Adrian Delia is now leader of the PN.
Many expected this for some time. That expectation has peaked excitement and confidence in his supporters some of which leaked in bluster and spittle. His detractors felt dread and a sense of doom. Some of which leaked in bluster and spittle.
And now the result is out, those contrasting sensations are at their most polarised, heightened and febrile state.
His mandate to lead the PN is as strong as anyone could hope it to be. It is legitimised three times over by a relative majority of party councillors, by a large turnout and by a sound majority of party members. The members of the PN have chosen their leader and he steps into his office tomorrow morning the clear and firm choice of those who recognise themselves as Nazzjonalisti.
This is the widest suffrage for the election of a party leader ever in Maltese history.
Obviously PN members like me can choose their leader. But the prime minister of Malta is elected by a far wider suffrage and with many of those electors who supported our party up to last June the party is on unhappy terms.
If a national poll is taken right this minute, Labour’s edge on the PN is probably several thousand votes further ahead than it was on the 4th of June. But that would have been true even if the outcome of this vote were different. The voting debate has radicalised and galvanised views and the supporters of the runner-up today feel that their vision for the party has been trumped by an opposing view they have worked hard to resist.
The healing from that radicalisation will not be easy. And it will not be done overnight. If ever. The new leader and the leadership that will congregate around him will be comforted by vociferous support and egged on by crowds fired up by what they represent. It is easy to feed off that energy and grow emotional strength and confidence that diminishes the significance of facts.
There was no greater and more ironic reminder of this than the tear jerker the PN produced to say good-bye to Simon Busuttil on Friday night. It romanticised the last mass meeting before the last general election as the moment of moral victory for the PN. I too was there on that 2nd of June mass meeting in Floriana with crowds of energised, pumped up supporters in numbers and moods not seen since 1987. Those crowds gave courage and energy to the PN leadership that by then was convinced it could turn the table on Joseph Muscat.
Now that Simon Busuttil has left the top post he can be permitted the comforting memory of that 2nd of June night. It was after all the result of much hard work and that sort of mobilisation seemed utterly impossible only 4 years earlier when he took office and faced the thin meh numbers in the first party events and the bills he could barely pay to set up a stage from which to address them. Simon Busuttil’s was a remarkable achievement by any standard.
But ultimately, in the wider scheme of things, it was not enough to push back the entrenched and lumbering majority Labour had secured in 2013 even by an inch. It was false security that distracted the party leadership from its organisational failures and thus from an organised reach into the streets and houses of Malta.
Emboldened by the thousands flowing back vociferously to the PN from the front, the party lost sight of the just as many thousands that were leaving it stealthily from the back.
That narrative is now well known and Adrian Delia steps into the bridge of this ship having articulated like no other his understanding of the reasons of those thousands leaving and with the plan to bring them back.
But even as he turns to outstretch his arms to entice back those losses his back will be turned to people who supported the party in the last election and who do not today see in him reasons to support the PN but rather reasons not to.
In mass parties this usually happens for ideological reasons. When a leader lurches too far to the right or to the left she loses the moderates never mind the extremists on the side she’s further from. If she stays in the middle she ends up losing both her left and her right. The great leader is the one who manages to keep all factions together to reach a common end.
Adrian Delia’s challenge starting this Sunday morning is altogether different. The questions the doubters are asking are not ideological. If anything some doubt whether he actually has any ideological perspective to speak of. Though of course he now has plenty of time to clarify that.
The questions that are being asked are about him personally: his motivations, his intentions, his history, his financial standing, his experience, his style, his integrity, his vision and his politics. He will need to answer these questions to the satisfaction of an audience that has started this relationship with him from the outset with detachment, ambivalence, even hostility.
Adrian Delia cannot rely on party loyalty or the emotional engagement of the party totems to keep these people warm and get them to vote PN at the next election whether he manages to seduce them or not.
Nor can he rely on his indubitable charm and appeal to break ice and get a good thing going.
Though all of that worked for his leadership campaign he needed the vote of a few thousands, not much more than an average Malta candidate for the European Parliament. Now he needs to turn to a 150,000 and he does not start from the 138,000 Simon Busuttil secured. Just today he may have very well lost a net few tens of thousands of those.
They will not be won back by flags or batting eye lashes. They can only be persuaded by exemplary leadership, clarity and transparent sincerity.
Adrian Delia needs to answer questions. Clearly. Completely. In a timely fashion. The agenda will not shift away from his defensiveness if he doesn’t exhaust the ammunition attacking him. Instead of exhausting it he has been so far fuelling it with incomplete or late replies, with straw men, with appeals to emotion, with circular argumentation and with delaying tactics. That has not affected his ability to win Saturday’s ballot: by all means an incredible achievement.
But the cheers and support and energy of the people cheering him today must not distract him from those walking away. Otherwise this will prove a pyrrhic victory and he will be merely left with a very loud and hot and entirely fruitless four years ahead of him.
I have supported the PN since my teens. Like many I crossed over to it from a Labour upbringing which means I entered the fray out of personal conviction. Emotional attachment is certainly there. I have a lot invested in this party. And I was comfortable within it in 1996, 2013 and 2017 when it suffered losses as much as I was comfortable in the glorious days of victory.
I did not back this party because of its winning ways. I enjoyed those. But I backed this party because I felt it was right.
If the questions that remain outstanding are not answered and addressed I won’t be the only one questioning my association with the PN. Adrian Delia can be reassured people like us do not cross over to Labour. There’s nothing for us there except the rotten amoralism we want nothing to do with. Nor would we move away quietly without anyone noticing like the traditional PN voters who switched parties in the last two elections in exchange for a nudge and a wink and a promise of a government job or an ODZ permit.
There’s nothing quiet about political conviction.
None of the opponents of Adrian Delia’s candidature have any desire to see Labour win future elections. They want nothing better than the PN to be the party they can support and belong to. They want the PN to keep its heart. They don’t want Adrian Delia to go where they can’t follow. They wish for him to be yet one more PN leader they can trust and follow. I wish it for him too.
Adrian Delia is leader of the PN.
His first job is getting a seat in Parliament and he needs to tell us how he intends to get one. It is the job of the party leader to stand toe to toe with Joseph Muscat and start holding him to account. That smirking, smug, self-satisfied crook we have for prime minister has been having it too easy up to now. And our guy needs to start throwing some punches.
His job now is also to run through all the unanswered or poorly answered questions of the last 6 weeks and answer them without reservation or hesitation. We all hope the answers are there.
The sceptics will be won over if the pudding proves worth eating.
Time for Adrian Delia to get busy.