As potential candidates for the leadership of the PN made way for Bernard Grech, the party showed signs of life and of an ability to act like a political party rather than as an inanimate battle field. In the midst of all the devastation, there are some green shoots of hope.
This does not come down to Bernard Grech himself. I do not know the man, so I cannot recommend him. I know of nothing that speaks expressly and compellingly against his eligibility for the candidature except what is obvious to everyone. He has no experience of government and close to no experience in active politics which he avoided his entire life. No one thinks of applying for a job as CEO of a bank without ever having worked in a bank. So, I still don’t understand why people think that working your way up in politics somehow disqualifies you from pitching for the top job.
I am still nervous about Bernard Grech being an unknown quantity. I don’t know if he’d be capable to take the decisions that are needed to inspire confidence in the country that he’d be capable of running it. I suppose it remains to be seen if he has what it takes.
But let’s cut right down to the chase. What is happening right now in the Nationalist Party is a last-ditch attempt for the party itself to survive. What matters right now is ensuring that Adrian Delia loses this leadership battle. If he doesn’t, and the party members confirm him by whatever margin, the game for the PN is up for good. A majority of members of parliament (and the votes they carry with them) would have to definitively break off leaving the Labour Party a dominant and unbeatable force in politics for decades to come.
Do not blame the Nationalist Party for seeking to survive. That is what is happening now and that is why I understand the choice of Bernard Grech in spite of my misgivings.
Unlike Bernard Grech, Therese Comodini Cachia and Roberta Metsola are better known quantities. I know them personally as well to some extent. If either one of them was the chosen candidate, I’d feel excitement now and I’d be expressing it like a fanboy. I admit that I’d have liked very much for the PN to be led by a woman. I think this will be a better country if it lived with the promise that its next prime minister would be a woman. It’s really time. But it’s unfair on Therese Comodini Cachia and Roberta Metsola to think their primary quality is their sex. I would not feel the same way about Maria Deguara. Being a woman is far from enough.
Therese Comodini Cachia and Roberta Metsola, in my view, have the right political temperament, commitment, proven skills, knowledge and negotiating ability to run the country. To my mind they’d be a better offer than Robert Abela a dozen times over and the way Robert Abela is doing people would be able to see that very quickly.
I’m not suggesting Bernard Grech will not be able to look like a more desirable option than Robert Abela. I’m saying I don’t know enough about him to form that opinion yet.
I know for a fact though that Therese Comodini Cachia and Roberta Metsola have been around enough to understand what it takes to do this right. It’s a terrible waste that the only reason they had to make way was that they stood a slimmer chance of beating Adrian Delia in a ballot of PN members than Bernard Grech. It’s a terrible waste.
Claudio Grech is another terrible waste. He’s like that brilliant premier league Welsh football player that will never play in the football World Cup. I know Claudio much better than any other PN MP because he was my colleague for 3 years and my boss for 5. But I am certain that any distant observer will confirm just how wasteful our political system is when you think that in the last 7 years all this country could use Claudio Grech for was his sensible remarks from the Opposition benches.
If only we could do like the Americans and have government ministers picked out for their administrative qualities rather than simply party affiliation. To my mind any government led by a Nationalist prime minister today should still have Chris Fearne running the health department. I can’t see how anyone would think it would be a good idea to have Stephen Spiteri or David Agius replace him. Conversely, Claudio Grech should be running some government department for us any day this country could afford to keep him.
But Claudio Grech may not have beaten Adrian Delia in a leadership ballot either and he had to make way.
The fact is that what I consider to be Bernard Grech’s disadvantages in comparison to Claudio Grech, Therese Comodini Cachia or Roberta Metsola, will be the reasons why Bernard Grech stands the best chance of all to defeat Adrian Delia.
It is precisely because he has not had a political career, because he hasn’t been part of the plot to remove Adrian Delia, because he does not come from and represent the party’s record of choosing young people and letting them grow within it, that he shares just enough characteristics with Adrian Delia for people who would otherwise confirm the incumbent to switch and vote for the challenger.
Bernard Grech is clearly unlike Adrian Delia in many respects. As far as is known there is none of the baggage that weighs down the present leader: no money laundering, no alcohol abuse, no allegations of domestic violence, no insurmountable debts, no illegal arrests of footballers accused and acquitting of match fixing, no irrational behaviour. You would think it’s not too much to ask but there it is. Enough of Bernard Grech’s character is known to form the clear idea that he is honest, modest, able to negotiate with others, and loyal to something greater than his own ego alone.
In this respect, PN members may find him a candidate they might prefer over Adrian Delia. But they will also go for his inexperience in politics as an asset they looked for when they chose Adrian Delia. Many PN party members still consider that a plus.
You will notice that I have not made an ideological assessment of Bernard Grech. I have not contrasted his attitudes with those of other potential candidates who stepped back to make way for him. I’ve seen the commentary that Bernard Grech is a conservative who campaigned against the introduction of divorce, unlike Therese Comodini Cachia and Roberta Metsola who would have been options ideologically preferable for liberals. Like me.
Lawrence Gonzi campaigned against the introduction of divorce, forcefully. I disagreed with him, forcefully. But the thing is he’s the last good prime minister this country has had. Liberals and conservatives have worked together and negotiated a shared existence in the Nationalist Party for decades. The formula worked when fair negotiation, rationality and enlightened shared interests prevailed over ideological divisions. That balance is how the Nationalist Party won elections and was given the opportunity to transform and modernise this country between 1987 and 2013.
An explicitly liberal candidate for the leadership of the PN would have been an attractive prospect for liberal-minded PN members. On the other hand, Adrian Delia would have relished the opportunity of representing himself as the conservative candidate as he did in his quixotic campaign against Simon Busuttil, who was never an electoral rival of his and yet he managed to cast as a liberal bogeyman. Adrian Delia never minded splitting the PN and it is reasonable to calculate that the conservative vote enjoys a small majority in the PN membership base. He would win and let the PN be damned.
I understand why Bernard Grech and his anti-divorce referendum credentials are important here. Like his political inexperience, ideological conservatism is another tick box he shares with Adrian Delia that will allow him to take votes away from him. Conservatives voting in the leadership battle will not feel that losing Adrian Delia is equivalent to losing the PN as a party that represents their values.
Is this a short-term view? Of course, it is. And the change of leadership will become a moot and academic exercise if liberal voters who voted for the PN in the past because they felt there was room to negotiate their attitudes with the party, find that Bernard Grech is as much a barrier to their point of view as Adrian Delia is.
Again, I do not know if Bernard Grech will prove to be like George Borg Olivier, Eddie Fenech Adami or Lawrence Gonzi. I do not know if he will turn out to be a candidate that is an object of inspiration and hope and optimism for both liberals and conservatives. But to judge that he will be unable to do that from the fact he campaigned against in the divorce referendum is reaching a judgement on the back of very limited information. Remember Lawrence Gonzi.
I haven’t changed my mind. I still think our two-party system reduces our political options. I still hope for electoral reform so more political parties could become viable and coalition building can become transparent with multiple political parties publicly negotiating their way in and out of governments.
I would still much rather have a smaller party I can wholeheartedly support because they are closer to my value system. I would rather be honest with myself and vote for a party led by a political leader who shares more of my attitudes. I would rather not have to find reasons to give someone who campaigned against divorce my support.
But that’s not what we have now. No one has gone and taken the trouble of founding a proper liberal party that can eat into the Labour Party’s support base in the same way as it would obviously split the PN. No one has stepped up to that plate.
But the PN has shown signs of an existence which is independent of Adrian Delia. Just because he is conservative did not mean that the PN did not find it in itself to challenge his domination of it. Do not blame the PN for seeking to survive. That’s what political parties do. They do not commit suicide merely to make a point. They do not put forward a liberal candidate to challenge Adrian Delia just so we can congratulate ourselves for having supported a heroic failure.
Political parties exist to survive, and they survive so that they can win and govern.
I take a dim view of people who get excited about Bernard Grech because like Eddie Fenech Adami he is a “village lawyer” to use the words of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the chronicler whose language defined our times in the way Bede defined his. Bernard Grech even looks like Eddie Fenech Adami, circa 1985. That’s like getting excited about an Elvis impersonator. Nostalgic former PN supporters and activists are, understandably, easily excitable given how depressing these last three years have been for them.
But it will take much more to convince the Maltese electorate. It remains to be seen whether Bernard Grech has what it takes to convince them. But bringing Adrian Delia down will be a good start. Everyone needs to start somewhere. He’s starting with one of the most difficult, delicate, damned near impossible political missions tasked to a Maltese politician in a long time.
Knocking out Adrian Delia will not be easy. I don’t like that Bernard Grech is coming in from outside. I don’t like that he campaigned against divorce. I’m not impressed that he is an Eddie Fenech Adami lookalike, literally. But I’m still rooting for him.