The Malta Independent 23 September 2019, Monday

Delia on Xarabank

Noel Grima Sunday, 9 June 2019, 08:25 Last update: about 5 months ago

In the days before the EP and local council elections, there was some sort of agreement that the two leaders would take part in a direct debate on Xarabank. Then Muscat pulled out and the debate took place in a Broadcasting Authority format, a far more tame environment.

Muscat, being on top, could afford to do so. For Xarabank it was an unspeakable insult. For the Labour masses it was something they had long been pleading for.

But when a beleaguered Adrian Delia was invited to face critics on Xarabank, many advised him not to go. Then he went.

The critics who were invited were not tame but then they were not Delia’s main interlocutors within the party. Had, for example, people such as Simon Busuttil or Jason Azzopardi been on the panel, that would have been one real confrontation. Or the Daphne people – just saying.

So Delia turned up knowing that the debate would end up without real bruises and accordingly he was smiling, reasonable and gracious from beginning to end. The programme was thus fake, massaging Delia’s image from start to finish. Whether the public was persuaded is another matter; Delia’s backroom boys must have worked hard with the Xarabank people in the preceding days.

In the end, though, some nuggets emerged, as much as I can remember:

-                     Delia admitted he had been ‘rash’ when he told Simon to resign after the Egrant report;

-                     He sort of committed himself there would be an oversight on the membership of the party’s top committees rather than leave it all in the hands of Jean-Pierre Debono;

-                     He said he will resign and go if the next general election is lost.

Too few, and not so clear that you could call them a commitment.    

To an onlooker, the main impression he left was that he is in the hands of a Praetorian Guard, which is unelected and which holds the real power in the party. None of the guest critics asked him to disband them or to share the power inside the Party in a more equable manner. Which goes to show Xarabank’s penchant of choosing unsuitable people to sit on its panels.

Delia was not questioned on how the election campaign was waged, or the issues he raised such as abortion or the tax sovereignty, which had nothing to do with the campaign and which did not add substance to the debate. True, he did work hard and go around shaking hands with people on the streets and in shops and true, too, that he was not as confrontational as Simon had been.

Yet the fact of the matter is that 100,000 voters did not bother go and vote. And another fact of the matter is that the Labour majority grew and grew. To take Muscat as an example, in his first EP election after he was elected as party leader he won, not lost by 40,000 something.

To see it from the grassroots level, the party organisation is almost nonexistent compared to Labour’s well-oiled machine, and has been so even when the PN was in government. The same can be said about the party’s media. Delia has been in office for over a year and there has been little change so far. If Delia can be mollified that his photograph is on the front-page day after day, he is surely content with small mercies.

And the man who was responsible for the grass-roots organisation is the same Jean-Pierre who seems to have been more anxious to get back the MP seat he gave up to Delia than anything else. And the questions raised on Xarabank about JP’s wife and her possible conflicts of interest need replies, whereas Delia let them pass.

He argued, quite cogently, that two or three years before an election is no time to hold a leadership election. But then he was quite hazy on how he intends to revamp the party – an issue that must begin with what to do about the Praetorian Guard. He has been in power for a year now and has very little to show for it.

The people around him give out that he has spent much time fire-fighting his implacable internal enemies. In that regard, no progress has been registered nor does it seem he has done anything about it, except now, quite late in the day, meet them individually. And he must stop himself from hitting out in times of stress, as he did with regard to Jason Azzopardi.

But Delia’s main fault, as I see it, is that he has yet to begin to address the party’s huge deficit on policy matters. He is still following the Gonzi-Busuttil template of a party of the Centre without realising that Muscat has moved in and taken the Centre for his movement.

That is why the local council results were so important – for the PN lost localities that had PN in their DNA – such as Birkirkara, Mosta and even Siggiewi – and did not even win back one locality that had marginally moved to Labour in the last local election. Malta’s political map is now red.

And yet, people are not happy with the government – from the state of the roads and the state of the environment to the state of the economy as it impacts on the lower classes.

Delia has come to prefer speaking about corruption, but then does not mention Daphne Caruana Galizia. And he has yet to position his party as the alternative government with clear commitments about what it will do if in government. When Muscat was in this situation, he had already begun meeting the key people and making the clear commitments for when he was in government. Many say that is corruption but there is a thin line between planning ahead and corruption. The PN spend a lot of time claiming corruption and tarring people with or without reason instead of really planning ahead and making clear commitments.

That is why Delia’s appearance on Xarabank massaged his image but did nothing to improve his standing. He might as well not have gone.

 

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