A declaration of war can be a classic diversionary tactic that is used to smother internal strife and en­sure the leader’s position of power by rallying the troops around the flag (or the Maduma, as the case may be).

When in the 1980s, Argentina’s military government initiated the Falklands/Mal­vinas stand-off, Margaret Thatcher seized on this opportunity to reverse her own political fortunes. Indeed, some consider that her inflexible determination to win the war at all costs, which led to controversial military decisions, was fuelled by her government’s prior dismal performance and increasing dissent within her own party that had nothing to do with the Falklands crisis. 

Adrian Delia’s declaration of war, calling his ‘warriors true’ to arms, is a text-book case of a diversionary tactic. It is important to remember that his marital problems are potentially just the proverbial straw. At pre­sent, Delia is under a triple attack: he is under investigation for possible money laundering, his financial solvency and tax situation are again raising concerns, and he is now being accused of domestic violence.

Without reducing in any way the seriousness of the domestic violence accusations, it is symptomatic of our nation’s quixotic view of fiscal morality that the first two accusations have drawn considerably less public interest than the third.

Of course, part of the fascination with the third is the lurid nature of the leaked video and audio recordings, court documents and social media messages.

Delia intends to re-forge the PN on the anvil of tribal loyalty into a personal suit of armour

To comment on the content of these items, one of which is clearly maliciously edited for maximum harm, would be to play into the hands of whoever manipulated the leaks for gain in the court case or the political arena.

The pain of any family breakdown, for both parents and children, is already heartbreaking enough as it is.

I was not surprised that Alfred Sant, who had himself been publicly humiliated for political gain with leaked court documents on his own marriage breakdown, leapt to the defence of Delia.

What is politically relevant is Delia’s response to this triple attack on his professional, political and personal integrity, since it relates directly to his fitness for purpose as Prime Minister-in-waiting. Even in resignation-proof Malta, there are a number of senior politicians who, when faced with challenges, alleged or proven, to their integrity, chose to act in the inte­rests of the nation rather than their own shortsighted self-preservation.

Some needed a fair bit of pushing behind the scenes. But in the final analysis even their own long-term best interest dictated that they pay homage, however grudgingly, to the higher moral standard to which they were called as holders of public office.

This standard has nothing to do with legal guilt or innocence. It has to do with the public perception of fitness for purpose to handle enormous power and patronage at the service of the common good. It has to do with the perception that one’s inner convictions and formation will be able to withstand the strain of competing factional interests, demands for pay-back, claims on family and friendship loyalties, and constant subtle offers of bribes and quid-pro-quos.

In other words, the public needs to be able to trust its politicians to do the right thing even when it is not looking. The PN, with all its limitations, its back-room compromises with the powerful and the greedy, once stood for this politics of informed choice in pursuit of the common good. A key democratic legacy of the party of Fenech Adami, Gonzi and Busuttil is that they tied political elect­ability to the transformation of Malta’s eternally partisan politics into this ‘new’ politics. Sant had the same aspirations. This was the politics of cultural transformation and social justice that inspired my generation.

With Joseph Muscat, the tide has turned. His democratic legacy will be that he turned this politics of informed choice for the common good into a meme. And Delia is following in Muscat’s footsteps. Delia’s appalling response to the triple challenge has been visi­ble to all. He is not for turning. He will not apologise, nor admit anything. He is the victim, and the leader of heroes. He intends to re-forge the PN on the anvil of tribal loyalty into a personal suit of armour.

Whoever is not an unquestioning foot soldier (forget alliances or movements) is deemed to be allied to the enemy. There is no political or cultural space beyond the eternal duopoly of Każin ta’ Fuq and Każin ta’ Isfel. Whoever is not a servile sycophant must be destroyed, like the PN media’s naked attempts to delegitimise Occupy Justice. Even descent into civil war within the party by pitting MPs against the grassroots committees is justified, because it is preferable to the void of political and personal failure that beckons.

The PN’s choice today seems to be between civil war, political obsolescence or radical surgery. The whole nation is poorer for it.

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