The Malta Independent 26 November 2022, Saturday
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Note to PN: We’re not in 1987

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 15 August 2021, 09:45 Last update: about 2 years ago

It was bound to happen, and it did.

And each time it does, it exposes a Nationalist Party that is in despair and trying to cling to the last straws of relevance.

Leader Bernard Grech fell into the trap when he addressed the PN general council’s meeting last month. Just like all his predecessors, in particular Lawrence Gonzi and Simon Busuttil, who always went back to the 1980s each time they were with their back to the wall.

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Yet, when they did so, and likewise Grech, it gave the impression of a party that is stuck in the past, resting on its 1987 laurels without having much of a view of the future.

It did not work in 2013, when the PN made an even more desperate stunt on the eve of the election, putting its previous leader Eddie Fenech Adami on the stage to address a mass meeting while Gonzi, then PM, and Busuttil, who would later become PN leader, looked on. The attempt was to evoke memories of the glorious days when the PN was strong and powerful, in the hope that the people who were about to vote Labour had a change of heart.

It did not work, and the PN went on to lose heavily and has been losing ever since, be it at local council or MEP level, and also another general election which followed in 2017.

Because, while the past cannot and should not be forgotten, recalling that past as if it was happening today and indicating that the problems of 30 years ago are what should push voters to choose one party over another gives the impression of an organisation that is struggling to move forward.

And this is not something that is helpful to the PN’s cause.

What Grech said

Concluding the PN’s general council meeting, Grech said that ”30 years ago we used to complain about power cuts. This summer thousands of families spent nights in hell without fans and air conditioners because the government’s inefficiency in guaranteeing what is the most basic in our homes.”

He added: ”30 years ago we used to complain about political discrimination. That in Malta what is important is who you know, not what you know. And today we were taken back to a situation in which students are doubting if it makes sense to continue studying at University when all you need to find a good government job is to be a canvasser of Labour ministers”.

He continued: “30 years ago they used to stop you from expressing your opinion by punching you, threats and transfers and today they are still transferring you and threatening you and your children.”

He finished: “They buried us with the same problems we had 30 years ago because they do not know how to take the country forward. The time has come to remove the debris, strengthen the foundations and rebuild our social fabric by rediscovering the value of solidarity, respect towards one another and rebuilding a sense of community”.

Nice words, indeed, and all true. But the PN needs to provide much more than a comparison with the 1980s to become a credible opposition.

Young voters

The young voters of today do not care what happened in the 1980s, just as much as the young voters of 1987 did not care about the 1960s. The new voters of 1987 were voting on what was taking place in the country at the time, and not about the Church-State battle of 20 years earlier.

Going a step further, people below the age of 50 have little or no recollection at all of the first part of the 1980s, and so any reference to those years will not mean anything. And since people under the age of 50 make up more or less half of the voting population, it means that the PN is wasting its energy when it brings up the 1980s.

If anything, any reminiscence about the 1980s will be bitter for PN supporters. The over 50s who do remember those years will most of all recall that in spite of the circumstances and many adversities it was facing at the time, the PN was a strong party driven by determination and most of all unity, something that the current PN cannot boast about.

For one thing, one would have thought that once Adrian Delia was kicked out of his leadership seat, the anti-Delia faction would have stopped trying to find excuses to denigrate him. But attacks against Delia continue unabated and, by so doing, it is clear that the party is still split internally. And voters do not normally trust a party that is divided in two (or more).

That the party now feels the need to intervene directly to distance itself from an opinion of a blogger about the former leader is, in itself, mind-boggling.

To use Bernard’s yardstick, if the PN today had been strong as it was 30 years ago, it would be a foregone conclusion that it would win the election, given the Labour Party’s track record. But the PN appears weak and fragmented, and is heading towards another defeat, possibly even bigger than the last one, in spite of the scandals that have rocked the Labour Party in government.

The latest surveys continue to show that in spite of grey-listing, corrupt practices and a hundred other shameful occurrences Labour still enjoys great support. And one of the reasons for this is that the PN is not seen as a valid alternative.

New faces

The PN is trying to present itself as a party with a vision.

There have been several changes in the top ranks of the party, with fresh, younger faces taking the reins from seasoned veterans who, in spite of their loyalty and dedication to the party, are seen as having long gone past their political expiry date.

Installing a new president of the general council and a new secretary general is a step forward, but it is not enough. It must be complemented by other changes and even tougher decisions for the party to be seen as having started a new chapter.

It would be useless to have new officials in top party positions when many of the candidates who will be contesting the next election were rejected as ministers and parliamentary secretaries eight years ago.

The PN has been unable to carry out a generational change within its ranks, as few younger politicians have made the grade.

The party is in a quandary. If it lets the veterans go, it will end up with a team of newcomers most of whom are still virtually unknown. If the veterans stay, then it will be criticised for presenting a list of politicians who have lost to Labour time and again.

Whichever way you look at it, the PN stands to lose.

Initiatives

To be fair, the party is coming up with initiatives and ideas which it says it will implement if it is re-elected to government. It is good that the Opposition puts forward its proposals, even months before its electoral manifesto is drawn up.

But it does not appear that its message is getting across.

Recently we have also seen some changes on its social media platforms, an indication that the party has realised the importance of reaching out via these modern means. But it will take much more than some cosmetic changes and a new strategist to make the PN electable.

For one thing, there should be more coordination within the party itself. You cannot have a situation such as the one which developed a few days ago, with the party in full focus on Minister Edward Zammit Lewis to such an extent that a motion of no confidence is presented against him, and then on the same day having a press conference on Gozo.

It was as if the party wanted to divert attention away from the main topic of the week (Zammit Lewis), which was guaranteeing it political points, to introduce another from which it could potentially lose.

So bizarre.

Besides the poor timing, one then really cannot understand why the PN is rekindling the idea of having an air connection to Gozo, when this has been tried, tested and failed. Neither is it comprehensible that the idea of a tunnel is put to a referendum limited solely to Gozitan residents. Aren’t the Maltese going to use it too? And won’t the tunnel project have an impact on the north of Malta as well?

After all, the Gozitan economy relies heavily on Maltese tourism to move forward. So why is the PN insisting that a decision which will be the largest and costliest ever be taken solely by Gozitans, when the project will be paid for by the Maltese too?

Way forward

The PN cannot rely on its past to guarantee its future.

What happened 30 years ago had a bearing on the history of the country at the time it was taking place, just as much as other events – on single days, or over a period of time – determined the formation of our nation.

But that is long gone now, and the PN must move on.

The voters of today will be casting their preference on what is happening in 2021 or 2022, not 1987.

 

 

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