Once the smoke begins to clear, one big reason remains why Adrian Delia should step down as leader of the Nationalist Party. And that is simply because it is highly unlikely that he will ever lead his party to electoral victory.

A political party does not exist merely as a vehicle to further the personal ambitions of its officials or parliamentarians. Ultimately, it is there to implement its policies, objectives, vision and values – and it can only do this effectively if it achieves electoral success. But the general feeling that many people now have is that the PN is likely to suffer further monumental losses in the polls.

Things are now so dire that nobody is really listening to what Delia or the PN say, as it is doubtful that their plans will ever be turned into reality; at least not in the foreseeable future, unless radical changes take place. The voice of the party is slipping into irrelevance, which is just about the worst thing for an Opposition party – both for its own sake and, more importantly, for the country. It is all so very disheartening to watch. But looking the other way or dodging the subject is futile. Yes, political parties do decline, even long-established ones.

It is unfair to blame it all on Delia. This train wreck also belongs to his core team within the PN, and they must also bear responsibility for it. An entire political party must be popular in order to succeed, and not only its leader. If Joseph Muscat steps down before the next election, as he has said he will, the Labour Party may still be elected to govern, whoever the next leader is. People vote for a party, and not just one person. If voters reject the PN, it is not only Delia being turned down, but his team too. Yes, politics can be brutal.

All those PN MPs or officials who do not believe that Delia can win an election… should act to change leadership

This inner core is starting to come across, fairly or not, as some kind of besieged political faction, more concerned with their own positions than the future of the party or the good of the country. While a strong party is never entirely homogenous, a divided party cannot be successful. Delia cannot simply railroad everyone into supporting him. People are not convinced, and he seems unable to persuade them.

In the current climate, with so many allegations of corruption doing the rounds, the true alternative would be a leadership that represents integrity. But leadership is also about appealing to a sense of identity and to emotions, giving people the feeling that they share a set of values and beliefs. People seek a sense of purpose, which seems to be lacking all round.

Groups currently advocating against corruption in Malta, such as Occupy Justice, do have some sense of purpose, but the PN leadership is failing to connect with them too and has foolishly tried to wage battle instead of reaching out to them. It has misguidedly tried to muddy the waters with questions about financial donations and abortion.

Political success means reaching out beyond a party’s usual base. Instead, too many traditional PN supporters feel bewildered and alienated. Just imagine how any new recruits must feel (if there are any). Delia does not even appear to enjoy sufficient support from his own party colleagues. Obviously here I do not mean his close entourage, who may even be reinforcing the belief that the current set-up stands a chance of success.

When asked in an interview on Times Talk whether any of his colleagues opposed him, Delia claimed he did not know. Who is he is kidding? Only a few days later PN secretary general Clyde Puli actually tried to publicly call out the dissenters within the PN, almost daring anyone who thinks Delia should resign to come out of the shadows. What a mess!

Which brings me to these dissenters. The rumblings are loud and clear. All those PN Members of Parliament or officials within the party who do not believe that Delia can win an election, and who do not agree with his style and direction, should act to change leadership.

It would hardly be the first time in a Western democracy that a leader is challenged by his own parliamentary group. Sitting and grumbling in the wings is understandable as an initial response to disagreement but it is not a solution and can be equally damaging if sustained for too long. Ultimately, any party leader needs to have broad support from colleagues. If this is impossible, then he or she should be changed.

Whether this should mean another full-blown leadership election or a ‘caretaker’ leader is already being discussed at every coffee shop and dinner party. The argument that there is nobody else ready to take over the reins is weak and risky – it undermines the move for change and promotes a status quo that only benefits the PN’s opponents.

Different leadership styles are needed at different moments in time. It all depends on what is appropriate and required in a particular context. What is needed now is someone with the ability to heal the wounds and close the cracks.

petracdingli@gmail.com

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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