The leadership of the PN is drunk on a punch of factional politics. When MPs resort to WhatsApp groups or Facebook posts to express disagreement, subtly or not so much, with the line the party leadership takes that’s officially described as factionalism. It isn’t really. It’s venting of frustration: leaking pipes in a plumbing system replete with blockages of misunderstanding, lack of trust and lack of communication.
What is truly factional is the response of the party leadership using the resources of the party it is responsible to administer to fire on people it perceives as dissenters from within.
At this point it has come down to two persons: Adrian Delia and Pierre Portelli. It was always those two at the heart of it. They recruited a chunk of people from within the party ranks that felt their careers had ground to a halt: people with chips on their shoulders so large they could barely stand.
They recruited Clyde Puli who was unhappy the peak of his career was as a junior minister, feeling he had more to offer but dragged instead by fate down the steep tumble of oblivion, that limbo of the never quite have beens.
They recruited Robert Arrigo who spent years nursing rejection as a PN candidate and once reluctantly allowed to contest, spent more years nursing rejection as a Cabinet Minister.
They recruited Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici who took to heart his removal from the Cabinet in the last government he belonged to although hardly anyone but Franco Debono was to blame for that. He couldn’t express his bitterness in the direction of Franco Debono, so someone else had to pay.
They recruited Hermann Schiavone who was ditched, twice, from the party’s electoral list and was elected for the first time in 2017 having first tried to get a seat in Parliament in 1987. He felt mistrusted and under-appreciated and wanted some space.
They recruited David Agius who probably fancied his chances of being elected to the number two post in the party about as much as he fancied his chances of a spaceborne job at NASA.
They recruited Kristy Debono who no one else would have ever presented as the ideal candidate to run the country’s finances and its economy.
They recruited Jean Pierre Debono whose close share in an umpteenth electoral loss told him no one would trust him again until someone came along that found value in the currency he had to offer: information and influence on people with voting power.
In turn they recruited angry and disappointed activists, bitter about repeat losses, disheartened, desperate for a new lease of life, a Messiah that could drag them out of political misery.
But it was always, at the heart of it all, Adrian Delia and Pierre Portelli. The former incompetent, without any knowledge and experience of the party’s soul, no access to its collective or institutional memory, railing against an establishment which he had already replaced with a poor grasp of the nature of the task ahead of him.
The latter, Pierre Portelli, with enough experience and knowledge to prepare an advisor to temper the spirit and energy of a motivated but expert party leader, but underqualified for the job of managing one who doesn’t know the first thing about being party leader.
He has shown himself unfamiliar with power, clumsy when wielding it, short-sighted and angry.
Pierre Portelli has drawn the factional lines and made them inescapable. He has used the party-owned media practically every day to present his point of view as opposed to the point of view of others in the PN. In removing the space for engagement and dialogue, he has forced disagreement into a characterisation of dissent and rebellion. He has built a wall in the heart of his city so he has somewhere to exile others to.
In the process of wielding his own authority and power he forgot that even those with less power and authority than him could not be ignored. This is best seen in the way he speaks of the PN’s Parliamentary Group whether directly or through his hollow mouthpiece Adrian Delia.
He has used his radio show to accuse them of actions against the party as if they did not belong to it, never mind the fact that having been selected by the party to run on its ticket, and having been elected by voters while standing on that ticket, their claim to represent the party is much greater and sounder than his.
He has sought to intervene in meetings of the Parliamentary Group asserting an authority over their inherent autonomy that exists only in his imagination.
He has used the tools of spin and subterfuge, barely legitimate in the political game played in opposition to the Labour Party, against people who ought to be allies except that they retain distinctiveness he could not bear.
He fabricated news stories, misdirected his audience, misrepresented facts. He did that because he could, not because he ought to.
Adrian Delia now seems innocent of this and I don’t mean that in a good way. Innocent because he’s too clueless to understand that the best way to guarantee his failure to lead his party into any sort of meaningful electoral result is to alienate those that are likeliest to vote for him.
Pierre Portelli is not clueless which begs the question of why does he do it anyway.
This morning on radio Pierre Portelli said he was aware PN clubs are now getting banners stuck to them supporting Adrian Delia, countering earlier protest banners calling for him to leave. He spoke of this with disturbing equanimity as if this was a logical par condicio. He spoke as if the solution for party supporters clamouring for Adrian Delia’s departure is finding party supporters clamouring for him to stay.
We have been seeing this. The MŻPN said the party leadership should assume responsibility for the electoral failures so the party leadership finds another young group that says they’re not to blame. Mark Anthony Sammut resigns in disgust but party central criticises him for being the only one to assume some sort of responsibility. The Parliamentary Group demands a response to their challenge to the leadership and instead iron curtain rallies of support are called for the days meant for reflection.
Pierre Portelli remembers his school-day physics. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. He forgets to finish that sentence.
A party that reacts onto force applied within itself, cancels itself out.