The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

From Delia to Grech: same result, but something has changed

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 11 July 2021, 09:30 Last update: about 23 days ago

Do you remember when Adrian Delia was Nationalist Party leader?

Do you remember what used to happen each time there was a survey about the political situation in Malta? When, time and again, surveys showed that the Labour Party was firmly in command while the Nationalist Party trailed at a distance which kept yo-yoing between a massive defeat and a gigantic loss? Irrespective of the scandals involving Labour exponents and bad decisions which were being taken by the Labour government?

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Well, each time the PN, under Delia, was shown to be struggling to even retain its own supporter base, while the leader himself was always less popular than his counterpart – first Joseph Muscat and later Robert Abela – Delia became the target of attacks on the social media.

No, it wasn’t from the Labour end. The criticism was not coming from his political adversaries.

It was coming from within.

It was coming from some of his own MPs, who never accepted him as leader. It was coming from other officials who teamed up with the rebel MPs to put as many spokes as possible in Delia’s wheels.

These MPs and officials went as far as to the President in their bid to have Delia removed from office. They even proposed one of them, Therese Comodini Cachia, as the new Opposition Leader they would support, only to throw her away the moment she was no longer needed, so much so that she has now decided to quit politics. When this attempt failed as the President said the Constitution imposed limitations on what he could do, they ultimately forced a party leadership election to oust Delia.

Instead of him, they elected Bernard Grech as the party leader. This happened less than a year ago, with the rebels hoping that such a move would have jolted the PN forward and reduced the gap from the PL.

But things have not changed.

The PN continues to trail Labour heavily, this time without Delia at the helm.

So Delia wasn’t the problem.

Or perhaps he was just a part of it.

Maybe he was not the only problem.

Maybe others who still occupy seats and will seek to confirm them are the problem.

Because the change in leadership has not changed course for the PN.

What has changed is that the new PN leader is not being attacked on the social media like his predecessor was.

Latest survey

The most recent survey on the situation in Maltese politics, carried out by statistician Vincent Marmara and published last Sunday, shows that the Labour Party enjoys 55.9% of popular support, with the Nationalist Party far behind on 42.4%.

Comparing the survey with the results of the last election, the PL has gained 0.9%, while the PN lost 1.3%. The survey was held between 25 June and 1 July on a sample of 830 persons, with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4%.

This means that, according to the survey, in the worst case scenario for Labour it would still have a sizeable advantage over the PN. It would still enjoy the support of more than 50% of the electorate, and would have no problem keeping its control of Castille.

If the nearly 56% score for Labour were to be confirmed in an election, this would mean an even bigger victory after the two electoral records which were successively achieved in 2013 and 2017.

In 2017, Labour had won with 55% of the votes, against the PN’s 43.7%. Four years earlier, in 2013, Labour had obtained 54.8% of the number one preferences, while the PN had reached 43.3%.

It’s clear that in spite of all the scandals and situations that were so damaging to the country, the majority of the people still believe that the PL is the better option. The move from Delia to Grech has not brought about what the rebels desired.

This latest survey is a continuation of previous ones that have been carried out since the last election. Whether it was Joseph Muscat or Robert Abela who were Prime Minister and PL leader, and whether it was Adrian Delia or Bernard Grech who were Opposition and PN leader, one survey after another put Labour firmly in front and the PN firmly behind, while the trust ratings put Muscat/Abela on higher ground than Delia/Grech.

Reaction

This time, however, there are no Nationalist MPs or officials calling for the leader’s metaphorical head. Not one of them is saying that Grech should go, or that the party needs a revamp. There was no hint of criticism on the social media on how the PN has lost touch with the people. The survey was ignored.

It was not like this when Delia was Opposition Leader.

Then it was all guns blazing against him, with some MPs and officials taking a front seat in the public badgering of their leader, while privately planning ways how to get rid of him.

The change of attitude is there for all to see.

It could be that they have accepted the fact that, whatever they do, the Labour Party will still win the election.

They have only themselves to blame.

Their crusade against Delia – who, it must be recalled, was elected democratically by the party members via an electoral system spearheaded and introduced by his predecessor Simon Busuttil – only served to deepen the crisis within the PN.

It has made it less electable than it was both under Busuttil and later Delia.

Survey results show that this crisis has not been overcome with the change of leadership, and the PN remains far behind Labour in spite of all the tribulations that the PL went through and is still facing.

Context

To put matters into perspective, let us take the timing of this last survey (55.9% PL, 42.4% PN).

This survey was taken between 25 June and 1 July.

Two days before the survey was initiated, Malta was grey-listed by the Financial Action Task Force. The government was under attack from all quarters. It was the first time that a European Union country received such a setback. Malta’s reputation was at its lowest point. The possible negative effects of such a decision were being highlighted by the independent media and most constituted bodies.

But all this did not alter the perspective.

The majority of the people interviewed still think that the Labour Party deserves to retain power when the next election is held. The PL is still perceived as being the better option to take Malta into the future.

The PN, for the majority, is still not to be trusted with the country’s reins. But, unlike what happened under Delia, nobody from the PN is pointing any finger at Grech.

If Labour can get such a (survey) result at its lowest point, then one wonders how high it can go.

The PN

This reflects badly on the Nationalist Party.

The PN has been unable to lift itself out of the deep hole it found itself in after the 2013 election. If anything, its actions – or, better, the actions of a few – resulted in the hole getting even deeper since then.

Delia was far from being perfect. Some of his decisions, including the way he sought to have his predecessor Busuttil suspend himself from the PN parliamentary group (a mistake to which he later admitted) did not help him. He was persuasive in the way he talked, but to many he was not credible enough. But it must also be admitted that he was not allowed to work as a leader should be. His main adversaries were not the ones sitting opposite him in the House of Representatives, but the ones sitting behind him.

As we all know, Delia was eventually replaced by Grech. But the damage to the party had long been done, and the PN is still seen as being too fragmented to offer an alternative to Labour.

Not even the recent attempts at being proactive in the presentation of proposals in several sectors have struck a chord among the electorate. While the Labour Party continues to rejuvenate itself and bring in fresh faces within its fold, at the next election the PN will still be presenting politicians who were ministers in 2013 when the party was discarded by the electorate. Comparing the line-up of the Cabinet with that of the Shadow Cabinet makes it clear that the Labour Party has a better team, individually and collectively.

The saddest part for the PN is that it has been unable to make any inroads in spite of all the faults that the PL has and the mistakes it has committed. These last eight years have been riddled with incidents which, in other circumstances, should have led to a shift in popularity – but this did not happen.

That in the week when Malta was grey listed a survey shows that the party in government gained in popularity, rather than lost, shows how much the PN is not deemed to be ready to take over.

If the PN cannot make inroads at a time when the government reached its lowest point, then one wonders what kind of miracle is needed for the party to regain some ground.

 

 

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