Soul-searching often arises from an inquiry, whether it is a broad question around your overall purpose or something more focused, such as a difficult situation you find yourself in. Feeling lost, stuck, or simply uninspired, it can be hard for the Nationalist Party to ignore when soul searching needs to take place. The election revealed the PN’s declining support and its failure to recognise the needs of the electorate.
The PN currently finds itself at a crossroads. Whereas prior to the last general elections it was expected to be in the process of rebuilding itself and playing a major role in this effort by training and electing the next generation of PN leaders, it miserably failed to understand that the Party needed a bold new banner and a bold new agenda to carry by turning to the loyal and dedicated grassroots supporters. Instead, it chose to lick its wounds after the 2017 election when it should have embraced a renewal process.
It simply did not want to know which issues were most important to me and my family, what do I think about the challenges we face as a nation and what direction on the issues would I like to see its Party’s candidates take. The PN hardly raised any questions that could have been grounds for legitimate ideological debate, and instead got lost in a number of red-meat no-brainers like the trackless tram or the traffic contraventions conundrum. Was this really the best the party could come up with? Did anyone expect it to learn much from the number of surveys that were continually being churned out prior to the last general elections and much before? By and large, for it, it was apparently an uninformative waste of time.
Everyone in the Nationalist Party except, perhaps, for some individual candidates like Adrian Delia and Joe Giglio, seemed to be stuck in a 2008 frame of mind. I can only conclude that a lot of budding Nationalist politicians are not seriously interested in the kind of critical introspection required to rebuild a struggling political party.
A lot of budding Nationalist politicians are not seriously interested in the kind of critical introspection required to rebuild a struggling political party.
Over the next few months, as election results are finalised, exit polling massaged, and post-election polling conducted and examined, the PN should be spending a lot of time slicing and dicing the data. But in the meantime, nationalists need to be doing some soul-searching about their party and its future. Of all its qualities, or what is left of them, long-term planning, discipline, and seeing things through the eyes of others are not among its strongest.
The party should view the election results as a wake-up call from voters who punished it for refusing to renew itself in changing times. It also must do better when it comes to reflecting and supporting diversity and the rights of LGBTQ+ people and others. It must find ways to keep its supporters together to maintain a united front to counter the PL. Those who have the long-term interests of the PN at heart should be thinking about where their party and country are today and where they are headed. The two are not moving in the same direction. Those nationalists who are around after that should be thinking about what will be left of their party and what they can do to alter what certainly appears to be an existential threat. Not that Labourites are above screwing up a favourable situation, but counting on the other party to blow it is usually not a wise strategy.
Obviously anytime you have a loss like the one in the last election, I expect that within the PN there is going to be a lot of teeth-gnashing and soul searching and that there will be a debate at the central party administration level as to whether or not to move to a more progressive agenda, with people like the younger generation and new faces militating within the party or else stick to outdated and withered policies. The party needs to find an effective way how to deliver a message that resonates with everybody.
Conservatism has always been the PN’s unusual political force in Malta, even more so than it was elsewhere. A disparate movement to begin with, what had typically united nationalist conservatives across their other divides has been their common opponent: the Labour Party that eventually transformed itself into a very effective Movement that reaped and continues to reap dividends.
Not so surprisingly, in such a scenario genuine dialogue across the party divide has become enormously difficult, the possibility for bipartisan cooperation has faded nearly away, and non-governance is threatening to become the new normal. This is bad for Malta. For the sake of the country, and for the sake of their Party, the nationalists need to enter a new round of ideological soul-searching. The challenge they face is unique: how to put forward a coherent platform for a revolutionary and inviting vision for the future of our country while remaining generally committed to its fundamental Christian democratic principles. Without such a forward-looking agenda, nationalists cannot avoid appearing shrill and reactionary.
Criticism and reform of specific government programs and proposals will become much more successful if nationalists can demonstrate how their positions are not based on a reflexive anti-government stance, but rather upon a well-thought-out and comprehensive political vision. Clearly, the mainstream of the Maltese public has not been impressed with their performance over the last few years. All this suggests that the PN has some theoretical work to do. Fortunately, while there is a lot of work, it is good work.
The nationalists would do well to make the most of this time: to dig deep, think hard, and re-examine and renew their basic commitments. They should consider the next five years as an opportunity to get things right. It will be a tough, hard slog but they have got five years and that is a long enough period to rebuild the party.