GUEST POST: Changing the game
This is a guest post, which means that somebody else (who has to remain anonymous because his work contract prevents him from entering publicly into this kind of debate) wrote it for upload on this website.
This is, of course, clearly distinct from a ghost writer as used by others for their blogs to produce pieces which then appear under their own name.
I feel I must explain this as you can’t take anything for granted. Via the internet, unlike with a newspaper, you end up exposed to all sorts of levels of knowledge.
Party deputy leadership contests are usually pretty inconsequential affairs. People give them polite attention while they last and then promptly forget about them and put their focus where the real power lies instead.
Not this time. The Nationalist Party deputy leadership contest matters greatly for two main reasons.
Firstly because people see it as a precursor to the leadership contest that would probably ensue in the case of a PN electoral loss.
Secondly, and more tantalisingly, because while polls suggest that a PN loss is highly probable, the choice of the new deputy leader might possibly be a game-changer, the last fling of the dice that could yet allow the PN to snatch a surprise electoral victory from the jaws of defeat.
The PN councillors who will make the decision have much to weigh up. They know that the party needs to heal and to rebuild. The question is, should they resign themselves to rebuilding in opposition? Or should the party work as hard as it can to win the election anyway, and to use the victory as a mandate for a fresh start?
There is a very strong argument in favour of doing everything possible to win the election. Every other Mediterranean EU member state is in deep trouble – systemic failure and social devastation in Greece, unimaginably high unemployment rates and the threat of state fragmentation in Spain, and deep social unrest and the ever-present threat of bailouts even in Italy, France and Cyprus.
In Malta? Fifth lowest unemployment in the Union. One of the few budget deficits in the Union that is at an acceptable level by EU standards, and what’s even more unusual, one that is moving in the right direction.
Government bonds routinely oversubscribed by Maltese private and corporate buyers, even as our neighbours have to pay crazy amounts in interest to get external lenders to buy theirs.
Make no mistake – Malta in 2012 is very far from paradise, but compared to our neighbours we have much to be thankful for. Many families might struggle to make ends meet, and fixing this must be a priority. But our homelessness and alcoholism rates have not exploded, the International Monetary Fund hasn’t come in to run our budget, tuberculosis and malaria haven’t made a comeback and we’re not experiencing a spate of suicides by evicted former home owners.
At a time like this, you do not change the government that has helped keep the country safe. This government – by having a vision and by putting in the regulatory and other frameworks to realise it – has turned us, for example, into an international finance centre, creating investment revenues and multiplier effects that have kept the economy buoyant in extremely adverse conditions.
And all this while having to navigate safely through distractions such as the credit crunch, the Arab Spring, the Euro debt crisis and the violent implosion of our largest neighbour.
Unfortunately polls show that in the process the government has lost touch with its key constituency, the aspirational middle class that has kept the Nationalists in government for so long. As we near the election the chances of reversing this become ever smaller.
But if there is any chance of reconnecting with this constituency, of salvaging this election, then that chance must be taken.
The deputy leadership contest might be that chance. If GonziPN, once a winning brand, is now tired and counter-productive, what better to replace it with than a leader-deputy tandem that combines the safe hands of the known with a fresh face and the promise of youth and change?
Can it work? Who knows, but if there’s even a chance it’s worth a try.
PN councillors owe it to the country and to their party to use their vote in the way that will maximise that chance. They have two solid candidates before them, both good people who have contributed much in different roles. Both can help the Nationalist Party rebuild.
But the councillors need to think coldly and clinically about one thing only – who offers the best chance of electoral victory?
Tonio Fenech deserves much credit for his work as finance minister. But he is already a member of the cabinet – indeed he is the choice of almost the entire cabinet. To that key constituency that must be re-won he would not represent a new element in the leadership of the party, but more of the same that the polls tell us they are currently rejecting.
Simon Busuttil, on the other hand, looks fresher, does not have a power base in the party, and, while always loyal, has been ready to say uncomfortable things to government. This is probably one of the reasons that ministers are supporting one of their own instead.
The all-important constituency that the Nationalists need to win back listened to Simon Busuttil and trusted him when he explained EU membership to them. They proved it by voting for him in previously unimaginable numbers in successive European Parliament elections, and he has repaid them by becoming one of the most highly respected MEPs.
If Tonio Fenech is chosen as deputy leader then nothing much changes – the PN is already in a losing position and it will lose, good guy though Fenech is. The consequence of this is that the country gets to be governed during a world crisis by a former Maltastar hack and his menagerie of dinosaurs, all of whom have been tried, tested and found to be very much wanting, some of them as far back as the days of Dom Mintoff and Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici, and others from the Sant years.
If Simon Busuttil is chosen, the PN councillors maximise the chances of a PN electoral victory.
Do they want it enough?