Something’s going all Pete Tong in the Nationalist party pre-electoral strategy. Either that or the powers of self-persuasion among some people must be unnaturally high. If a week is a long time in politics then surviving the minefield of a combined JPO & Franco Debono assault on the stability of a slender parliamentary majority for almost a year is quite a feat. For a long time we had to make do with the histrionics of a party in government attempting to horse-trade its way to the end of the last parliamentary session. The nationalist government alternated from a policy of accommodation to hard-bargaining with the volatile requests of the rebel MPs.
By the time Parliament went into recess we had an obvious situation of Cohabitation Government with Pullicino Orlando and an undefinable shape-shifting relationship with Franco. So long as parliament had been in session Franco Debono’s clout with the PN was simply stated as that extra vote needed to guarantee a governing stability. With the recess came the PN’s definite confirmation that Franco Debono would not be standing for another election in its name (and that instead the electorate would be regaled with the unenviable choice of such party stalwarts as Emmanuel Arriva Delia).
Parliament is still in recess. Franco Debono is not. One of his latest posts is dedicated to pointing out that while school is starting parliament is still “on a break”. A laborious read through Franco’s blog will also lead anyone with a brain between his ears to one conclusion: this man has undoubtedly chosen to break ranks from the party (or rather realised that there is no place for him therein). Bridges are being burnt with every misspelt word that appears on his blog. There will be no more horse-trading. No more appeasement. No more winning of valuable time. The time for Franco to be consigned to the footnotes of history is fast approaching (see the J’accuse “When Franco is history“).
Which brings me to the questionable strategy mentioned at the start. For a long time it seemed obvious that the only use that Gonzi’s PN had left for Franco was as the final trigger before the election. It was evident that the PN government’s last move would be to force Franco to be the catalyst for the end of this legislature and the beginning of the next. So far so good and Machiavellian. The rebel MP seemed to be slow on the uptake at first but has now sussed up to this plan and seems determined not to fall into the trap of becoming the ultimate scapegoat.
Which makes all the songs and dances emanating from Pietà rather incongruous. On the one hand there is the general theme of “all is fine and dandy and it would be even better had we not had the minor inconvenience of Franco Debono” and on the other there is the “we will remain in government so long as we enjoy the confidence of parliament”. Now it was one thing before summer to allow public opinion to dither as to whether or not the latest confidence vote would be clinched by “convincing” unsettled backbenchers. We could dismiss the horse-trading to nervous shifts within the power structures of an ageing government. It is another thing though for Lawrence Gonzi to speak to the assembled faithful in Floriana and act as though Franco Debono’s blog is just a bad dream.
What do you mean so long as we enjoy the confidence of parliament Lawrence? Surely it is also clear to you, following this summer’s shifts in the rules of the game, that any kind of confidence you might believe you enjoy is entirely superficial? As David Guetta’s music played and the new breed of nationalist (what nationalist exactly) candidates marched onto the stage (Without You!) sans Franco we were entitled to ask: for how long more this charade of denial?
Yes denial. Because no matter what the PN strategists might try to sell you now, the setting of an election is a decision that is fast slipping from their hands. We were prepared to tip our hat to a strategic victory that meant winning valuable time over the summer months for a regathering of the forces and (re)drafting of a final electoral strategy. The delay strategy might backfire though if extended to an illogical period beyond the convincingly realistic. For Lawrence Gonzi to resume the “government as usual” spiel in September while the evidence all around him points to anything but that might be a hard act to convince even the most blinkered of nationalist flag-wavers.
Financial estimates, votes of confidence… Gonzi’s PN is lucky if it gets to the finish line and the cutting of the ribbon at the new parliament complex. There’s that and the amount of time being wasted focusing on the almost has-been rebels when much could be done at the moment exposing the faux politics upon which Labour and its Potyemkin Congress has embarked.
The botched strategy at the moment points to a possibly bigger fault line within the party itself that goes farther than Franco Debono and the tantrums of the discontent. One could hypothesise that various strands within the Pieta party have already smelt the scent of an inevitable loss at the polls and most efforts are being channelled into the post-electoral battles that will define the new post-Gonzi PN. That would explain the new alliances and alignments when it comes to candidates and districts and it would explain why little or nothing seems to be done in terms of real election campaign tactics.
Above all – and now more than ever – it seems that together it is no longer possible.