I always found the way political parties produce photographs of the crowds that attend their events a redundant, childish and irrelevant exercise. To an extent, of course. Anyone who is communicating an idea to the public feeds on the feedback the public gives them. You may tell yourself you don’t want your restaurant to be everything for everybody but nothing lifts you from the sinking feeling of opening your doors for nobody to walk in.
But political parties do not rally public support just to feed their own need for applause. They also want to broadcast a message to those who are not in the crowd. They want to display various messages – typically unity, enthusiasm, energy and that though you may still be wondering whether you agree with them you should at least be impressed with the fact that quite a lot of people do.
In order to hop on a bandwagon you must know about the one that’s passing and if you don’t want to be burdened with much thinking about where the bandwagon is going and why it has chosen that road, you’ll take some comfort knowing a lot of other people have made that decision already.
Yesterday’s PN rally at the headquarters was such an event. It’s not the season to address voters who do not have a preference between Labour and PN and might be swayed by the right pitch of displayed morale. But there’s certainly an unseasonal need for the party leadership to have everyone who is anyone within the ranks of the PN understand that the status of the leader is unassailable.
Of course someone who has to go around telling everyone ‘I am the king’ all the time is no king. The effort at mobilisation in and of itself, quite independently of the extent of its success, shows Adrian Delia has something to prove. And since he needs to prove he is no danger of being removed, then clearly that means that fact alone is not obvious to him either.
I’ve seen some Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages of people counting the heads that showed up for the rally.
I think that’s all rather silly really. Inasmuch as the number of those who attended and the decibels their roar had reached do not actually convince anyone of Adrian Delia’s grip on his seat, the number and the decibels should not convince anyone of his precarious position either.
What I’m desperately depressed about is Adrian Delia’s staff’s apparent inability to understand not only the futility of their methods but just how counter-productive they are.
Consider how Jean Pierre Debono has been calling up party committees in towns and villages to issue declarations of unanimous, breathless, doe eyed support for the great leader and categorically furious condemnation of “the allegations about him”. Jean Pierre Debono knows better than anyone how meaningless that effort is.
For over 10 years he’s been left alone in possession of the identities of the persons in those committees. In most cases records of elections and resignations are retained by exception. Quite a few of them have been stuffed by his clients and satellites and with one or two illuminating contrasts, most are less representative of the attitude of your average voter than a gaggle of wildebeest in the savannah.
Consider how the Mqabba sectional committee issued this standard declaration.
Until a few weeks after Adrian Delia’s election to the party leadership I was a member of that committee, as were others who have resigned in disgust over time. Without us there, unanimity is relatively easy to obtain as the party over the space of a year has become sectarian, radicalised and hostile to any form of dissent. But a paradise of Soviet unanimity for those comfortable enough to remain.
A few committee members across the country told me they were told by party headquarters over the past days of crisis that they should co-opt more Adrian Delia supporters to the ranks of the committee. They don’t need to do this for the present phase of unanimous declarations, straight out of a Stalinist purge. If they are indeed co-opting supporters to committees they may be getting ready for a possible second stage of a Stalinist purge, beating any challenger in a leadership election with stuffed ballots. Of course there’s no way to verify who and when gets in and out of the voting roll for a leadership election because it’s all and exclusively in the hands of Jean Pierre Debono. And we all know where he stands.
Elected democratically indeed.
This grotesque manipulation of the playing field must be foremost on the minds of anyone considering challenging Adrian Delia’s leadership and pushing for a ballot that he would run for. They speak of ‘factions’ but in reality the only organised faction in the PN as such is the one that runs it and that has complete and exclusive control of the data that would be needed to run a fair election.
But there’s something which bubbles closer to the surface and which again causes me nothing but miserable despair at the utter ineptitude of the leaders of this organisation that used to be a political party and has now become a fringe religious sect.
Seeing Adrian Delia tell cameras he hasn’t actually been told by another MP that he should leave and watching Clyde Puli on camera daring any dissenters to actually come forward is not just a pathetic demonstration of shallow facetiousness.
If the Queen were to include in her Christmas speech a remark that no one has recently challenged her for her throne, that would not be taken as some reassuring declaration of safety. It would be assumed to be an act of overcompensation for massive insecurity.
Adrian Delia is not telling TV cameras no MP has told him to leave because he seriously thinks all of them want him to stay. He is telling them that precisely for the opposite reason and because of his desire to survive and outlive their desire for him to leave.
Adrian Delia is fighting for his short-lived abortive political life. In the first 49 years of his life whatever affection he may have felt for the Nationalist Party was not enough for him to ever have actually worked for it, he never campaigned, never contested an election, never showed any form of interest or commitment to it. Through the good times and the bad times he stayed away from it. We cannot even be certain he voted for it and the last time he could remember attending any of its activities was when he was 16 years old.
That he is indifferent about its destruction is therefore not surprising. That he considers the interests of the PN as secondary to his own, and the extension of his office within it as more important than the eventual electability of the party to any sort of government shocks nobody.
But the behaviour of people like Clyde Puli, David Agius, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici and Tonio Borg is harder to understand.
They have been with the PN through its highs and lows. They have given up every waking hour of their adult lives for the team. They have worked day and night to keep voters together, to soothe over differences, to swallow their pride and to stand along people they don’t like to present a united front.
They have served their political masters with loyalty and commitment and they have delivered over time to the best of their abilities.
And yet here they are today still unable to distinguish between the individual interests of Adrian Delia and the manifest shared interest of the Nationalist Party that has been there much longer than Adrian Delia started being interested in it and, I would imagine, they hope will continue to exist after he moves on to something else.
When you saw Clyde Puli on TV challenging dissenters to declare themselves and to face the wrath of the ‘unanimous’ support he mobilised for his boss, you saw someone who appeared to have remembered nothing and forgotten everything about the PN and all the years he gave to it.
The instinct to reconcile, the desire to compromise, the willingness to negotiate, the inclusion, the commitment to make the coalition of ideas work for the shared interest: all that Clyde Puli has had decades of experience in, seemed to be a memory we are not sure was a dream.
Where has he left that institutional and personal memory?
I will just leave him with this post here by someone on whom the PN could rely for support whenever called upon for forty years in her past. The message is addressed to him and it is good he does not miss it.
The leadership of the PN is right to be convinced there are many more people than the number that showed up yesterday that silently support them and will answer their call no matter how irrational and no matter how ill thought through.
But they’re missing something major if that is where their logic stops. That by pitching those people against those who demand more than a banner and a rallying cry to come crawling in fear to bend the knee in front of the king, all they are managing to achieve is an ever smaller party with ever diminishing chance of ever delivering any benefit to the rest of the country in a government.
And then, those loyal supporters they still have would be bending their knee to a king with no kingdom. Only the hollow sound of a roar heard by no one.