Everywhere you look in Malta, besides the crooks, you can see good, decent people feeling discouraged and despondent.
People who put country above party, who want Malta to thrive and prosper, but not to get-rich-quick at all costs. People who supported Malta’s EU membership because we knew it would help us raise our standards in many areas, even if it cannot save us from ourselves.
They are despondent for good reason. These are, indeed, desperate times.
Our government does not work for the common good, and has fueled the anything goes, I’m-all-right-so-fuck-you-Jack mentality that is in your face on every street and at every building site. Common sense and common decency have long gone out the window, our institutions fail to protect us, and we have been traumatised by the cold, professional assassination of someone who saw things clearly and refused to remain silent.
Of course, we’ve been here before. In the 1980s political violence was rife, constitutional democracy was imperiled and the country had driven itself into a political and economic dead end. The opposition organised itself, stood up for what is right, and enough people rallied behind it to throw out the party in government and begin to clean up the mess it left behind.
This time there is no opposition that people of good faith can rally around. Marlene and Godfrey Farrugia are decent people who are trying to stand up for what is right – but the PD will never be asked to form a Government any time soon.
And the Nationalist Party is led by someone with no moral authority whatsoever.
Adrian Delia is by all accounts a good guy to have a pint with, but he is entirely unsuited for leadership of a national party. His personal finances are a mess (at least what we can see of them), he doesn’t pay his taxes, there’s far too much dodgy dealing in his past, and he has conducted himself with a lack of transparency that is entirely unbecoming for someone in his position.
Worse, he has terrible political judgement, as demonstrated most recently by his insistence on picking a fight, as his first parliamentary battle, with same-sex couples desperately trying to have a kid.
The very predictable result? A smug Government side looking on as the opposition split down the middle, a resolution lost by a large margin without even the satisfaction of having taken the high moral ground, an important constituency slighted yet again, and the perception that the party is being outmaneuvered by Joseph Muscat at every turn.
His new leadership has not reinvigorated the Party, but greatly weakened it. Repeated surveys show clearly that he can never win an election. Instead of beginning the horribly difficult task of clawing back the tens of thousands of votes that the party needs to recapture, he has hemorrhaged votes and managed to lose even more ground. The party has lost whole swathes of voters like myself, who have usually voted for it as the better option, but who will not support it on principle while he remains at the helm.
So, how do we get out of this mess?
First, the good, decent people who are feeling so despondent must shake themselves out of their stupor and take back control of the opposition. And then, the Nationalist Party under a new, young, solid leader, must win a general election.
Adrian Delia will go – that is not in question. Misguided people, some of them with the best of intentions, have voted him in because they think that he can play Muscat at his own game and win. When it becomes clear to everyone that he cannot, he will be removed.
But the timing is important.
If he leaves before, or immediately after, the European Parliament elections in 2019, there will be enough time for a new party leader to at least prepare for the General Election in 2022. Slim chance of winning that, but at least if the party shows it is organising itself under clean and competent leadership we will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
This week’s parliamentary rebellion is the beginning of our way out of this mess. Six brave people who remembered that they are loyal to a set of values, to a party even, that is bigger than any leader. You can probably add to them Roberta Metsola, who was probably itching to be in that room so she could register her disapproval of what the current leader was trying to do.
It is important that these people offer us an alternative opposition, one that people of good faith can rally around. They must be the conscience of the party, they must treat our newly awakening civil society with the respect it deserves. They must be ready so that as soon as the opportunity for positive change appears once again they are in a position to embrace it.
Their time will come, a new leader will rally the party behind them, and the damage of the last few years may begin to be repaired.
This too will pass. Do your bit.
Patrick Tabone was Chef de Cabinet of former EU commissioner Joe Borg and is a graduate in international relations from Cambridge University. Tabone was a member of the core negotiating group that headed the accession negotiations between Malta and the EU.