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The end of “glorious” parties

The point that one seems to be missing in the saga that has become the PN’s leadership election has nothing to do with low morale or dejected souls. Neither is it a scenario of internal conspiracies and the prospect of possible splits.

For several decades now, traditional political parties have seen their old organisational certainties slip away like sand in the wind

The problem that the PN is suffering from is the denial that in effect, across many liberal democracies, political parties are no longer secure in their old models of doing politics. And for reasons which I will explain below, this is surprising to me, given that in the 1980s the PN was a party that managed to reach beyond its traditional base and gave Labour a good run for its money by precisely moving away from being a navel gazing “glorious” party – so much so, that Joseph Muscat chose to emulate this for his own Labour Party and won big way.

It is too simplistic to characterise the PN as an organisation split between conservatives and liberals. It is equally pathetic to speak of “two lungs”– conservative-Catholic and secular-liberal. Catholics and liberals are found anywhere in a country like Malta, though, as I have argued recently, I have serious doubts on the use of the tag “liberal”.

For several decades now, traditional political parties have seen their old organisational certainties slip away like sand in the wind. The move of mainstream parties to the Centre is another way of saying that the managerialist exigencies of a tactical political scenario has become the norm – and I should add that this is no sign of virtue, but a symptom of a crisis in political consciousness.

Let me cut to the chase and save my readers some precious time. I agree with commentators on both sides who say that the four PN Leadership candidates are uninspiring and there isn’t much of a choice. For political reasons (and never personal ones, as I do not know them from Adam), I do fear Delia’s managerial streak as much as I am bored stiff by Said’s conservative whining. As to Calascione, I don’t find him inspiring at all, and Dr Frank is ... well, just "frank" and he thinks that playing to the crowd would make him popular (and perhaps he’s right, just look at the US).

Before the debacle over Delia, I was impressed by the way he emerged as a capable strategist. However, I still think, like then, that if he is not elected it would be a blessing for Maltese politics. When I read that some in Labour see him as an advantage to them, and when I also hear that some Nationalists even suggested he was a Labour plant, I am perplexed. Maybe some think he is the answer to Muscat’s approach to politics? I honestly do not know.

However, my dislike of Delia’s politics does not mean that Said’s politics represent a solution for Malta. I admire the individual for his personal honesty, especially when he resigned from his ministerial post until investigations came to an end and cleared him. However, while I see him as a popular MP for his location, I cannot understand why in the wider scheme of things anyone on the PN's side see him as a vote catcher. I know many honest people whom I like, but I don’t think they make good party-political leader.

In Joseph Muscat’s party it has become commonplace to hear prominent former Nationalists who would be reluctant to ever call themselves socialists

Let’s face it. Parties have become quietist to the extremes of opportunism. They are happy to be the quintessential magnet for all manners of qualunquismo. They are neither here nor there because they want to be a fit for everyone. As the semiotic technical word has it, they have become empty signifiers, where if you go out there and cry “Long Live X!” you could be reactionary, conservative, progressive, liberal, socialist or social-democrat … whatever, but it would not matter, as long as your team wins.

If one looks at the winning formula in recent Maltese politics – that which Eddie Fenech Adami and then Joseph Muscat used effectively – one will not see a party, but a wide grouping of people that range from those affirming themselves to be on the “progressive left” to those who see themselves on the “conservative right.”

Nationalists who are fervent Eddie Fenech Adami supporters self-identify as being to the left and secular. Likewise, I know those who regard Eddie as the salvation of an old Catholic order and would be the first to denounce divorce, equal marriage, and all manner of progress.

These days, in Joseph Muscat’s party it has become commonplace to hear prominent former Nationalists – some being Fenech Adami’s political offspring – who would be reluctant to ever call themselves socialists. I doubt whether they could go as far as call themselves Labourites or social democrats. I often cringe when I watch these characters on the Labour or national media, citing themselves as belonging to “the Movement”. I cringe because I know that this is not the Labour Movement which I and others would identify with the Left.

As I wrote a couple of years ago in this blog, the house that Eddie built has been well maintained and refurbished by no one less that Joseph Muscat. Many Nationalists know this, and they want it back. It is because of this scenario that many Nationalists are obsessing with Muscat and seem to be split over the fact that their party could well elect a leader that seems to be adopting similar tactics as Muscat’s, while others use this to attack the candidate they don’t like.

Yet, beyond the PN itself, this is obfuscating a very basic fact: leadership and organisation. The reason why this inordinate obsession and peddling of myths is succeeding has nothing to do with the other argument about clean politics, which Delia’s detractors have been using with the same ferocity that reduced the PN’s general election bid to a one issue campaign.

The real issue here has to do with strategy and it seems to me very clear that while some honestly think that this is a fight for the PN’s ideological soul and for honesty, this is in effect another old party caught obsessing with its opponents while not realising that the “glorious” party recipe is long gone.

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