These last five years have been very painful for the Nationalist Party. It has also been very painful for the good citizens of Malta and Gozo, who have been methodically denied of a coherent and rejuvenated opposition. In fact, one can say that the Maltese electorate have been orphaned by a spectral opposition which has done nothing rational or comprehensible to earn back the trust it so devastatingly lost in the 2013 general elections.
Normally, political strategy is based on sound, well thought out theories and concepts which have withstood the sands of time. It is true that modern techniques and tools are always brought to the fore in today’s political operations. It is also true that IT and its innovative appendices make life much easier for today’s political players. But age-old, tried and tested techniques, concepts and philosophies of persuasion and conquest have not really changed through time.
Modern universities today, when teaching strategy to their pupils, still use an ancient Chinese military treatise dating from the Late Spring and Autumn Period (roughly 5th century BC). The work, which is attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, is composed of 13 chapters. Each one is devoted to a different set of skills (or “art”) related to warfare and how it applies to military strategy and tactics. For almost 1,500 years it was the lead text in an anthology that was formalised as the Seven Military Classics by Emperor Shenzong of Song in 1080. The Art of War remains the most influential strategy text in East Asian warfare and has influenced both Eastern and Western military thinking, business tactics, legal and political strategy, lifestyles and beyond.
Before anyone criticizes me for implying that politics should be an armed conflict, this Chinese treatise is all about tactics and strategy. That is why it is still so revered, two thousand five hundred years after it was written. Unfortunately no bright bulb from the Nationalist Party had the sense to photocopy this text and give it as obligatory reading to all party bigwigs and activists. They would have learned something by now.
The good citizens of Malta and Gozo have been methodically denied of a coherent and rejuvenated opposition.
But then, they neatly thanked the authors of their own appointed internal auditors who were commissioned to analyse the 2013 and 2017 defeats and quietly threw these two audits down a bottomless pit, never to see the light of day. And, to add insult to injury, they proceeded to do the exact opposite of what these electoral defeat analysis proposed as remedial action to rejuvenate and recharge an opposition party stuck in a quagmire of distrust by the same electorate who loved it to bits a mere decade before.
The Battle of the Little Bighorn at tal-Pietà
If I had to take a bet on what historical treatise is regarded as a staple reading diet within the corridors of Tal-Pietà, I would venture to say that it would be the chronicle of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
Under skies darkened by smoke, gunfire and flying arrows, 210 men of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Unit led by Lt. Colonel George Custer confronted thousands of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors on June 25, 1876, near the Little Big Horn River in present-day Montana. The engagement was one in a series of battles and negotiations between Plains Indians and U.S. forces over control of Western territory, collectively known as the Sioux Wars.
In less than an hour, the Sioux and Cheyenne had won the Battle of the Little Bighorn, killing Custer and every one of his men. The battle has been ennobled as “Custer’s Last Stand”—but in truth, Custer and his men never stood a fighting chance.
Forever referred to as ‘Custer’s Last Stand’, this battle has become the epitome of an arrogant leader who basks on his superiority and takes needless risk due to his underestimating the enemy which leads to his destruction. He does not take heed of the terrain of the engagement. He does not calculate and work on the morale of his men. He foolhardily divides his men into smaller, weaker groups. He does not wait for reinforcements. He attacks with only one of his divided four groups. He does not heed his own reconnaissance. He sincerely believes that his opposing party is no match for his intellect and expertise. He is always right and his decisions would have to be heeded by his soldiers even though it meant their certain death and scalping.
The ‘he’ in this vignette is none other than George Armstrong Custer, (December 5, 1839 – June 25, 1876) who was a United States Army officer and cavalry commander in the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars. That is why this battle is still referred to as Custer’s Last Stand.
Now take out all the military connotations of the above paragraph. Substitute the ‘he’ in the preceding paragraph with the phrase ‘the Nationalist Party Leadership’. You will easily end up with an honest appraisal of how the opposition party conducted itself in these last five years of opposition.
With three different party leaders.
The first of them, hailing from that grouping within the PN that sincerely believe that they are God’s gift to mother Malta, totally misreading the political terrain and foolishly underestimating the opposing party. The second leader, totally oblivious of the morale of his own men and the Machiavellian machinations within, amateurishly divided his men into weaker groupings and wrongfully mistook his internal opponents as reinforcements. All this resulted in his removal.
Bernard Grech’s leadership
Which brings us to the third leader of the opposition of these last five years. He also believes in his own rhetoric and the sanctimonious right of governing Malta, irrespective of political terrain and the country’s mood and perception. He also does not heed his own reconnaissance and weekly disagrees with all the surveys and their inevitable results. Whilst he attacks with his own group within the party, the other fragmented groups within the same party attack on other, unrelated fronts, mostly with their own agenda and no coordination at all. Let alone the pitiful auto goals witnessed on a quasi-fortnightly basis by a gobsmacked Maltese electorate. Crowned by a coterie of party fanatics and the old guard establishment who were themselves to blame for all of the above, he is now faced with the irreversible fact that too little, too late, has been done by his party for it to avoid another humiliating defeat in the general elections.
Which is indeed a pity, because I honestly like the man on a personal basis. I have always been sceptical and incredulous at how this know-all PN establishment, for their own self-preservation and egoistic reasons, would sacrifice Bernard Grech on the altar of political expediency (and with him the whole concept of a rejuvenated and revived opposition) when he could have done so much more at the right place at the right time and with the right people around him.
But mostly, I pity the Maltese electorate. They have a right to find a trustworthy, sane opposition on the ballot sheets in the coming election. Instead there is nothing. Too little, too late.