Opting for the real renewal
I have no words to thank party councillors who, last week, overwhelmingly placed their trust in me as the new deputy leader of the Nationalist Party. What happened last Friday was a life-changing experience that I will treasure all my life.
I am well aware that this job does not come with a honeymoon period, so I have applied myself from day one.
Following a weekend of intense political activities and a flurry of media interviews, on Monday I visited party officials at the headquarters and staff at our news organisation.
The day ended with meetings of the party’s administrative and executive committees, in which I participated for the first time in my new capacity, alongside party leader Lawrence Gonzi.
It was a strange feeling that takes some getting used to.
Long written off by pollsters as a party that is heading for electoral defeat, PN supporters are now starting to believe, once again, that victory at the polls is indeed possible, after all. That is a good start.
But make no mistake, this will be a formidable challenge, certainly not any easier than the epic EU referendum that we fought this time 10 years ago.
Labour leader Joseph Muscat, himself a veteran of the anti-EU brigade, has now managed to reinvent himself as the harbinger of change.
In reality, he has no plans and no track record to rely on, except his 10-year struggle to keep us out of Europe.
As Barack Obama would put it, he wants your vote but he does not know what to do with it.
But he still enjoys an almost unassailable 12 percentage lead over us in the polls. He has promised the earth and sold the chimera of change for the sake of change. No matter the price, no matter the cost.
Yet I can sense that last week’s election has repositioned our party in the electoral game for, suddenly, it is the PN that truly embodies a wholesome change.
There are two types of changes that must be considered.
Firstly, there is the change that is brought about in the country by the party in government. The second is the change that is undertaken within political parties themselves as part of their internal renewal process.
Let me explain why the PN can now win on both counts. To start with, there is no question that the major changes brought about in our country have been achieved by PN administrations.
Think of the most important changes that our country has gone through and you will find the PN right behind each and every one of them: from independence, right down to EU membership and the adoption of the euro.
Not only that, but in most occasions, far from embracing change, Labour was struggling vehemently to resist it.
Even on the more mundane issues that affect people’s day-to-day lives, changes have been constant and real and always for the better.
New and better-paid jobs are the order of the day, new schools and educational services are the country’s pride and high quality health services give us our peace of mind.
And, yes, in some areas, changes have not been flawless and have hit problems. But they were still changes for the better.
Now compare that with what is on offer by the Labour Party – one big, fat question mark – and you will get the picture of why change for the better is best guaranteed by a PN government.
Secondly, there is change within the party. Last Friday’s election renewed the PN right at its very leadership and complemented Gonzi’s tried-and-tested experience and achievements with my debut on to the national political stage.
The fact that this renewal has taken place before, rather than after, the election makes it even more significant. For it means the party has managed to seize an opportunity that was presented to it unexpectedly.
Moreover, it opted to change without waiting to be changed by the electorate.
And this renewal certainly does not stop with me.
The PN is fielding an army of new candidates, of very high calibre, who are bringing a new dose of energy, talent and ideas to the fore.
All the while, a number of Nationalist MPs will not be standing for re-election meaning that, after the election, as much as a third of the PN parliamentary group, if not more, could well be composed of new members.
So in one fell swoop, the deputy leadership election put the PN in a new position.
For it can now rightfully claim that not only is it the agent of change in the country but that it is also a party that is capable of renewing itself and embrace internal change.
I have no doubt that this renewal will not be lost on discerning voters, especially on those who were increasingly toying with the idea of staying home on polling day or even of switching to Labour.
They now have the option to reconsider. They can safely stick to the party that represents the change that they really want.
Simon Busuttil is Nationalist Party deputy leader.