Adrian Delia has bought himself enough time with the rabbit he pulled out at the Executive Committee last week to see him through to the next general election. Labour, still reeling from the disappointment of Joseph Muscat’s failure to secure a job in the pantheon of European greats, breathes a sigh of relief so loud it shatters the panes of both party headquarters.
I am not so obtuse, ageist and crass as to think that at 71, Louis Galea is too old to bring to the PN his decades of experience and the intuition he was born with, and to make a huge difference for the better. And that’s not just because, frankly, a particularly myopic mole could improve on the current state of visibility for the PN’s future.
But it is supremely ironic, at least to me, that Delia’s crusade against “the establishment”, trumpeting a “new way” to replace what came before, relies to get the job done on Galea ‒ who was in Clyde Puli’s job when the latter was eight years old ‒ a fellow Eddie Fenech Adami Cabinet colleague of Francis Zammit Dimech and Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, who made it to Cabinet 16 years ago. It really doesn’t get more establishment than that. Certainly more established than Simon Busuttil, who was never even a Cabinet Minister.
There’s more that is deeply ironic.
In 1977, Galea was youth leader in a PN facing a situation similar to this: an unelectable party leader who just would not go. In that situation he was a rebel and a catalyst for change.
Less than two years ago, in the thick of summer of 2017, when no Maltese journalist had yet been killed, Delia charged “the establishment” with conspiring with Daphne Caruana Galizia to keep him out of the party leadership.
On August 30 of that year, an ethics committee within the PN reviewed Delia’s affairs (as well as the affairs of the other three candidates running for the post of leader) and remarked that he had failed to provide satisfactory answers to questions raised about alleged money laundering for a prostitution ring he was accused of facilitating. The committee also found he had withheld information he was required to disclose and only confessed to it after it had been published in the press and he had already denied it.
That report declared it was satisfied the other three candidates in that election had no ethical issues impeding their candidature. It withheld that judgement in respect of Delia, saying too many things remained unexplained.
Delia defied that conclusion, saying it was concocted by “the establishment”. Galea presided that committee and undersigned the unanimous findings of that ethics committee.
Where’s the irony? What was unexplained on August 30, 2017, remains unexplained today.
There’s an old Vulcan proverb: “Only Nixon can go to China”. By producing Galea as the person responsible for reforming the PN and giving him a year in which to do so, Delia has postponed once again the questions that have been asked about him for two years but were never ‒ because they never could have been ‒ answered.
Galea could bring stability that is the only environment in which a measure of good sense and rationality might take hold
First, the good things that Galea might bring immediately to the reality in the PN:
He may provide a space for objectors and critics to express themselves productively within the party. A big portion of the incoherence and very visible conflict in the PN comes from the frustration that the Delia team is ensconced in an impenetrable fortress of isolation. Not so much an ivory tower as a concrete bunker.
Within that bunker, signals from outside are ignored or rebuffed, often absurdly rudely and curtly. Basic dignities ‒ of party members, veterans, volunteers, employees, even Members of Parliament ‒ are trampled upon and treated with contempt. Galea could provide an avenue for these to vent their frustration, and perhaps, if he manages to retain influence on Delia, lead to some productive outcomes.
He may also bring some sanity to the party media and the party resources that have been used to fire directly on people who have lived for and within the party their entire existence. Galea might restrain the party’s TV and radio from being used to attack PN MPs or former and potential allies. He might help dismantle the coordinated online warriors who identify individuals for electronic assassination merely for expressing doubts about Delia. He might bring to heel the rabid dogs of war unleashed by a panicked general staff working for an incompetent commander-in-chief.
In other words, Galea could bring stability that is the only environment in which a measure of good sense and rationality might take hold.
As the lesson of Simon Busuttil’s sudden departure has taught us, nature abhors a vacuum and in politics, to coin a phrase, chaos is a ladder.
As the saying goes, everything in an argument that comes before ‘but’ is bullshit.
Delia does not appear to have produced Galea to arrange for a smooth way out for himself. He appears to have had this brainwave to ensure he remains in office. During the 12 months of Galea’s term, Delia will argue that it is inappropriate to consider changes of leadership while reforms are still being conceived. “Remember Simon Busuttil’s resignation,” he’ll say. He might win that argument.
Once the year is up, we’ll be two years from the latest possible date for a general election, which will likely come even sooner. Then, of course, it will be too late to have a leadership election.
It’s such a simple plan that it sounds almost unlikely.
Why would Galea allow himself to be part of a charade? Has he reconciled the doubts he had about Delia’s suitability for leadership? Has Delia’s election absolved him of his past like a sacral bath?
What comes into play in the present situation is a hope that the party, if not necessarily its leader, is delivered of an existential crisis that would risk, in the eyes of someone who gave their entire life to its collective mission, being washed away for ever.
There’s an irresistible call of duty to see that, whatever the misgivings, at least the continued survival of the party is ensured.
There are many reasons to call this misguided.
While it is certain that our democracy cannot function with the Labour Party on its own or being permanently far larger than any rival, it ought not to be dogma that the only possible alternative is the PN.
While it is certain that dialogue, compromise and coalescence are necessary for the functioning of politics, there’s a line that must be drawn somewhere, and surely money laundering for prostitution and domestic violence are well beyond that line.
And while it is certain there is no election the PN can ever win unless it changes its leader, it is by no means a given that it could win an election just by making that change.
While it is certain that Delia produced Galea to secure his own survival, it is by no means certain that plan will work out exactly as he intended it.
The PN is asking its past to give it the answers it needs for the questions of the future. As Richard Cachia Caruana recently argued, the past is the wrong place to ask those questions.
At least, after almost two years of barren, gaunt political silence, the PN might be asking the right questions.