A star has been christened

The European Union made him in his first life. He worked like a Trojan to disseminate information as part of the team promoting the Union, and, thereby, membership, to the Maltese electorate.

Working selflessly for the objective, he was a main part of a success story. The referendum on membership passed hands down. Malta became an EU member, with all that brought with it.

That included electing five (now six) members to the European Parliament. When the election took place, Simon Busuttil contested and stormed to victory, breaking the sound barrier.

That was his move into a second life. He became a very active MEP, promoting himself, nurturing his personality carefully with regular articles in The Times.

He also kept close contact with the newspaper’s correspondent in Brussels, ensuring that his activities were meticulously reported.

Come the next election for the European Parliament and Busuttil did it again. He scored a resounding success, even though his party lost a member, a bit of a blemish on his record of being not only a personal success but also part of a winning team.

Once again, he took his MEP role very seriously, in the process turning down his leader’s suggestion that he contest the post of secretary general of the Nationalist Party.

Busuttil put himself first and reckoned there was more light and colour in being an MEP. He had not yet developed domestic ambitions.

Then, fate moved in, presenting him with his third life. John Dalli was no longer European commissioner.

The Prime Minister had to nominate a new candidate. He cannily chose his deputy, Tonio Borg. Lawrence Gonzi saw an opportunity and he went for it.

With the polls saying the PN was in the doldrums in terms of electoral support, he shoved Borg upstairs, creating a vacancy in the hierarchy.

Not really an important one – being deputy to a strong leader doesn’t count for much. The opportunity lay in telling the electorate that there was a new, popular kid in that part of town. By Busuttil’s repeated statement, the Prime Minister urged him to contest the post.

He did, with the well-known backing of two party gurus, Richard Cachia Caruana and Joe Saliba.

Reading the plot, other palpable individuals held back – except for Tonio Fenech, who garnered the backing of 10 ministers. It was not enough.

Busuttil zoomed in to be christened deputy leader and, possibly, leader in waiting.

It remains to be seen what he has to offer the internal PN, but that is not the point. It is how he comes across nationally that matters.

Once again ignoring the fact that self-praise is no recommendation, he spoke to The Sunday Times yesterday as follows: “Now the PN is suddenly in a position to guarantee the policies, substance and results, and, at the same time, offer new blood, new energy, new ideas.”

Without blushing modestly, Busuttil says he will prove to be all that for the PN.

Seventy-two per cent of voting Nationalist councillors believed him, despite shameful efforts to besmirch him with his private life. What will the electorate do?

That is a question for Labour to assess more than the convinced Nationalist councillors. Labour are handsomely ahead in the opinion polls. They still face the tired, surprisingly bungling Prime Minister.

Should they worry that he has a new popular deputy?

I think they should. The opinion polls put them ahead, but Busuttil is likely to pull back disaffected Nationalists in droves, and appeal to younger elements.

That is what Gonzi counted on all along since creating the opening for Busuttil.

The polls have been putting Labour consistently ahead. I would be surprised if they start tightening up soon.

Labour has to sharpen its act to counter the christened star in his third life. Charisma and popularity is all he has to give. That might just about be enough.

A new chapter has begun.


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