A new leader is likely to want to introduce new faces and bring fresh ideas to update policies while remaining within the ambit of the organisation’s principles.

In a political party, that may be easier said than done and, therefore, strong leadership and deftness are required, also to exploit the experience of ‘old-timers’ and not scare away their constituents.

Nationalist Party leader Bernard Grech seems to have been trying to do that following his election just under two years ago. However, he has failed, even in asserting his authority, as two recent episodes clearly demonstrate.

Former leader Adrian Delia, Ivan Bartolo and newcomer Alex Borg decided they should go by what their conscience dictated rather than what the parliamentary group had decided and voted against the amended IVF law.

The PN parliamentary group “thought long and hard about this issue, giving it the attention it deserves”, according to Grech. After 10 hours of discussion and three meetings, it decided to vote for the changes. No MP asked for a free vote, again, according to the leader, who admitted that, eventually, he did receive such requests.

It can certainly be argued that the law in question involves moral and ethical issues, so one can understand an MP asking to vote according to his conscience. However, the right time to make such a request would be during parliamentary group meetings discussing the draft law.

Otherwise, dissenting MPs can rightly be accused of ‘losing the whip’, that is, going against the party line.

Those who object to the changes made to the IVF law will probably commend the three Nationalist MPs for standing up to be counted. Still, such stand should have started from within the party structure.

On matters of conscience, political parties with a Christian inspiration would be justified calling for a free vote without any fear of disciplinary action, unless a common position can be found.

The new PN deputy leader, Alex Perici Calascione thinks the three MPs who voted against were not trying to deliberately revolt against the party.

However, it is such dissent that continues to expose chinks in Grech’s armour.

He could have easily allowed a free vote but he did not and, now, he faces a tricky situation: let it go and encourage more dissent; take action and provoke the sort of wrath just expressed by outgoing deputy leader Robert Arrigo.

Arrigo has launched a frontal attack on Grech. He first complained of having been side-lined, cryptically adding: “I’m not alone here. There are genuine people but they’re the old-timers. Politics of exclusion for fear of losing the high chair [sic] never pays.”

He then accused the party leader of having lied on TV when he said a report by the internal ethics, discipline and social media commission on the Naxxar Nationalist mayor had not been completed yet. Grech denies this but it is unlikely that will stop Arrigo and others from launching more broadsides.

In reality, such public statements made by the likes of Arrigo and others are doing nothing more than emphasise the PN’s fractures.

Alternation of power is essential in a parliamentary democracy, so it is crucial for the Nationalist Party to lift itself from the doldrums rather than keep digging the hole.

That, however, may require major surgery, possibly amputation, unless the party is to continue racing towards an inevitable split, or worse, irrelevance.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us