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.