“We had our headmasters… ‘Father Dolly’ [Dom Brookes]… a truly remarkable man, full of life, wit and compassion. I have unfailing memories of this gentleman to whom, I admit, I was very close, having been appointed as his ‘runner’. The post of headmaster’s runner was more pomp than anything else…
“But, importantly, it would normally lead to the posts of sacristan and master of ceremonies in the college chapel in subsequent years, and finally to no less a position than captain of the school or head boy, the highest position in the school-boy hierarchy. Such a position I was never to reach, going no further than sacristan. This was due to the change of headmaster… The headmastership was taken over by Father Bernard Rickett… Things were never the same again.”
I know that Dr Austin Sammut, who writes frequently to this newspaper on political issues, won’t mind my quoting this extract from an essay he wrote for a book about St Edward’s College, recalling the years when he was a pupil there. Although he was almost 40 when he wrote it, the change of headmaster and his dashed expectations of becoming head boy still rankled.
It serves as a good example of what is meant by having a sense of entitlement. Psychologists define this as “an unrealistic, unmerited or inappropriate expectation of favourable treatment at the hands of others”.
In this case, there was not only an assumption Austin was entitled to become head boy, but also the firm expectation that he would get it.
Many of the troubles which have plagued the Nationalist Party – and specifically its leader – over the last few years stemmed from a combination of factors, not least poor policies and weak leadership. But a misleading sense of entitlement by certain factions in the party about who they wished – and expected – to see as leader has also played a major part in their recent travails.
These factions – led for many years by the late Daphne Caruana Galizia – saw tangible proof of their entitlement because they felt that after virtually 25 years in power the Nationalist Party was the natural party of government. This sense of entitlement also extended to what went on within the party structure itself. It was an enduring trait characterised by the belief that the leader of the party could only be somebody who was “one of us”.
This was based as much on snobbery (who will forget Daphne’s infamous remark when Eddie Fenech Adami was elected leader that he was “a mere village lawyer”), as hatred of “the other”. Phrases like “lower middle class”, “working class”, “ħamalli tal-flus” rolled off Caruana Galizia’s pen, taunting whole swathes of Maltese society – including those in PN – whom she looked down upon.
Similar attitudes within the party have dogged Adrian Delia’s leadership of PN for the last couple of years. Even before his election, Delia never convinced that faction of PN – very roughly defined as those influenced by Caruana Galizia’s blog comments about him and erstwhile supporters of Simon Busuttil – to accept his democratic claim to the crown. The misplaced sense of entitlement by the faction opposing him (or, rather, refusing to support him) has made PN ungovernable and Delia’s position untenable. As I write this, he is still hanging in there.
Chasm may be too wide to be bridged. The unhealthy sense of entitlement on both sides appears to be unbridgeable
That Delia has made serious errors of judgement, leadershipand organisation is indisputable. But the factional in-fighting within the party between those who feel they have a sense of entitlement to decide who should be the party leader and his core support among the tesserati (paid-up party members) that elected him is not only unedifying, but also leading nowhere.
For both these broad factions within the party, turning up the volume with wild accusations that deepen further the polarisation between them is not the solution. There is a grave danger that the Nationalist Party is losing the most basic of qualities that enabled it to be an election-winning machine for so long. This hinged on its capacity, through being pragmatic and adaptable, to bring together the various factions – ranging from ultra-conservative to liberal Christian democratic – that made up the centre-right coalition.
Today, if we are to judge by the toxic leaks emanating from Dar Ċentrali, both sides are portraying their opponents not as people with whom they disagree on policy, but as villains. The language of discourse has become increasingly inflammatory. The Nationalist Party has become a party that is talking to itself.
There is a distinct feeling that factions close to the party, but no longer in parliament, and those PN members of Parliament who are calling for Delia to stand down, are not really thinking through the consequences of their actions. The party was divided between 2008 and 2013 and it reaped the whirlwind.
The fundamental issue is that the existential threat to the future of the Nationalist Party could not be more serious. PN is suffering a monumental identity and leadership crisis. It appears to have lost its political compass.
There has been a complete breakdown in discipline, but also of the values of good internal governance, driven primarily by those with a profound and unhealthy sense of entitlement (based largely on factional elitism) to tell the leader what he should do, or to threaten to change him.
For those who wish to speculate on whether changing a leader will mend the party’s fracture, follow the Conservative leadership election whose outcome will change none of the fundamental Brexit or party problems.
The challenge facing PN could not be starker. Since Malta’s Independence, the size of the biggest electoral majorities achieved by either party had always hovered, until now, at around the 12,000 to 13,000 mark.
In 2013, Labour’s majority over PN was 35,107 and in 2017 it increased this to 35,280. The recent local council elections gave PL a majority of 47,116. The scale of the margin between the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party is unprecedented. A change of government to PN now would require a swing of at least 22,000 votes.
It is almost inconceivable that PN will get back to power much before the middle of the next decade. It is in turmoil. The chasm within the party between its leader and many of its members of parliament may be too wide to be bridged. It may also be heading for a historic split because the unhealthy sense of entitlement on both sides appears to be unbridgeable.