That famous ‘40,000’. According to The Times’ survey published on Sunday, not only has the number not shrunk, but it’s expanded by a further 10,000. On top of that, PN leader Bernard Grech is proving as unpopular as his predecessor: only 14% would choose him to be prime minister, versus 44% for Robert Abela.
Of course, as US comedian David Letterman once said in a swipe at the pointlessness of polls: “USA Today has come out with a new survey. Apparently, three out of four people make up 75% of the population.”
Surveys have serious limitations and are frequently wrong. At this distance from an election, though, it’s impossible to gauge how right or wrong this one might be, but for the PN, this should be a wake-up call.
The PN executive has, once again, forgotten that many traditional PN voters will not vote for someone they believe to be wrong for the job. No matter how harangued they are to swallow their distaste and vote for someone they have no respect for, they won’t do it.
A Nationalist Party that keeps selecting unsuitable people for the leadership, leaders that don’t even have the nous to realise that with their baggage, they are simply not good enough, will never be re-elected by those who still cherish the values that differentiated the Party from its pseudo-socialist rival.
A Nationalist Party that harbours MPs who beg for favours or money from known criminals or their associates – no one with an ounce of good sense or integrity is going to vote to put this kind of person into office.
And when the leader fails to address the issues that really matter to the true PN voter: the corruption, the cronyism, the collapse of procedural safeguards, the grip of big business on both parties, the destruction of the urban and rural environment by the very companies to whom both Parties are deeply beholden, the shameful sale of passports, the infiltration of organised crime into every aspect of the Maltese economy – then that leader, and his sidekicks, have no right to ask for the support of people to whom these issues matter deeply.
Christian Peregin’s move to the PN was praised by many – a successful journalist and businessman giving it all up for the good of the country. But just as many people were less impressed.
Peregin, after all, by his own admission, was taken in by Joseph Muscat and, according to his article in defence of The Times written at the time of Keith Schembri’s arrest, fawning over Muscat before the 2013 election and, ultimately, helping put the criminal gang that has ransacked Malta for the past eight years into power.
So when Peregin demands former PN voters return to the Party, stop criticising, and stop demanding that certain people should go, he should understand that many will respond with a loud raspberry.
Firstly, he’s been wrong before. Secondly, someone who voted for Muscat, when all evidence already pointed to the kind of government he would run, clearly hasn’t got anywhere near the type of judgement already sceptical voters will trust.
The once-great party of Borg Olivier, Fenech Adami and Gonzi now appears to have a death wish. It stopped even trying to be relevant to its legacy supporters and is instead chasing after PL-style voters, those who vote not on principle or ideology, but on empty promises and the waving of a wallet on a stick.
But the reality, that they don’t seem to have computed at all, is that the type of people they’d prefer to have as voters, are mostly already taken. They’re PL voters. And they’ll never switch, not for anything in the world.
The few who aren’t PL supporters already have no incentive to vote PN instead of PL. PL is a known quantity. PN under new management is not. For voters who select governments based on their personal needs and not those of the country as a whole, it makes no sense to vote PN, and risk getting a proper, functioning state where illegalities are punished and rules have to be followed.
The Maltese people, in their majority, want a criminal gang in charge of the country. This was proven in 2017, and has been proven time and again in every single poll carried out since then. But a strong PN, resolute in its principles, should be fighting to change their minds, not falling over itself to pander to them.
The minority, who abhor corruption and value the good reputation of their country, are split. A few have been bullied into forgetting their principles and agreeing to support Grech, though they know full well that he falls far short of what’s needed. They’ve been frightened by the “two-thirds” spectre, the idea that without their vote, PL will win two-thirds of parliamentary seats and change the constitution to ensure they’re in power forever.
They’ve been ordered to hold their noses, close their minds and vote for a group of people they find abhorrent. Vote for the lesser evil, they’re told, or Labour will get in again and the PN will be history.
But, just as Peregin was free to vote for the sleazy Muscat in 2013, then any former PN voter who looks on the current leadership with dismay is just as free to vote AD or PD, or not vote at all. Ordering people to ignore their principles and vote anyway won’t do anything but repulse the very people he’s trying to coax back into the fold. If PL does get this dreaded two-thirds majority, the only fault will lie with the PN itself, and not the voters it failed to convince.
There’s only one way for the PN to win back the supporters it’s lost. It must act fast to return to the values that attracted those supporters in the first place.
It needs to eliminate the MPs and officials that have dragged it so far down the wrong path that many people don’t believe it can ever find its way back. It needs to elect a strong leader who has the character and the strength to convince people to vote for a strong, integrity-based programme. It needs an electoral manifesto with big ideas built on the principles honest people hold dear.
The next election is lost; no matter how flawed and unreliable surveys may be, the message from the electorate has been clear for months. Had the PN not wasted time with Delia and Grech, there might have been a chance it could have recovered the ground lost in 2017, especially after the dramatic events of 2019 and 2020.
But instead the Party is, predictably, trailing even further behind PL. It may be too late for 2022, but it’s not too late for the PN to turn its back on the failed experiment in social media-led populism and return to the type of strong, principled leadership we expect from the PN.
Cull the tainted members and start over with a leader unafraid to take a stand and uphold the values its supporters cherish. Until the Party does that, it will remain nothing more than an irrelevant, unelectable has-been.