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Delia’s uphill struggle

Adrian Delia had the opportunity to spell out his vision for the country at the Nationalist Party’s General Council last week, to provide a clear picture of how a PN government would differ from Labour, and to reach out to those factions in the party who are yet to be convinced by his leadership.

He has made some progress on all fronts but he clearly has a way to go. To be fair, the PN leader inherited a demoralised party following two consecutive electoral landslide defeats. It is a party still going through an identity crisis as it tries to reconcile its liberal and conservative wings and which still seems unsure how far to push the governance agenda.

Last Sunday, Dr Delia’s concluding speech was good on oratory and appealed to the traditional Nationalist. But it lacked policy details. It is not good enough to simply repeat that the PN is not Labour and to highlight the country’s all-too-clear problems. An Opposition leader also needs to spell out exactly what he stands for and how he would do things differently. He made it a point to stress that a number of people have been “left behind” despite the impressive economic growth. He is right to highlight their plight. But how exactly will a future PN government aid such people? What is he proposing? How will a PN’s economic policy differ from Labour’s?

Dr Delia criticised the Individual Investor Programme, and rightly so, but will a PN government modify it or scrap it? If it is to be altered, exactly what changes will be introduced? If it is to be discarded, then the Treasury will be deprived of millions of euros every year. What will be introduced in its place?

The PN leader also needs to choose his words more carefully when referring to foreigners “swarming” the country. It is certainly legitimate to question how many foreign nationals can realistically be absorbed into a small society, but Dr Delia must avoid sounding like a populist out to score cheap political points. After all, the PN is the natural party of Europe and embraces European values, which include the free movement of people.

By seeing a threat to Malta’s identity, perhaps Dr Delia is trying to reassure his core conservative electorate and possibly appeal to similar elements within Labour. This might well win the party some votes but it risks alienating those of a more liberal bent. The same can be said about his overall rhetoric on social policy, which has largely shifted to the right. He needs to keep in mind that the PN can only win an election if it is able to appeal to both conservatives and liberals.

One policy area where the PN could distinguish itself from Labour is the environment. Overdevelopment is ruining Malta, with the Labour government having adopted a ridiculously overt pro-construction policy, leading to immense hardships for residents and the shrinking of what is left of our green areas. However, Dr Delia’s speech made no mention of the enviroment, an omission that only fuels the oft-expressed fear that a PN government would be happy to follow in Labour’s laissez-faire footsteps. 

He did make it a point to stress that the PN would never give up its anti-corruption campaign, a stand this newspaper strongly supports. However, he needs to do far more to convince the sceptics that he is the right man to combat the culture of sleaze. The PN must be an unrelenting and vociferous critic, a point of reference for those who crave good governance for the good of the country. Right now, the party risks being surpassed in that role by the Democratic Party. Now that he has assigned the justice portfolio to himself, Dr Delia must live up to his responsibilities.

He appears to have failed to effectively reach out to his detractors within the party and expand his inner circle, and he is still surrounded by an unchanging set of MPs. While his trust ratings have risen, this situation is largely not reflected outside the party, where “Not my leader” is an all too common sentiment.

This does not augur well. A divided Opposition, let alone a divided party, will have difficulty winning any election. There is no escaping the impression of a PN being led by lightweights. Dr Delia needs to work much harder to convince that he heads a party which is up to the job of making the economy work for everyone and turning Malta back into a properly governed country.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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