In June 2017, soon after the general election result was known, Simon Busuttil announced he would resign the PN leadership. It wasn’t what at the time I thought should happen but there’s only one thing worse than having a person occupying that position who would rather be doing anything else.
At the time I had just started my fortnightly series on The Sunday Times that is still going on. I was a very different writer at the time. I wrote from the point of view of the Nationalist Party which I still strongly felt I was a part of even if I hadn’t held any position of any sort within it for more than four years.
From that point of view, my attitude was unambiguous. The PN had just lost the general election. It was rightly demoralised. But the PN should have taken comfort from the fact that its cause had been just; that fighting corruption and promising to replace a mafia takeover of our institutions with clean public service was just what an Opposition party was meant to do; that the electoral cycle was still punishing the PN but that would not last forever: the PN had to take it on its chin and immediately start working on getting ready for when the public calls upon it to serve.
Because, I thought, finally corruption would out. That the lies and the cover-ups would ultimately have their consequences. That people would not celebrate outside Pilatus Bank and raise Konrad Mizzi on their shoulders forever. That at some point people would have enough of Joseph Muscat’s cabal.
That confidence did not come from a fortune cookie. It came from the same conviction that I shared with the PN as it campaigned in the June 2017 election, unshaken by the fact that conviction is not enough to win elections and that some things are outside any party’s control.
On 25 June 2017 then, I wrote my second ever article on The Sunday Times. I had saluted Simon Busuttil already on my blog so this piece was not going to look back. It was going to look ahead. It was going to think about the first job the Nationalist Party needed to do in order to get ready for its future: look for a new leader.
At the time in my professional work I used to do a lot of recruiting for the private business I worked for. That meant I habitually wrote a lot of job descriptions and requirements list trying to describe, before ever meeting them, the ideal candidates for positions that needed filling.
So, I sat down to write the job requirements for filling the vacancy of the new PN leader with a view to the obvious career progression that someone in that position should naturally aspire to. I needed to imagine the prime minister we should want. It’s not an easy position to fill. I could closely observe Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi in the role and that is enough to tell you just how exceptional any candidate must be.
Think about it. You’re recruiting the country’s chief executive. You really want the very best. When people looked at the finished list in the newspaper they thought I was being sarcastic. That no such person exists. David Agius told me he told his wife, ironically, ‘dan għalija qed jgħid!’
And as I re-read the list now it is inevitable to think just how far short of it Adrian Delia is.
But should the PN go with someone who fulfils some of these requirements and not others because, hey, nobody’s that good? I think that’s dangerous. You can have an industrious, knowledgeable manager without a shred of human compassion and you’ll get a disaster. You can get a compassionate renaissance man who cannot grasp the numbers in the fabric of the economy and you’ll get a different but just as definitive disaster.
I will read out my article from June 2017 as a very different person than I was when I wrote it. I am far further from the Nationalist Party now than then. But I also find it harder to be optimistic and hopeful. I live in a different country now.
Living in a country where after the Panama Papers and Egrant, Joseph Muscat wins an election resoundingly was dark enough. Now I live in a country where the PN leader was elected after calling Daphne Caruana Galizia a biċċa blogger and clung on after attempting to fire Simon Busuttil over Egrant, after the police confirmed they had a file on his alleged money-laundering activities, after it emerged he had flirty text chats with Yorgen Fenech even though he knew Fenech bribed politicians and should have suspected he had done much worse than that.
It is hard to have faith that the Nationalist Party is still capable of making the right choices for itself and for the country. I do not accept that candidates that fit the job description and fulfil the job requirements do not exist. I fear rather that the Nationalist Party has shown over the past three years that it would rather a folksy demagogue than a prime minister of the calibre of all the prime ministers the PN provided this country with for longer than anyone alive can remember.
But hope, as they say, is the last to die. So here, pulled down from a dusty shelf erected in a very different Malta, is what I think the next PN leader should look like.
We are searching for a new leader for the PN. In no particular order and without determining the gender of the new-found leader by opting for the feminine pronoun, here are some of the qualities she may need to qualify for the position:
She must be modest, because ostentation shows weakness of character, and lack of empathy and depth.
Humble, because pride hinders the ability to listen and pick up on the pulse of those near and far.
Compassionate, because results are not only measured in charts and statistics, but by easing the suffering of people.
Eloquent, because she must translate complex ideas into a language we can all understand, without losing anything of the truth in the detail and depth, delivering notions pithily and clearly.
Clear of mind, because the line drawn between premise and conclusion should be as short as possible, logic must be elegant to be sound, and the answer to the hardest question is almost always staring you in the face if you have the presence of mind to see it.
Able to live in the moment, because she will be challenged by a dozen issues needing a decision every waking hour, and unfairness, inconsistency and incompetence will set in if the weight of one decision influences the next.
Industrious, because we live in a 24-hour world, and for her government to be of use, it must draw out solutions before the rest of us have realised there are problems.
Persuasive, because nothing she can say will be met by unanimous approval, and she must transform disagreement without relying on loyalty, her record or the self-evident attractiveness of her policies, leaving only personal conviction, rather than coercion, to turn dissent into assent.
Deep intellect, because she must be able to apply thought and knowledge to life quickly and coherently. She must be comfortable with the abstract, and relish thinking about the cosmos, as much as justice, fairness and peace, because it is this kind of mental exercise that provides a leader with the resources to come up with solutions for this small country.
A sense of occasion, because her behaviour will present our image to the world and our appreciation of our own worth as a nation.
Emotionally mature, because intellect alone is insufficient to appreciate the state of being. She must know the suffering of people that governments cannot solve. She must understand betrayal, fear and mistrust to be able to appreciate love. Because without an intuitive grasp of the map of human emotion, she cannot anticipate the consequences of her decisions.
Good judgment, because she will need to choose people, paths and priorities.
Tolerant, because we are different, and she can only be truly inclusive if she is open to change and able to empathise. Her best must be good enough to dispense with the harshest critics and most stubborn sceptics.
Cultured, for woman does not live on bread alone.
A love of beauty, because humanity is not measured by how much money we have but by our ability to enjoy a painting or a book for its own sake. A person who has no time for beauty cannot know real empathy.
Well-travelled, because we are naturally insular and isolationist and our leader must show us the path beyond the limitations of our experience.
Tech-savvy, because we earn most of our money from technology that will become obsolete before we need larger trousers.
Prescient, because she must know what comes next and prepare us for it before we realise we need to.
Knowledgeable, because the quality of our lives will depend on the learning she has managed to absorb in her lifetime.
Empirical, because she must subordinate her instincts to the facts, even when the answers science gives her are not what the rest of us are likely to believe.
Numerate, because numbers may reveal the truth behind the lie, whether malicious or inadvertent.
Fast-thinking, because she will not have the luxury of time, and needs to be a step ahead of things as they happen.
Selfless, because she will be taking up a thankless task, serving her people, which means ignoring the needs of the one in the interest of the needs of the many.
Confident, because if she does not believe in herself, why would we?
Inspirational, because the people around her must want to support what she stands for, or she will be betrayed at the first hurdle. Familiar with the lessons of history, because nothing is new under the sun and the past is a great guiding hand.
Sincere, because fakery always filters through.
Experienced in the working of public and private sectors, because the work of government and business are equally important.
Unconcerned by wealth, because she should not defer to wealth, be intimidated by it or unduly suspicious of it or covet anything else but the advancement of her people.
Moral, because she must choose right over wrong, even when it is not to her advantage.
Strategic, because she must be able to anticipate her rivals, outsmart them and defeat them.
Creative, because solutions are not always immediately apparent.
Consistent but not rigid, because she must be recognised for what she stands for, without swaying with the polls, or be unable to recognise that lessons can be learnt from both left and right.
Politically experienced, without being encumbered by old dogmas, because she must be a woman to all people, and energise them into action.
Blessed with a sense of humour, and able to laugh at herself and with others, because there is no better bond than shared laughter.
She must be a woman, a man, a child and an elderly person at the same time. She needs to be compassionate, and informed, and strong, and intelligent, and imaginative, and energetic, and wise, and experienced.
Finally, she must be human, which necessarily makes her flawed. But if self-aware enough to recognise her own failings, and unassuming enough to defer to those around her when it is right to do so; if she is prepared to surround herself with a team of people who provide those traits, skills and experience she may lack, then she can focus on the job of leading the PN to its next victory, knowing that it can never be a victory of one but of many.
I cannot wait to meet her. Or him.