Whatever ‘reach out’ or ‘healing’ the PN leadership intended to start the night Adrian Delia was confirmed by the General Council as party leader does not appear to have started working. There is no significant change in the leadership’s attitude. There does not seem to be any new industrious energy coming down from the top. There is no political activity to speak of for people to feel inspired by and to feel they want to fall behind.
Quite the contrary the summer has been a period of rather extended hibernation for the party leadership that looks suspiciously relieved to be outside everyone’s attention. Summer has always been a tough time for the PN. Most of its leaders have traditionally been lawyers and there’s something in the blood-stream of that profession that makes even the most industrious and energetic among them behave like Grizzly mothers three feet under snow in August and the beginning of September.
In its many years of government that rarely got better. By lunchtime, public service offices are shut and everyone is gone. It becomes hard to even want to do anything in that atmosphere.
Fighting that lethargy has been the perennially lost battle of people working at party headquarters. And they usually did that by building up to the Independence festivities in Floriana that start before mid-September when it still feels like summer holidays and end on the 20th of that month on the very eve of the start of the school calendar when everyone switches on to get to work.
The week of Floriana activities tend to start slow. But the mass meeting at the end is an opportunity for the PN to set out its agenda for the coming year, tease its thoughts about the upcoming budget debate, and generally give everyone a sense of sleeves rolled up and opening for business.
I think we’ll all be surprised if the scaled down events now scheduled for the street outside the PN headquarters instead of the largest urban open space in the country have the effect of exciting people for a new political season.
Some dismissed Emmanuel Galea’s article in Times of Malta last week criticising the PN’s decision to move away from Floriana for its events as motivated by the fact that the author’s daughter is now Adrian Delia’s girlfriend and he’s said to be unhappy about that. But it is unfair not to assess what Mr Galea wrote on its merits. It’s hard to find any long standing activist of the PN who is not unhappy with the surrender of Il-Fosos.
Labour will make sure the national agenda stays as far away as possible from anything positive coming from the PN. There are indications Joseph Muscat will resign as Prime Minister right after handing in his last budget this year. Rivals pitching to replace him are all tight at the starting blocks.
There will be some damaging attention on the Labour Party while the campaign for leadership happens but, unless Konrad Mizzi wins, Labour will then get an extended honeymoon as the charms of the new leader ooze onto the schmaltzy excitement of a media community happy to have a new face to make love to.
The PN should have had that. But having made a disastrous choice of leader, it did not have as much as a good day in the press in almost 3 years.
But it’s not just the inevitable depression of being caught in an apparently inescapable status of underdog that reduces the PN to the state it is. It’s also the complete incoherence about what the party wants to be and what it wants to do. The PN leadership has reduced the vocation of the party to winning elections and since that vocation appears to have no hope in hell of being realised, utter dejection is inevitable.
In the meantime, however, someone appears to have forgotten the job of identifying a sense of mission for the party. At the core of this is Adrian Delia’s flip-flopping on major issues, speaking according to the mood of the day and expecting the resounding applause on the day to survive changing circumstances.
Mr Justin Schembri’s ode to Matteo Salvini this week demonstrated this. The man came to prominence on the back of the dubious credential of having supported Adrian Delia when most anyone else has not. Even though he is not an MP he, rather oddly, has been appointed PN spokesman for education. Officially the shadow minister for education is someone else but Mr Schembri is dispatched here and there to speak on behalf of the PN speaking policy he has no role in writing.
But his exposure does not appear to be in proportion to any of his remaining supposed qualities.
His praise of Matteo Salvini was consistent with some of Adrian Delia’s past outbursts, like that time the PN leader made a fuss because no one answered the door at the Marsa police station on a Sunday morning where an emergency that only existed in his mind was going on.
But of course since Adrian Delia has been inconsistent on the subject of migration, it was unavoidable for Justin Schembri’s support of Matteo Salvini to prove inconsistent with other remarks made by Adrian Delia — particularly the very recent appeal urging the government to allow migrants stuck at sea for a political solution found for their settlement while they waited on dry land.
Justin Schembri tried to cherry-pick appealing (to him and he must imagine to many others) sides of Matteo Salvini — namely his uncompromising attitude towards his European partners. And Justin Schembri tried to disassociate himself from other less appealing sides of Matteo Salvini — namely leaving migrants to die at sea.
Of course this was clumsy backtracking that impresses no one. It’s like the guy who says Adolf Hitler was a great guy. And then clarifying that he was referring to the autobahn building program, not the Final Solution.
What was remarkable was the reaction from within the PN to Justin Schembri’s Facebook suicide. It wasn’t just the liberals like Karl Gouder who came out to distance themselves from Justin Schembri.
It wasn’t just the MPs who have placed themselves at a distance from Adrian Delia from the very beginning like Jason Azzopardi who came out to distance themselves from Justin Schembri. It wasn’t just the guardians of the legacy of previous leaderships of the PN and their conviction in the primacy of human dignity like Beppe and Michael Fenech Adami, sons of Eddie Fenech Adami who came out to distance themselves from Justin Schembri.
It was also hard-core conservative Catholics who spoke against this. Like Michael Asciak, whom I never thought I’d quote with unmitigated agreement while I lived and breathed.
In this incident Justin Schembri managed to bring out just what used to keep the PN together: the political place where liberals and conservatives, Catholics and secularists, young and old found common cause, believing in something and putting aside any differences in order to achieve it.
It can’t be clearer than this episode. That ‘something’ is not winning elections. That is not important enough for differences to be put aside. That sort of thing only excites the greedy and the starved for power. That ‘something’ must have a deeper, longer-lasting, and of a far wider significance than electoral calculus.
That ‘something’ is human dignity, justice, solidarity: a belief that government must be a force for good not to one but to all, no matter their skin, never mind their political, colour.
There was something else Justin Schembri managed to bring out over the last few days of PN lethargy. The harrowing silence of a PN leader who would not speak when all the shades within his political party stepped up to say they could not agree with the praise of the proto-fascist, anti-European, buffoon that is Matteo Salvini.
Instead Adrian Delia went to yet another festa and then feted Joseph Calleja on il-Fosos.
It must have been nice to remember what a large crowd looks like in that splendid square.