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Leadership in (bad) poetry - Sandro Spiteri

The number 100,000 has a particular historical resonance for me. I was a student leader during the Church schools issue that convulsed Maltese politics and education 34 years ago; the day after a massive demonstration in Ħamrun, the banner headline in the papers was a single number: ‘100,000’. That number gave us the almost mathemati­cal comfort that the demonstration was that exceedingly rare thing, a Maltese political protest that crept across party lines.

100,000 meant that this was not just our cause, our ideas, our perception. It validated our conviction. To us young students, 100,000 meant that we were right and they were wrong. It gave us the heady feeling of being on the right side of history.

So when some time ago Adrian Delia airily stated during an interview with Lovin Malta that he would not step down from the leadership of PN even with a 100,000 vote deficit, my heart did not go boom-bo-de-boom, but thump. And the awful feeling got worse when post-Egrant surveys turned this hypothetical number into a mind-blowing possibility.

I have often written that Delia’s leadership of the PN is a bit of a joke. He has shown time and again that he is ethically, intellectually and temperamentally not up to the task. But now the joke is no longer funny. The events of the past three weeks have confirmed that Delia is not, and cannot be, part of the solution for the PN and for our country. It is becoming increasingly clear that he is part of the problem.

The Egrant outcomes should not have come as a total surprise. Even if the extent of the contradictory and plain lack of evidence was not known, surely no one was reasonably expecting the Egrant report to fully vindicate Simon Busuttil’s stand, even just because of the alleged flight of documents from Pilatus Bank. Indeed, the growing signs of OPM confidence should have been enough for Delia’s team to mentally prepare themselves. They had more than enough time to consider alternative responses that would seek to kick back the ball that could come at them with cannon-ball ferocity once the report was released.

The events of the past three weeks have confirmed that Delia is not, and cannot be, part of the solution for the PN and for our country

When the shot came in the form of the Prime Minister’s press conference, it was as masterful as it was devastating. Quite apart from the lies, omissions and legal obstructiveness that still surround the whole Panama affair, one cannot help but admire the chess-like strategic brilliance of Joseph Muscat’s performance. His call for Busuttil’s resignation was a classic four-way check: if Delia did not comply, he would seem weak and still shackled by the party’s past. If he did act he would be pushing the PN’s self-destruct button. If Busuttil agreed, he would be admitting that the whole architecture of accusation of which Egrant was the top-most pinnacle had no legs. If he refused, he would be dividing the party and putting himself before country.

It would have been a tricky counter-move even for a seasoned player. Instead, what we got was a hastily-called conference in which Delia aimed first and foremost at his real enemies, Daphne and Simon. What struck me first was his evident disdain for “il-blogger Caruana Galizia”. Apparently he no longer needed to call her is-Sinjura or il-ġurnalista Caruana Galizia. Don’t you see? Since she was wrong about Egrant then she was also obviously wrong about everything else, including what she had written about Delia himself. And so, Delia found himself in the illustrious company of serial deniers Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. What more could you wish for a PN leader?

But that was eclipsed by his vengeful glee for being given a stick to bludgeon his true nemesis – who of course, is Busuttil, not Joseph Muscat. I am not saying that Busuttil has not committed significant political mistakes, which included his decision not to bow out from the scene as his predecessor had done. But by demanding Busuttil’s hara-kiri, compounded by his backtracking soon after, Delia displayed a terminal lack of political savvy.

I can understand the calls for PN unity in the face of its threatened disintegration; for a party to be reformed there has to be something left to reform. But the pretence that the closing of ranks means unity is doubly dangerous if it is believed. What the PN needs now is more, not less, soul-searching. What the country needs is a vigorous Opposition with the integrity to call government to account for such obscenities like the St Vincent de Paul direct order. Instead we have an ominous silence.

What we definitely do not need is embarrassing poetic doggerel like Delia penned on his Facebook page in lieu of painful, mature analysis and selfless leadership in crisis. It is said that you campaign in poetry but you govern in prose. You sure as hell don’t put a broken party together again and inspire the country with such poetry.

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