, persuade, legislate and implement his vision. But his vision as such appears to me unimpeachable and kosher PN politics.

Therefore his abilities can in some respects be judged as a re-invigoration of the party’s culture or, in some other respects, acquitted for lack of evidence either way because obviously the man has never really been tested.

The Trump parallel is not in his politics. Frank Portelli would be much closer to Trump: building walls of the mind, if not of the physical kind, to block out people with skin colour Portelli disapproves of. Adrian Delia gave no hint that he harbours these frightening non-PN notions.

The Trump parallel is in the apparent reaction of the party grassroots: not so much the elected Councillors as the new suffrage of card carrying members who can only be judged by their numerous attendance to Adrian Delia’s club events and their presence on Facebook.

For starters it is a great thing for any politician to be able to mobilise the sort of interest and enthusiastic participation that Adrian Delia has managed in the baking heat of this summer. Party clubs in towns and villages have not seen so many people crowding in and around the main door since before 1987.

For any democrat it is also beautiful to see so many people engaged in political debate, to be so committed and interested in the outcome of this election. Indifference and apathy may lend a more comfortable environment for professional political operatives to bustle in but it is in the long run disheartening and destructive.

But there are clear symptoms of an angry mob that is losing its ability to discern and to make a judgement call after due reflection. I have no authority, moral or otherwise, to sit in judgement of people who express views, however irrational. I can only speak about my own process of thought. My thinking is also emotional. It is not purely and coldly logical and rational, especially when it concerns my political party. Yes of course country first. But I do have a loyalty to the PN that is built on the rational foundations of a shared ideology but flourishes organically in an emotional attachment that can hardly be explained without being experienced.

The Adrian Delia campaign has been and is for me an agonising swirl of mixed feelings.

I like the man. I really do. I knew him superficially because of common friends but I never shared more than a fleeting greeting with him. But his speaking skills, his oratory, his spontaneity are charming and attractive.

I also admire anyone that steps into public life, unless it is to make money for themselves. So I’m grateful that he offered himself.

Initially I had misgivings about his lack of experience. That analogy Daphne Caruana Galizia made in one of her articles about wanting to be a bank MD when she is really only qualified to write articles and publish magazines: I had my own version of that but it involved a shoe factory manager wanting to run a bank.

But I met Adrian and he gave me time and he answered every question I had and he convinced me that at least his intentions were pure, his intelligence undoubted, his energy electrifying, his enthusiasm genuine, his abilities untested but promising.

He became my favourite candidate. I never let go of my disappointment that perfectly capable candidates who could and should have run were not available to me as a choice: Claudio Grech, Beppe Fenech Adami, Roberta Metsola, where are you? But they had made their choice and now I needed to make mine.

I never met Alex Perici Calascione so could not have an opinion really one way or the other. Frank Portelli I’m afraid I detest mostly because of his politics but also because his motivations are transparent and I don’t mean that in a good way. Chris Said I’ve worked with and I personally like very much. He’s a good man through and through and he has the backing of most of the parliamentary group that is the team he needs to work with. But it seemed to me and it seems to me that the party members do not have much appetite for someone who served in the past.

Perhaps that is what stopped Grech, Fenech Adami and Metsola from running. They anticipated a crowd unimpressed by their record, unfair as that may be.

But these episodes with Daphne Caruana Galizia’s stories are clouding my thoughts in a way I am not used to when thinking of my party. Please, let’s just stick to the facts.

Daphne Caruana Galizia asked Adrian Delia’s crew if he ever held a bank account outside the country in his name. The answer was a categorical no. She publishes a copy of a bank transfer from 2003 sent to his name in an account in Jersey.

Now those are the facts. At least they were until 10 o’clock this morning. Everything else up to that point was squalid speculation thrown in.

Let us list the things these facts did not tell us:

  1. Adrian Delia is corrupt. In 2003 Adrian Delia was anything but a politically exposed person. Any funds he may have had outside the country could not be funds he acquired as a personal gain from public office.
  2. Adrian Delia dodged tax. Lawyers hold accounts on behalf of their clients as a matter of course and no one has suggested that tax on these funds had not been paid.
  3. Adrian Delia behaved unethically. Even beyond any suggestion of illegality no one till then had suggested that the account ought not to have existed.

The fact that people either reached those conclusions or tried very quickly to stop people from reaching those conclusions is not, I submit, a direct consequence of Daphne Caruana Galizia publishing those stories. It might seem that way, but it isn’t. This is where you need to dig deeper than the surface.

Let me throw this on myself. Let us for the sake of illustration indulge the hilarious notion that it was me who was running for leadership, not the other Delia. It’s 5pm and I’m mid-way between campaign events when one of my aides tells me a journalist – even the most famous one of them all – was asking whether I had bank accounts overseas. Of course I don’t, would be the answer and I would be as innocent and truthful as a puppy.

But then on reflection, after a shit-storm hits the internet while I’m giving one of those brilliant renditions of my stump speech, I remember I did have two accounts once. They were a current and a credit card account at the NatWest in the UK opened at the Houghton Street branch in London in 1998. In that year the current account had received a single deposit of 5,000 Maltese Liri from Malta and the account was not declared to the local tax authorities.

Now I’m a liar.

I kick myself for not having answered the question in boring detail. The bank accounts were opened by the University of London when I enrolled there as a student for a year. The money came from an unsecured bank loan from BOV with a one year moratorium on repayments to fund a computer and room and board while I studied in London. The funds were gradually depleted and never replenished over that year and the loan was gradually repaid when I came back to Malta.

I did not declare it to the tax authorities because my 22 year old self did not know I had to but since no income was deposited there, there was no tax to be dodged. A harmless omission if ever there was one.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, for whatever reason, does not want me elected. If she hadn’t found this out and I had become party leader, a One TV journalist would have the motivation to hurt me perhaps on the eve of a general election and the same incident would play out to a devastating effect.

Enough of the reverie.

Until 10 o’clock this morning I saw nothing to suggest to me that Adrian Delia had been up to no good. Daphne Caruana Galizia may, for whatever reason, have wished me to suspect it, but I need more than this to think badly of someone.

But then how does Adrian Delia deal with a situation that is par for the course for someone in the political eye of the storm?

As I see it, in the worst way possible.

First he replies inaccurately to a straightforward question. That shows lack of preparation: there should be a dossier somewhere with all the questions that can be anticipated and thought through answers. Instead this campaign seems to rely on Adrian Delia’s own memory and the brief slots between events.

Second when he is found to have replied inaccurately he reacts in what I would argue is the worst possible way.

The dramatic gesture of asking the Court at 2am to start urgent libel proceedings is just that: a dramatic gesture. Where’s the libel? Certainly not in what she wrote. Sure there is enough innuendo there for people to run away with their imagination. But the facts are the facts. If in doubt, read a few paragraphs up where they are briefly listed.

And the accusation that Daphne Caruana Galizia is the fingers of an outstretched hidden hand is a pandering to the galvanized anger of his supporters. It proves nothing. It is an attack on the party as an entity with the suggestion that it is undemocratic and that it is not run by the function of its elective processes but by “hidden” powers who still have their way.

I am the extended fingers of nobody’s hands. I have worked in the party for many years and for quite a few I was asked to stay away from it. I received my instructions from elected people who submitted their power and authority to periodic elections and constant press and public scrutiny. I have never received instructions from anyone who was not accountable to the rest of the party.

No one, in my experience, has ever been bigger than the party, even its leaders. Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi, the leaders I saw at work first hand, had to negotiate their will with sceptical Cabinets, Executive Committees, Parliamentary Groups and feisty activists and Councillors who constantly exercised their right to speak their mind.

To put in doubt the right of people outside the party to speak their mind when their mind is in criticism of the party leadership, is to put in even greater doubt the future ability of people from within the party to speak their mind and keep the leader and the leaders in check.

I have no idea what Daphne Caruana Galizia’s motivations are whether when she reveals stories on Joseph Muscat or stories on Adrian Delia. I suspect the motivation is simply journalism: that is if there’s a story, publish it. But frankly a fair analysis must acknowledge that motivation as such is simply irrelevant.

It doesn’t matter why she has laid a trap for Adrian Delia over last night. What matters is that he fell right into it. It doesn’t matter why she hasn’t laid traps for the other candidates. Maybe there’s nothing to reveal, maybe there is and she doesn’t want to. She’s not accountable to anyone but herself.

It is the candidate who is accountable.

Adrian Delia is likely to be the next leader of the PN. To my mind this has been an awful start. And I can already see the anger of the Facebook pundits and the club rally goers branding me with all the other fingers of the hidden hand: which for anyone who knows my personal story is manifestly absurd. I might have motivations to shut up, to stay neutral, to support the likely winner.

But that’s not me.  I am grateful to Adrian Delia for offering himself to lead this party and by extension this country. Until 10am today I had no reason to think he is disqualified from the position because of some unethical behaviour because until then no one had suggested he had those sorts of skeletons in his cupboard.

It looks that that might change judging by the turn of the reporting in the last few hours. Daphne Caruana Galizia now publishes correspondence that demonstrates the level of activity in this Jersey account in Adrian Delia’s name, confirming he was not handling his own money, but suggesting that he was harbouring profits from prostitution. We are told the story will evolve and it does not look like it will make pleasant reading.

In the off chance for which I remain hopeful, nothing untoward shows up apart from his apparent enthusiasm to step into bear clamps, it is time for Adrian Delia to change the way he manages himself and his campaign. Calling for the clearing of the swamp may very well prove a winning formula but catastrophe will inevitably ensue.

And by attacking the party, aiding and abetting the myth of powers behind the vacant throne and frankly sanitising the government’s corruption by singing from its hymn book, Adrian Delia may very well achieve his election to the leadership post. But I don’t love the party enough to support him in that victory.

What was wrong yesterday cannot be righted by victory in an election. Now where I have I heard that before?