This article is three times the standard length, but you have all weekend to read it

Published: June 30, 2017 at 1:25pm

Now that all is done and dusted, I can say that the single factor that most contributed to Simon Busuttil’s electoral undoing is that he does not have that essential fighting spirit, the sort that says inside you: “Come and get me, you f**king bastards, and watch me flatten you into the pavement”.

I got the impression that he would never even think words like “f**king” and “bastards”, or their equivalent in Maltese, and that he would bridle and be genuinely upset if anybody so much as used them in his presence.

In ordinary life, this is a huge advantage, because the way we get along in ordinary life is by cooperating with others and not fighting them, not thinking of them as bastards and not being aggressive towards them. But politics is not ordinary life. It is as far from ordinary as it is possible to get without actually living with the Kardashians.

Dr Busuttil wasn’t helped, either, by the fact that nobody on his back or front bench showed any fighting spirit either, other than Jason Azzopardi and Beppe Fenech Adami. The rest were either too polite, heavily compromised like the other deputy leader, Mario Demarco, or quite simply dead in the water. I have no doubt Dr Busuttil had issues with the fact that he was left largely to fight the Opposition’s battles alone, as well he could.

When the Nationalist Party’s television station broadcast footage of Joseph Muscat emerging from a television debate and saying about Dr Busuttil, “Imur jieħdu f’sormu” (which means literally “he can take it up the arse”, the technical way of saying ‘he can bugger off’), it did so thinking people would be scandalised.

I thought that was a mistake. Nationalist supporters of the sort who don’t like that kind of language and attitude would have been upset, but they would have been voting Nationalist anyway. Labour supporters wouldn’t be changing their vote on that basis alone, but a whole bunch of people would have thought, “That’s the right attitude” and many of them would have been Nationalist supporters.

There are crossed wires in communication if the Nationalist Party does not know that you’re more likely to hear a man (and plenty of women) say “Imur jieħdu f’sormu” in Sliema or St Julian’s (or the equivalent living elsewhere) than you are anywhere else. It is, in fact, your typical Sliema expression. To alienate those people, the Prime Minister would have had to say: “Għax ma jmurx jieħdu f’għ*** ommu”. That is considered unacceptable, but the other one is not.

Face it: if it had been Simon Busuttil walking out of that television studio and saying to his aides on the subject of Joseph Muscat, “Jista jmur jieħdu f’sormu”, people would have been positively impressed at this show of spirit. A whole bunch of switcher types I know would have reacted with the words, “Fl-aħħar! Hekk sewwa – Muscat jista’ jmur jieħdu f’sormu.”

Dr Busuttil is determined, yes, hugely determined, and correct in everything he does (including not using bad language about his opponents). But that is not enough to conquer and to inspire confidence. Because confidence in a leader’s abilities is not enough. On the contrary, it comes second – and often not even a close second – to confidence in a leader’s personality.

I am left in no doubt that those pesky trust ratings in every survey over the last four years had nothing whatsoever to do with matters of trustworthiness as in “Would you trust this man to hand in a wallet of cash if he found it in the street? If we were to reply to that honestly, then whoever we vote for, most of us would say ‘no’ for Dr Muscat and ‘yes’ for Dr Busuttil. But I suspect that what people meant by trust was actually ‘confidence in his abilities/personality’.

The very personality traits that make Dr Busuttil so trustworthy at a personal level, and so decent in every way are also the reasons he could not withstand the constant Labour onslaughts without flinching. He flinched a great deal. At times I worried that he might even be afraid of Dr Muscat, and that this informed the way he came across.

I know more than anybody alive in Malta today what it is like to have to contend with a constant onslaught from the Labour Party’s immense and truly evil propaganda-and-attack machine, because I have been the target of its relentless assaults for almost three decades, certainly much longer than any politician or party leader, let alone journalist.

It’s an extremely difficult situation, but 30 years of trying to bulldoze me into the tarmac haven’t worked for no reason other than my character traits. It is the nature of my personality to think in terms of “Do your worst, you bastards, until the only option left to you is to take out a contract on my life. Let’s see where your obsession takes you.” But this is not learned. You are either that way, or you are not. And living like that shapes your life in a way that few people can handle, which I understand completely.

Without a fighter’s personality, I would have stopped writing for the newspapers in 1991 already, or switched to writing the sort of tame pieces that have seen one columnist after another fall by the wayside to be forgotten, even if they were read in the first place.

But as the Maltese saying goes, la krejtha, trid toqgħod għaliha. If a leader flinches, hesitates or shows fear or uncertainty for even a blank second, he is undone – especially on television, which magnifies these situations. The ability to snap back instantly with pointed remarks in debates is therefore crucial, but this too comes from a fighting spirit and a healthy contempt – rather than respect – for your opponent.

A quick mind is not enough. A quick mind will process information on the hoof, but it will not give you the desire to snap, so to speak, your opponent’s neck.

There was a point in the face-off between the two party leaders on TVM’s Xarabank, that final Friday before polling-day, which illustrated this perfectly. Oh God, I said, as I sat and watched. Muscat, with his trademark aggression, asked Dr Busuttil whether he will resign if the inquiring magistrate finds that he does not own Egrant Inc in Panama. It was a hackneyed question, and one which the Labour Party had been pushing for weeks already.

Dr Busuttil should have responded instantly: “That is a false challenge. I have no basis for resignation because I’m not the one who set up a company in Panama days after coming to power, still less lied about it. I should more properly ask why you and your henchmen Mizzi and Schembri haven’t resigned, and why you continue to insult the electorate by staying in office.”

Instead he paused, fatally, for a couple of seconds that look like an eternity on television, and then said that he is not the one who broke the story. “It wasn’t me, Miss.” It was the worst sort of answer because it failed to own an important story, showed doubt, passed the buck and, worst of all, allowed his opponent to come back at him still demanding to know whether he will resign or not, to which Dr Busuttil had no answer.

It is my view that many votes were lost in that instant. I tend to understand these things instinctively, though perhaps what I think is instinct is actually years of experience and close observation. I said nothing about it at the time because things were too fraught and it would have been highly contentious. It has to be said now, though.

And this brings me to what I commented in response to a reader earlier this morning: that we should have noticed already that Adrian Delia, who is being promoted hard and fast as the Nationalist Party’s Moses (except that he has no intention of spending 40 years in the desert and has only popped in now because he is prepared to give it five years in Opposition max) has no fighting spirit to speak of. Anybody with any kind of fighting spirit would have been out there fighting the Labour Party long ago, but Dr Delia hasn’t so much as written a Facebook comment or newspaper article.

Even in the two interviews he gave – to TVM and The Malta Independent’s In Depth – he had absolutely nothing to say about the government or the Labour Party, totally oblivious to the fact that he is going to be elected for no purpose other than to fight them. The organisation of the party itself, which he focussed on, is not for him but for the party CEO, the secretary-general and the executive.

When people are not informed, they reach false conclusions. I can tell that people are looking at Adrian Delia and saying “Ah, the new Joseph Muscat” (as though that is somehow a good thing). But Joseph Muscat began fighting the Nationalist Party at the age of 18 in 1992. He fought the Nationalist Party – openly, on all the Labour media and within the Labour Party structures – for a full 16 years before he became leader of the Opposition. He doesn’t just fight the Nationalist Party, but he has a deeply embedded desire to kill it off and to destroy anybody associated with it if he can’t achieve the same aim by co-opting them to his cause instead.

Does Dr Delia have the equal and opposite desire to kill off the Labour Party and anybody and anything associated with it? Obviously not. He has the desire to cooperate with it instead, which is a recipe for death. He also thinks that he can co-opt Laburisti to the Nationalist Party’s cause, because they are egging him on with Facebook comments and Likes.

But that is impossible, and it shows how poor he is at assessing people and situations if he thinks it is possible. For Laburisti, the Labour Party is not an ideology or a set of political beliefs. It is a religion. If it were not a religion, the Labour Party would not have held on to and even grown its core voter base during a soul-destroying 26 years (minus Dr Sant’s 22 months) in Opposition, with the Nationalist government doing so well and changing Malta so very much more for the better, leading it into the European Union and then the Eurozone.

If Laburisti were like the kind of people who vote Nationalist, they would have deserted the Labour Party in droves during those almost three decades in the desert of Opposition, with the Labour Party screwing up constantly, in a right old mess, with two completely hopeless leaders and with the Nationalists performing brilliantly in government.

But they didn’t. Unlike the supposedly Nationalist supporters who have deserted the PN in their thousands at the promise of more milk and honey from Labour, the Laburisti sat tight, hating the Nationalists for 30 years even as the Nationalists changed the country and improved the lives of Laburisti a hundredfold. Even Laburisti in key posts under the Nationalist government, like the chairman of Air Malta (Louis Grech) and the chairman of Sea Malta (Marlene Mizzi) continued to hate the Nationalists all the way through while holding their posts with the Nationalist government, and then formally joined the Labour Party and stood for election to help decimate their ‘enemy’.

Joseph Muscat himself is a case in point. When he began working for the Labour Party aged 18 in 1992, it would be TWENTY-ONE YEARS before the Labour Party was back in government for anything other than the brief 22 months of his boss Alfred Sant. But he stuck it out. It would have been much easier for him to leap on board the Nationalist government bandwagon and build a career there, but he was raised to think of the Labour Party as his religion and not his politics.

There isn’t a journalist or politician aged 40+ who doesn’t remember Joseph Muscat bitching and kvetching with tu quoque retorts at Eddie Fenech Adami’s press conferences, on Super One TV, on Super One radio, in the Labour-leaning newspapers, campaigning against EU membership and writing books about ‘Nationalist government scandals’ for Sensiela Kotba Socjalisti. Compare that to Adrian Delia, and mark him accordingly.

This is the important point, the bottom line, and you really have got to register it: Joseph Muscat thinks Labour is a religion and has been fighting the Nationalists, with a view to destroying them, for 25 years. Meanwhile, Adrian Delia came out of nowhere and just wants to have lunch and be nice for five years until the position of Prime Minister falls into his lap. Or so he thinks.

This is the only attitude which is going to win an election. It is the very same attitude which won the Labour Party the elections of 2013 and 2017: sustained missile attack and the determination to destroy its enemies, while the party leader falsely preached peace, love and unity and distributed the toxic Kool-Aid.




45 Comments Comment

  1. Galeforce says:

    For the Laburisti, Labour is a religion, and more importantly, a way of life.

  2. Raised on fairy-tales about princes who fight dragons and rescue princesses.

    • Major Tom says:

      Exactly. That could be an explanation. It is like smooth perfect roads and no traffic within 7 years minus 1 month.

    • silvio loporto says:

      I really liked what you wrote today. The message, as I see it, is “fight fire with fire”. If you want to be a goody goody, offer your services to some mission work in Africa.

      As HE used to say: “Meglio vivere u giorno da leone che ceto ani da pecora”.

  3. Danika Vella says:

    I think, in my humble opinion, that you are mistaken in thinking that the Sliema population has any power in changing the result, and your high esteem of that overpopulated piece of land full of mostly old wanna-be’s with a double barreled surname is highly misplaced.

    • Actually, it’s the corner of Malta that helps win or lose elections for the Nationalist Party.

      P. S. You don’t need to preface what you say with “in my humble opinion”. You either think it or you don’t, so just say it.

  4. J Mizzi says:

    That’s why Dr. Said is the only man fit for the job. His fighting spirit is unparalleled, and it’s not something that he learnt, it’s the way he is, the way he was brought up, his family environment.

  5. One lone journalist against an entire, seriously vindictive government and party machine? Hmmm.

  6. Joe Bloggs says:

    I have a big question mark over those trust ratings and their purpose. As for spunk or at least the ability to think on the spot, I have to agree.

    Muscat has a team of spin doctors feeding him, but some basic ability to spot and call out someone using a false argument (the Xarabank/Egrant issue springs to mind) there and then is essential.

    Oh, and maybe being prepared would help too.

  7. Macduff says:

    I think there were other similar instances in that debate: when Muscat screamed for proof, and Busuttil stood there showing some papers, and when Muscat blurted out “Demarco has a secret company in Cyprus” and at that point, for an almost imperceptible second, Busuttil looked completely lost.

    I have this nagging feeling Adrian Delia is only part of the Schembri/Muscat/Hillman/Demarco plan. They’ve been too thorough so far to rely only on a lamentable lawyer outside the party and parliament.

    He seems (to me at least) he is only a dark horse who is being paraded to test the mood, and split the General Council vote. Their true man must still be waiting in the wings who, they plan, will be elected with his own votes and Delia’s.

    But Busuttil may have torpedoed the scheme when he announced the final choice will be the party members’, before this was formally approved.

  8. Yes, I know. I see a lot of that, and I don’t think it’s linked to reluctance to influence their children. It’s a hangover from the Golden Years of Labour when, if you didn’t support the Labour Party, you didn’t speak about politics at home in case the children went off and repeated something that would get you into trouble (like with the Stasi).

    Bear in mind that the Nationalist parents of today were the Nationalist children of yesterday: they grew up without politics being discussed at home and never heard their own parents talk about politics, so they did the same with their children because it is what they know.

    The reality is that if children grow up in homes where current affairs and politics are not discussed, it not only makes them naïve, but it affects the development of their brain negatively, too: without debate and training in analysis, the brain does not develop properly, leading to a permanent inability to assess information and situations.

    In countries where the education system is more sophisticated than Malta’s, children get this kind of ‘brain training’ in schools. But in Malta, it doesn’t happen, because debate is considered dangerous.

  9. It really isn’t necessary to be obnoxious to handle somebody like Muscat. All you have to be is more quick-witted and sharper. The beautiful riposte is rarely an obnoxious one. And while I know that Dr Busuttil’s manner is what appealed to many, it is actually what appealed to me least. You don’t fight dangerous people with feathers.

  10. Hux charisma, charisma. Every prime minister and Opposition leader of my lifetime, from George Borg Olivier and Dom Mintoff onwards, bar three of them, has been phenomenally short. The other three were/are just short. And all of them were remarkably ugly (I’m sure nobody is going to get offended here, because they are all men of a certain age by now, or dead), except for the current ones who have faces – but only faces – which photograph well.

    That is no reflection on anybody’s abilities, but to talk about charisma is really pushing things. Allura x’se tghid jekk jigri miraklu u jitfacca xi wiehed ta’ sitt piedi, b’xi wicc ta’ Daniel Craig fl-aqwa tieghu u l-vuci u manjieri ta’ xi George Clooney ta’ 15-il sena ilu, jekk jidhirlek li trolls koroh pesti ta’ hames piedi bhal Mintoff u Borg Olivier kellhom il-charisma? Almenu Borg Olivier kellu manjieri sbieh, imma l-iehor kien kompletament charmless u bla grazzja.

    X’pajjiz tal-imsieken. What low standards.

  11. Malteser says:

    To lead one has to be democratic but aggressive. The leader must be strong. He does not need to be and look nice. Impartiality is also a very important asset. The leader cannot have friends within the party but has to respect one and all the same. Il-klikek jahdmu kontra xulxin.

  12. Young Maltese couples, in Sliema? At 300,000 euros for a tiny flat?

  13. I don’t need to live there. My parents still live in the very same house where I grew up. They’re in their 70s, not their 90s.

  14. I get along very well with Simon Busuttil and he doesn’t expect people not to criticise him. You have the mentality and the chips of a Laburist. It’s embarrassing. People like you drive people like me (on whose votes you depend) away from the Nationalist Party: flag-waving hysterics compounded by chips about people ‘from Sliema’ and anyone who speaks anything other than stuffy tar-rahal Maltese.

    You should have noted the warning signs when the island’s most horrid snobs like Martin Scicluna, and others I shan’t mention (I mention him because he goes public) ended up identifying more comfortably with the Partit Laburista of hamalli in suits than they could with the Nationalist Party of St Aloysius boys who turned the party into an extended picnic with Father Godwin Preca, a few guitars, fleeces and kumbaya my Lord.

  15. L.Gatt says:

    Busuttil was just beginning to really despise Muscat, it was beginning to show and to irk Muscat. There were instances in the debates you mention when even Muscat was obviously in a tight corner.

    There is no need to use Muscat’s tactics or language to beat him. Fenech Adami never stooped to Mintoff’s level and yet – yes, his body language and coldness towards Mintoff inspired contempt.

    Busuttil was getting there – or rather Muscat was leading him there. You are right, it does not come naturally to him but remember that he too was relatively an outsider to Maltese politics.

    To nurture strong emotions against someone you need to “suffer” their deeds and/or presence. Fenech Adami spent years with Mintoff under his skin. Busuttil had only just started to truly understand his opponent and Muscat knew it.

    Pity how it turned out. Adrian Delia does not even seem inclined to dislike Muscat. He actually quite likes him, I think. If Delia becomes leader of the Opposition, he will become PM when and if Muscat decides.

  16. Sowxal says:

    Oh God almighty, no.

  17. Sowxal says:

    Labour is a sect. If the leadership of the day tells the followers to jump, they jump, to clap, they clap, to boo, they boo. Partit tal-Lemmings.

  18. No, of course I didn’t miss it. But I know that Mr Loporto is a big Mussolini fan and I have patience with it because it’s not worth fighting about at this stage in his life.

  19. Thank you. It’s sometimes difficult for me to see the sequence of comments at the moderation end.

  20. Gosh, how chippy you sound.

  21. Unfortunately, to govern you first need to win a general election.

  22. What an attitude: the electoral cycle. As if there is such a thing. So why bother having elections and political parties at all.

  23. Not so. Trust is one of the fundamentals of political polling. The leader who wins on trust wins the election – always.

  24. I can’t believe you called Adolf Hitler a great leader. The greatness of a leader is in the cause and the motivation and not the method.

    • PETER MALLIA says:

      Daphne, my use of the word “great” (definitely not the best word) was not as a measure of value but I wanted to underline the fact how these leaders manage to attract a following which is beyond the rational.

      It is not a method, but a way of being and conveying their beliefs with emotional energy.

      As often is the case, the same energy/medium is used by different messengers, some have a righteous cause and motivation, others clearly less so, but the way of attracting a larger than normal following is basically always the same.

  25. McD says:

    Daphne, what are your thoughts about Chris Said? Some are saying that you haven’t put forth any comments simply because he is Gozitan and you had made your distaste for Gozitans clear in the past, but I don’t think that geography would keep you from expressing your opinion.

    • I have made it clear several times already that I don’t comment on leadership contenders. I make an exception only for Adrian Delia because for the first time in three leadership elections in my working life, there is a really bad candidate with a very realistic chance of winning.

      • Stefan says:

        You gave us your opinion on Chris Said days ago if you remember, and you told us why he would never be a hit. Delia is the way forward for the PN. Maybe its not the way you like it, but then your way resulted in one thrashing after the other. Adrian Delia will bring glory days back to the PN weather with Daphne on his side or not. He already made it clear that you can influence, you can criticize but you will not dictate the agenda anymore. You have been a very valid journalist…blogger whatever you wish to be called, I did not always agree with your agressive ways, but your tactics are outdated.

      • I have already replied to your email, Stefan, and suggested that you grow up. You do not need to post the same comment here.

        Adrian Delia’s greatest indictment are his supporters. They sound, to a man (and woman), like a bunch of Laburisti.

  26. Well, for God’s sake have the insight to understand that if this is how you feel in Sliema, then people from Sliema probably feel exactly that way when they work in the place where you live. It works both ways, you know, and not just one way.

  27. Please don’t go out of your way to prove the point that Adrian Delia’s support base is made up of people who worked for Simon Busuttil’s defeat – precisely so that their ‘ziemel’ could become leader instead.

  28. I’m anything but a fascist, though, Mr Loporto.

  29. No, thank you. Besides, right now I’m too busy knocking the shit out of the Labour stooges who are trying to take over the Nationalist Party – the reason being that we need to have a party to vote for in 2022.

  30. It is, in fact, an intelligent reply. Intelligent people never use more words than they have to.

  31. Yes – aren’t people naïve. I never fail to be astonished. They think that just because they never noticed somebody, then he is ‘new’.

    Muscat was new to them even though he had been tacked to Sant’s coat-tails since 1992.

  32. When I speak about Sliema, I speak about Sliema. I do not extrapolate from Sliema to the rest of the island, precisely because it is a special case. And those who deny it is a special case are living on another planet. Sliema has had a different and very particular social history to the rest of the island. Its very particular evolution since the late 19th century cannot be denied or overlooked.

  33. “Negative”

    Jesus wept.

  34. Exactly what has he been fighting these last 30 years? No, really.

    Because the last time I looked, he was fighting for contracts and fighting to get his overlarge bills paid by his annoyed clients.

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