Joseph Muscat continues to consolidate his grip on power. That power is fed by popular support which, like the crowds cackling around the guillotine, intimidates opposition and resistance.
But what strengthens Labour apparently beyond any hint of vulnerability is the fact that there is no formal opposition in front of it to speak of.
It is important that we all understand when we look at the numbers that Joseph Muscat is not gaining in support. The fact that he is not losing any in spite of a political environment that in a normal democracy would be catastrophic to him is, by any description, an incredible political feat.
The PN on the other hand has lost, in the space of a few months, any ground it gained in the run-up to the last election. In today’s Malta Today survey 93% of those who voted Labour in 2017 say they would do so again in an election tomorrow. But only 54% of those who voted PN in 2017 would do so again.
Contrast that with the situation in October 2013, 7 months after Labour first won the election. 74% of those who voted Labour in March that year confirmed their support to Labour when asked again in October 2013. 67% of those who voted PN in March 2013 said they would do so in October 2013.
The voting intention differential 7 months after the 2013 election was 35,000 votes. The voting intention differential 5 months after the 2017 election is 85,000 votes. These are considerable numbers. From the point of view of the PN, they are nothing short of catastrophic.
The ground Joseph Muscat is gaining on the PN and on Adrian Delia is attributable to an ever growing share of PN voters who are consistently declaring in response to one survey after another that they would vote neither party.
Adrian Delia is at the heart of this. He did not offer a new political program or philosophy. He did not offer a change in the agenda. He did not offer a new leadership team. He offered himself and the force of his personality. Adrian Delia’s USP was his ability to exude charm and charisma and to persuade by his sheer ability to argue.
It does not seem to be working. In October 2013, there was a lot of mumbling that Simon Busuttil, then a brand new leader, was trailing Joseph Muscat to an extent that might not have been bridgeable in the four years to follow. In that survey Joseph Muscat had a 47.4% trust rating, 16.3 percentage points ahead of Simon Busuttil’s 31.1%.
As it turned out the naysayers from those days were proved right.
Adrian Delia is trailing Joseph Muscat with a gap double Simon Busuttil crawled under at around the same time in the last legislature. At 15.2%, he is 38.5 percentage points behind Joseph Muscat’s 53.7%.
The basic calculus is that if PN voters withhold their support, Labour benefits. This ultimately was the reason PN supporters, right up to last June, made compromises with their consciences and supported the PN even when they disagreed with it because keeping Labour out was an over-riding consideration.
There’s never been a time when it was more justified to push Labour from power. But the compromises sceptics would be asked to make with their conscience to support the PN would, this time round, be too far for them to bridge.
I shut up when my PN campaigned against divorce. With hindsight I should not have. It was a compromise I should not have made. But the PN was the better party and this disagreement needed to be put in context of all the many other reasons I supported the PN over Labour.
I shut up when my PN leader Lawrence Gonzi appointed a crook, John Dalli, to the European Commission. With hindsight I should not have. It was a compromise I should not have made. But there was a bigger picture and not knowing what John Dalli would go on to do while in Brussels I kept in close ranks.
But today’s PN, for many of its voters, is a compromise too far. When we speak about a desperate situation it is because there is nothing we want more but for there to be a strong opposition to Joseph Muscat that could mobilise resistance to his abuse of power and turn the tide. We are all acutely aware that the weaker Joseph Muscat’s opposition, the stronger Joseph Muscat is.
But the fight we are fighting is for good to prevail over evil. We are looking to overcome the Machiavellian politics of the enemy of my enemy being my friend. And in spite of their despair, thousands of respondents to surveys are withholding their support for the PN even if what is foremost on their mind is the removal of Joseph Muscat from power.
The PN leadership could take the delusional view that if there’s a problem it’s because of the treasonous behaviour of people, like yours truly, who should know better, and should now be getting in effing line. But to continue to argue that Adrian Delia’s trust gap is due to people who wanted Chris Said to win the leadership race because they had better hopes for their career is completely delusional.
It is the domestic equivalent of Alfred Sant saying the European Parliament voted unanimously to criticise Joseph Muscat because 3 PN MEPs told them to.
The PN leadership needs to get real. Whatever their plans, the roadmap to an election win looks, on the basis of the fundamentals, overwhelmingly unlikely right now. Unless some seriously creative thinking produces something, Adrian Delia is going the wrong way.