Eddie Fenech Adami used to say that the Nationalist Party is composed of individuals with a mosaic of ideas and ideologies but who strive and work together for a common goal – that of having a Nationalist Party in Government.
This idea remained relatively unchanged during Lawrence Gonzi’s leadership and became a maxim in Maltese politics. Every political party aspired towards this goal and nobody ever challenged it. This changed rapidly following Joseph Muscat’s election as Labour leader in 2008. Many people felt that traditional political parties were too dogmatic and based on notions that were antiquated at the time. Hence the idea of a movement was born – where the political party was the beating heart of a much larger political body where people, even non-traditional Labour voters, could feel that they belong.
This movement grouped together progressives and liberals who aspired for something new – a new direction for Malta. Following the 2013 election, the Nationalist party was cast back into the political wilderness and had to reimagine and reinvent itself to become relevant again in the Maltese political scenario.
During the past five years, the Nationalist Party had two different leaders at the helm, Adrian Delia and Bernard Grech. Both men have very different characters and leadership styles, and yet have a common streak that connects them: both men have shown a proclivity for flirting with far-right principles.
Both Adrian Delia and Bernard Grech have shown a proclivity for flirting with far-right principles.
During the 2003 EU referendum, the Nationalist party campaigned on the notion that EU accession would bring about a deluge of new opportunities, especially to Maltese youths who could travel and work in other EU countries. The free movement of people – along with the free movement of goods, services, and capital – brought about many new opportunities to Malta. Yet this freedom is not, and was never intended to be, one-directional. Maltese people were as free to work abroad as much as other Europeans were free to work in Malta.
Something along the years changed within the Nationalist Party. The party which had once campaigned to open Malta up to a ‘foreign influx’, now complaining about all the foreigners who flocked here precisely because of the success of its own campaign. One cannot deny that such an influx brought with it some challenges – like ever-increasing rent prices – but such rhetoric barely resonated with the Maltese electorate… except with the far-right.
Other fringe parties like Imperium Europa and other groups were practically echoing what Delia said as validation. The former Nationalist leader practically managed to legitimise a minuscule minority in society and nonchalantly convey their message through a predominantly centre-right party. Such rhetoric did not resonate with the Maltese electorate and resulted in one of the greatest electoral defeats for the PN.
Bernard Grech was also recently involved in a similar scenario. After initially endorsing rules to limit entry to restaurants, bars, gyms, sports events, and other venues to adequately vaccinated people, where he said that “We’re making it clear that we follow the health authorities’ official instructions as they have all the details in hand, and we will keep endorsing official decisions,” — he was now contradicting himself and called for a repeal of mandatory vaccination for hospitality industry patrons. Again, in this case, fringe political parties like ABBA and Freedom Malta echoed what Grech said as a sign of support.
Both cases have shown that the Nationalist party has lost its ability to set its own political agenda, renew itself and create a cohesive vision for the future of Malta. Instead of striving to make inroads with a moderate message and try to chisel away Labour’s lead, it chose to embrace political ideologies which are at extreme (and questionable) fringes of the political spectrum.