A week ago the Leader of the Opposition delivered his message for the new year. The chosen location was what looked like the bar of a village każin, which explains the pastizzi and the coffee-in-a-glass.

It probably also explains the abysmal production standards. In the absence of visual cues, I had to struggle to pay attention to the message for longer than a few seconds at a time. It didn’t help that the people around Adrian Delia looked about as alive as the stuffed birds in a Maltese salott. Neither Genesis nor Greek mytho­logy is particularly kind to things that cause people to turn to stone (or salt) when looked at. Still, it was the pastizzi that caught my attention.

It all started one Saturday afternoon 11 months ago, when the Prime Minister treated his Belgian, Luxembourger and Slovenian peers to pastizzi at the Crystal Palace bar in Rabat. The occasion was informal, but that didn’t stop Ann Fenech (then president of the PN Executive) from complaining that it was all rather too “common and crude”.

To many, that made her look like a snob and the PN like a party that was out of touch with everyday life. So bad was the reaction that a few days later Fenech dragged herself and a couple of colleagues to Rabat to eat the pastizzi of atonement. Problem was, her act of repentance looked so contrived that no damage whatsoever was controlled.

Enter Delia’s pastizzi. Their main symbolic function was to do what Fenech’s had failed to do, that is, to settle things between the PN and everyday life. Certainly, Delia looked more the natural, probably because of his extensive experience sitting at tables in football każini. Except that’s the last thing his public image needs.

But first, a word on inversion of roles. It’s telling that, while the leader of what used to be the party of social aspiration chose a każin as his setting, the Labour Prime Minis­ter used as a backdrop the Reading Room of the Bibliotheca. Never mind that the shelves were festooned with flowers, making the place look like a stage set rather than an actual place, or that the volumes in the background (out of focus, thankfully) have festered in a state of neglect for decades. The point is that Joseph Muscat looked as plausible at the Bibliotheca as he did at the Crystal Palace.

The trouble with Delia’s leadership is that it has exposed a major faultline in the PN. He may have been fairly and popu­larly elected, but Daphne Caruana Galizia’s attack at the very moment when the party was trounced and humiliated was devastating to Delia.

The last thing Delia needs is a village lawyer image

The background is a certain systemic difference between the two parties. The PL is predominantly working class. Give or take a few strays, most Labour supporters are themselves working class or have working-class family histories. Among the things that hold the party together, class solidarity is of prime importance.

The PN is a rather more complicated animal. At its best, it brought together people from highly disparate class backgrounds. This coexistence of sorts was consolidated by Eddie Fenech Adami, whose appeal cut across class distinctions and whose political projects embraced the welfare system put in place by earlier Labour governments.

And yet, a coexistence is just that. Caruana Galizia was perhaps the best indicator of just how volatile the PN class alliance was. It’s worth remembering that her early assessment of Fenech Adami was to call him a “village lawyer”. Nationalists from modest backgrounds never quite sto­mached her – they only tolerated her because she dissed Labour (‘issawwathom’) better than anyone else.

The cracks in the PN class alliance are older than Delia’s leadership. What had been an easy majority was nowhere to be seen as early as 2008, when the party won by not quite 2,000 votes. It is to Muscat’s credit that Labour managed to capitalise on that gaplessness, to attract a number of significant faces, and to further destabilise the PN. Unlike the partit, the moviment had the capacity to cut across class.

Then, last August, the PN leadership contest came along. No one in the party was in any shape to take punches, but that’s exactly what Delia got from Caruana Galizia. Her last post is now a legend, but her penultimate one was about Delia’s horrendous posture, flashy watch, neck that stuck out like a tortoise’s, and granny-about-to-bring-out-her-knitting face.

As expected, the people in the PN who had never digested Caruana Galizia closed ranks around Delia. Her attack probably (and unwittingly) helped him win the leadership contest, but it also made him a leader who does not enjoy the support of a sizeable chunk of the party. That chunk is class based and made up of people from a certain background who have always and enthusiastically embraced what Caruana Galizia stood for.

Unlike Fenech’s a year ago, Delia’s main task is not to convince people at large that he’s a pleb at heart who drinks coffee in a glass. On the contrary, it is to try to bring back the people in the PN who think that pastizzi are common and crude (even as they guzzle them). It may not be a sizeable faction, but it’s an influential one that enjoys a strong presence in the English-language press, for example.

The last thing Delia needs is a village lawyer image. It will work for him just as it did for Fenech Adami, only in the opposite direction.


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