If the Nationalist Party thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse than the debacle of 2017, it was severely mistaken. Adrian Delia, elected 20 months ago on the promise to shake things up in the PN, has now led the party to the worst ever electoral defeat in Malta’s history. Where did the ‘New Way’ go wrong? Here are some of Delia’s main strategic errors that contributed to this PN calamity.
1. Not providing an alternative vision
Delia’s main line of attack against the Labour government was that it doesn’t have a long-term plan and that its economic model is purely based on population growth. However, Delia failed to come up with anything akin to a long-term plan or a realistic alternative vision that people could get excited about.
2. Turning the election into ‘a referendum on abortion’
Delia described the MEP election as a ‘referendum on abortion’, pouncing on a pro-choice clause within the manifesto of the Party of European Socialists. However, the PL kept reiterating it was against abortion too, making Delia look as though he was fighting windmills. The strategy was so poor that even the president of Malta’s largest pro-life group criticised Delia for trying to politicise the issue of abortion.
3. The anti-foreigner rhetoric
Delia’s criticism of the PL’s economic model often spilled into clear anti-foreigner discourse, with statements such as how “clans of low-quality foreigners” are making Malta poorer and how the influx of foreigners is “eroding our values and principles and is wreaking havoc with our Maltese identity”.
He failed to realise that people who wanted to send at the government a strong warning against migration weren’t going to vote the PN, which is still tapping itself on the back for bringing Malta into the EU, but smaller parties who are more vocal about the issue. All Delia’s stance did was alienate migrants, Maltese people with progressive stances towards migration and businesses who need migrant workers to survive.
4. Going to war with Daphne Caruana Galizia
During his PN leadership campaign, Delia went all out against Daphne Caruana Galizia, tapping into the anger of several supporters who had blamed her for the general election defeat. While this won him considerable support, it also alienated him from Caruana Galizia’s readers, who were predominantly PN voters. And when the journalist was blown up mere weeks after his election, there was no way Delia could build bridges with them.
5. Choosing his own people for key party positions
After the bruising leadership campaign, Delia should have instantly reached out to his internal critics and offered them key roles within the party. Instead, the most important positions within the party, such as secretary general and chief of communications, went to people who had supported Delia. This ‘takeover’ ended up leaving Delia’s critics with a sense of bitterness, which would come back to haunt the PN leader later.
6. The frequent Catholic battlecries
In his first speech as PN leader, Delia described the party as “the party of Catholics and Latin people” and that kind of religious rhetoric kept popping up in the months that followed as he tried to link Catholicism with the Maltese identity. However, while this might have excited the PN’s Catholic base, it certainly didn’t go down well with non-religious people, an ever-growing segment of Maltese society.
7. Voting in favour of the Gozo tunnel
One of the PL government’s major shortcomings is the environmental destruction that its development-friendly polices have left in their wake and the planned Gozo tunnel will undoubtedly see this frenzy spread to Malta’s sister island too. Instead of realising that people are becoming more environmentally conscious and turning the tunnel into a campaign point, Delia voted in favour of it in Parliament, only to backtrack later and say he will await further studies before making his mind up.
Meanwhile, Joseph Muscat announced projects like the expansion of the Ta’ Qali park, the building of a park in Birżebbuġia and the greening of the Regional Road tunnels, making the PL seem like the more pro-environment of the two parties.
8. Voting against more rights for victims of rape and domestic violence
When the government tabled a Bill which granted more rights to victims of domestic violence and rape, it should have been the easiest vote possible for Delia. Instead, he voted against it (despite previously saying he will vote in favour) because it didn’t specifically refer to the unborn child as a family member as the old law had.
It didn’t help that his own wife accused him of domestic violence a few months later either.
9. A dismal communications strategy
Delia’s main strengths are his charisma and approachability, extremely useful character traits in a world that is crying out for authenticity. Instead of capitalising on this and developing a communications strategy that could keep up with Muscat’s PR blitz, the PN actually deteriorated in this regard. Indeed, this campaign was marked by several private complaints by candidates and PN officials about how the party kept failing to respond in a timely manner.
10. The Egrant debacle
After the Egrant inquiry found no evidence linking the infamous Panama company to Joseph Muscat or his wife, Delia was quick to strip his predecessor Simon Busuttil from his good governance portfolio and request that he suspend himself from the party. While the move could well have made the PN more appealing to PL voters, Delia clearly failed to calculate the consequences of his decision.
As PN officials publicly criticised him and as rumours started to boil that Delia could be ousted from within, the PN leader backed down and eventually tried building bridges with Busuttil. The end result was that Delia opened wounds within the party while coming off as a weak leader in the process.
11. The force of nature that is Joseph Muscat
Joseph Muscat has mastered the arts of mass campaigning, helping people on an individual level, setting the national agenda and satisfying different lobby groups. While the Prime Minister has achieved near godlike status among his supporters, Delia has yet to convince his entire party that he is the right man to lead it.