If Bernard Grech woke up today frustrated that people were talking about a ‘Greek’ remark he passed several months ago instead of last night’s debate, he only has himself to blame.
If Adrian Delia wonders why he hasn’t been able to replicate the enthusiasm that characterised his 2017 leadership campaign, he need only look into the mirror.
Amidst a historically turbulent time for the world, the country and the PN, Delia and Grech went head to head last night after weeks of campaigning.
Debates are a great launching pad for the promotion of policies and the best way for competitors to truly differentiate themselves from each other. However, what we got instead last night was an hour of tired soundbites, lazy digs at the government and vague word salads.
In fact, they seemed to have spent more time preparing features on themselves to be aired during the debate than they did actually preparing for it.
Delia pitched himself as a warrior who has spent years battling an internal establishment the public has repeatedly rejected, while Grech presented himself as the great unifier who will return the PN to its glory days.
However, scraping beyond the surface, the debate exposed how neither candidate has any alluring policies to speak of and that they aren’t too different from each other in anything but personality.
Take COVID-19, the issue that has gripped the world since March and has prompted serious debates about healthcare, the future of the economy, tourism, surveillance and pretty much everything we’ve long taken for granted.
What did the PN leadership hopefuls have to say about it? Nothing except that Prime Minister Robert Abela and Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne seemed at odds with each other in their COVID-19 press conferences and that the government didn’t have a plan to combat the second wave.
And what’s their plan? Absolutely nothing, just ‘we’re the only alternative so you’ve got to trust us’. Truly inspiring…
Both Delia and Grech criticised the government over reports that it’s ready to sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States in return for American support ahead of an upcoming Moneyval review.
They pitched this issue as one which will see the government sacrifice Malta’s constitutional neutrality as a result of corruption leading the country to the brink.
However, any such deal will require a two-thirds parliamentary majority and therefore the support of several Opposition MPs, and neither Delia or Grech flat out confirmed how they intend to vote.
In terms of the environment, both men provided a few soundbites, with Delia rightfully questioning whether the climate emergency Malta decreed last year was just for show and Grech urging developers to start constructing buildings that are pleasing to the eye.
And both criticised the government’s proposed Equality Bill, with Grech warning it could impinge on the rights of Church schools to “teach their ethos” and Delia claiming it could result in “the imposition of the rights of minorities over the majority”.
Their similarities were so obvious that at one point Delia said he and Grech were “saying the same thing” and that the election will come down to which candidate the PN’s tesserati believe more.
Whichever candidate that may be will have to confront the reality that the Labour Party is soaring in the polls despite COVID-19, the pandemic-induced economic crisis, the looming threat of Moneyval and the consistent shocking revelations in the case of the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Why? Because despite everything, they’ve still repeatedly shown that they’re the only party one can trust in terms of policy creation.
Simply put, the public is extremely unlikely to turn to the Nationalist Party just to see different faces at the top of government, especially seeing as many of these faces have already been in government before.
The PN will remain a shadow of its former self for as long as it fails to craft and pitch a vision for the nation. Delia has failed in this regard, Grech hasn’t exactly raised hopes that he will do much better, and these kind of ideas seem to be in short supply within the Opposition.
Yesterday’s debate was a chance for both men to show their mettle and turn a new page for the beleaguered party. Sadly, the best thing that could be said about it was that it was only an hour long.