Of course it may very well be that at the next Independence Day Adrian Delia will be PN leader. There is no reason to doubt his claim that his support among the grassroots has been galvanized by what he has projected as the establishment’s intervention to attempt to prevent him from taking over the leadership of the party.
In spite of the ‘New Way’ motto, Adrian Delia on TV today explained that he wanted nothing but a journey back to a time where his supporters recognised the PN as their own. The new way is an old way, a return to a golden age where politics made sense to the people egging him on in the thousands of messages of support he has been receiving.
The unspoken implication is that all these people – including of course Adrian Delia himself – at the last election voted for a party they did not recognise and should not have supported. It is stupefying that at least a majority of PN councillors and a majority of PN members who renewed their membership card through the last several years, militated in a party they felt had lost its way and needed Adrian Delia to find it for them.
There were many questions Adrian Delia dodged tonight during the second leadership debate organised by the party. He avoided answering the question put to him twice on how he planned to enter Parliament. He avoided answering how he could claim the ethics committee gave him “a clean bill of health” when anyone else who read their report found they had done anything but.
But the biggest question he dodged was whether he would continue to serve in the PN if he did not win to the top post: in other words if like Guido de Marco, Louis Galea and Mario de Marco before he would loyally support the rival who vanquished him. The implication of his response was that this would be his way or the highway. The implicit warning to anyone else winning this vote was that he might very well walk away with his own support if it proved insufficient to elect him.
But this is academic at this point. The support may very well prove sufficient. The PN members might go for the populist option and choose him as the next leader.
I have heard a few odd rationalisations for this approach over the last 24 hours.
One went along the lines of the fact that PN had its fair share of bad choices in candidates before, why should this be the point where it draws a line? After all Simon Busuttil recruited Salvu Mallia to the PN. Why would he not want Delia?
The recruitment of Salvu Mallia was not the PN’s finest hour. And in any case at the time Salvu Mallia heeded the calling, the PN flirted with Adrian Delia who scorned it and refused the hard work of campaigning in the streets when Salvu Mallia had embraced the effort. The ‘stories’ on Adrian Delia were not known then. What was known was that when called to serve and help the party find its way and be the party its supporters can recognise, he refused. Repeatedly.
The second rationalisation was of the odd voter who says he was not sure he would vote Adrian Delia until Adrian Delia was given a “clean bill of health” and the ethics committee proved that Adrian Delia had been a victim of unfair attacks.
These are the small victories of populism that relies on people’s general impatience with detail and nuance and preference for wholesale spin that turns reality upside down but makes it easier to read. Like the old chestnut that ‘nothing illegal happened’, Adrian Delia is arguing the consultative ethics committee did not feel the need to punish him. That surely must mean he had done nothing wrong. Never mind that the term ‘consultative’ in the title is not there for decoration but specifically limits its brief to providing the statutory organs of the party with advice since the statue gives no executive powers to the ethics committee itself.
Like the prisoner after the Beer Hall Putsch embarrassment in the hands of the populist is transformed into martyrdom and a platform for glory
And the third rationalisation I heard: everyone is guilty of something after all. Now that Adrian Delia’s skeletons have been well and truly bared, he has been inoculated from any criticism from Labour given that there is nothing new they can reveal (how can you be sure?) and given that what was revealed was handled by the gnarly hands of Daphne Caruana Galizia, Labour supporters won’t ever buy it anyway.
The PN is experiencing what the Republican Party of the US went through during 2016. There is no clearer representation of this than the point when Adrian Delia on TV today disqualified “career politicians”, described with disgust as a patrician class of old farts in powdered wigs, from any utility in ‘modern’ politics.
At that point shady deals in his past are no longer political liabilities (as any shady deal would have been for any career politician) but a badge of honour: proof that the new convert to politics has lived the way the people lived.
We smiled wryly when Donald Trump promoted his serial bankruptcies and his tax dodging as real life experience that best prepared him for the White House.
In a diminutive sense we are provided with a populist option where expecting a higher standard of propriety from politicians is passé and instead the national culture of compromise, of arrangiarsi, is projected into the institutions of the state.
We have obviously heard all this before. We have a prime minister who has made this a re-invented political philosophy for his party in the process winning resoundingly in two consecutive elections while the puritan zeal of the leaders of the PN remained locked out of the offices of power.
Adrian Delia is promising to break that chain.
But herein lies the paradox of his politics.
A politics of arrangiarsi – egolitics, as Jacques Rene Zammit termed it earlier today in his article coining what must be a candidate for some word of the month award – is nowhere near the traditions of the PN: it is anything but a party that the PN councillors can be nostalgic for. Winning elections may be something party activists may very well miss. But compromising with the truth was never the way of the PN.
There is no doubt that these subtle distinctions are fading in this campaign. There is no doubt that a confusion between ‘populist’ and ‘popular’ is proving tempting because Joseph Muscat has managed to conflate the two.
There was an old battle cry that the PN councillors no doubt recognise now with wistfulness: that truth will eventually prevail. But truth prevails in its own time and that is not necessarily to accommodate the electoral calendars that the PN needs each time to win elections.
Truth will prevail at some point and arrangarsi – egolitics, if you will – will be indicted for the problems that plague our society, which we are conveniently ignoring but that will need solving in the next few years. If people find nothing to distinguish the PL and the PN both will be blamed.
There is a lot to complain about our alternating dual democracy. But it sure has one thing going for it: there is always an alternative.
What happens if we lose that as well?