It’s clear from yesterday’s election result that Adrian Delia is unelectable. With him as leader, more Nationalists than ever stayed home or voted for a smaller party. And even those who voted PN, seem to have protested against Delia by overwhelmingly voting for MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa rather than the lesser known candidates Delia was blatantly pushing forward.
Having said that, Delia can take solace in two things: firstly, his defeat was smaller than originally predicted and secondly, there does not seem to be anyone willing to force him out and take his place. So despite losing by 42,000 votes, he’s probably going to ride this one out like he did with previous crises. But if he wants to give his leadership and his party a fighting chance at revival, he cannot act as if it’s business as usual and he needs to take serious action. Here are some things he should consider.
1. Promise a leadership race within 12 months and commit to being a candidate
As the leader of a democratic party that just suffered a colossal defeat at the polls, the least he can do is give his party the chance to have their say on his leadership. A mid-term election of sorts. But he shouldn’t rush this process like Simon Busuttil did. Look where that left the party. Instead he should give his party the chance to find suitable candidates and prepare their candidature. As I have often argued, if Delia manages to find a suitable replacement for himself, he would have left a great legacy to his party. Regardless of who contests against him, he should also commit to putting his name on the ballot as well as staying on to help the PN under a new leader if he does not get re-elected. This will show true confidence and leadership. Maybe it helps PN find someone with better leadership potential. Or maybe it will just put an end to the moves to get rid of him without proposing a suitable alternative. He will also ensure that PN gets to choose a different direction depending on the leader chosen by Labour if the Prime Minister steps down. His deputy leaders should also submit themselves to re-election.
2. Hold a convention on women’s rights to seriously discuss abortion
Delia should also take responsibility for trying to turn this election into a referendum on abortion. To do so, he should appoint a suitable woman, like Claudette Buttigieg or Roberta Metsola, or youth activist Emma Portelli Bonnici to chair a convention on women’s rights. The point of this convention will be to properly discuss the arguments being raised by the pro-choice movement. The party needs to reconcile its views with its European ideals. It needs to come up with policy that is not outdated or small-minded but is practical, forward-looking and humane. PN cannot repeat its mistakes on divorce and gay rights. Delia must provide leadership and be first out of the gate at least on some issues.
3. Reach out to the smaller parties and start building bridges
The Opposition can no longer remain fragmented. PN has a positive history of finding support from smaller parties like it did with AD in the EU referendum and with PD more recently in the 2017 election. At the very least, PN should find ways of building bridges. Perhaps he can ally with Arnold Cassola on a platform against over-development. Perhaps he can hold discussions about immigration with Moviment Patrijotti. And regular meetings with AD and PD to find room for collaboration on various issues.
4. Propose an inter-party working group to fight hate speech and improve integration
Delia needs to respond to the murder of Ivorian migrant Lassana Cisse Souleymane, who was gunned to death by two soldiers just for being black. He should lead by example, starting with a sincere apology for the dangerous rhetoric he has used so far and invite the other parties to set up a proper working group to propose national solutions against hate speech, perhaps reaching out to former President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca to chair this group.
5. Set up a task force to lobby for and create future-oriented policies to tackle tax in Malta and the fear of harmonisation
Delia should immediately start taking action on the growing calls within the EU to harmonise tax, which would threaten Malta’s financial services and igaming industries. He should set up a task force combining experts in igaming, financial services, and the property industry. And he should ensure Malta mounts a strong defence of its system, while also being prepared for the worst. This task force can be called Defending Malta, and can respond directly to Labour’s criticism that PN is always against Malta in the EU. It will also be his opportunity to really start working with businesses. While he’s at it, he should propose ways of supporting the many Maltese businesses who do not enjoy the same tax benefits as their foreign counterparts.
6. Propose a masterplan for Sliema, St Julian’s and Swieqi with a focus on increasing green, open spaces
There is low-hanging fruit to be had from these once Nationalist strongholds who are as yet uninspired by Adrian Delia. He must get the attention of residents by taking this region seriously and proposing the drawing up of a serious masterplan that prioritises open spaces and contains overdevelopment. He should appoint some of Malta’s best architects and open the process to ideas from the public. This must be done in time for the next general election. Give these people a reason to vote Nationalist again.
7. Set up a team of Under 30s to totally rebrand the Nationalist Party and create a new organisational structure
Delia needs young people around him, not just as tokens but as decision-makers and doers. Many of them are just waiting to be engaged. The PN needs a completely new identity and it needs a better organisational structure with proper fundraising activities and a creative and ambitious business plan for donations because the party is still clearly not making the money it needs to mount a serious campaign against Labour. It has to stop expecting the same old people to do a better job.
8. Start seriously preparing for the general election as if it’s going to happen in 2021
Delia shouldn’t make the same mistake Simon Busuttil did and take it for granted that the election was going to be held after five years. By calling an election a year early in 2017, Muscat threw PN off in a big way. They weren’t prepared. Delia should appoint a solid team to plan for the elections as if they were going to be held a year earlier. He should appoint people like Peter Agius, Frank Psaila and Roselyn Borg Knight to building an exciting manifesto. And he should task Michael Briguglio, Dione Borg and Francis Zammit Dimech to finding new candidates. He needs to keep his MEP candidates and any unsuccessful local council candidates engaged.
9. Commit to a weekly briefing with journalists to keep the country updated on his progress and to clear any questions about his integrity
To put an end to speculation about his integrity, and to expose Muscat’s fear of the media, Delia should submit himself to a weekly news briefing with journalists to update them on his progress and answer any questions they might have. This will show respect to the media, help him train for difficult situations, and keep him on his toes to ensure momentum.
BONUS: Get a speechwriter
Delia thinks he has the gift of the gab, and in some ways, he’s right. He’s pretty good one-on-one, like in a conversation or a debate. But his speeches are terrible. Muscat, on the other hand, has made an art of his speeches. He may be reading off an auto-cue, but it works every time. He says the right words, with the right inflections, and he doesn’t leave much to chance. Nor should the more inexperienced Delia. He needs a proper speechwriter to ensure he doesn’t go off rambling at any given chance he gets. There must be a clear message that he is able to articulate in an inspiring way.