MPs: crisis of leadership - Manuel Delia
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MPs: crisis of leadership - Manuel Delia

Who will now stand up to be counted? MPs at the opening of Parliament last year. “This too is how democracy dies: when in place of leaders giving direction, we have followers uncertain where to go.” Photo: DOI

Who will now stand up to be counted? MPs at the opening of Parliament last year. “This too is how democracy dies: when in place of leaders giving direction, we have followers uncertain where to go.” Photo: DOI

On one side there’s Joseph Muscat. Seemingly unassailable, he sits atop a regime that has more chinks in its armour than anyone is prepared to admit. Although it is near impossible to imagine him losing an election, he is powerless to act to protect his repu­tation and the legacy of his administration.

He is forced into creative twists of sophistry to shelter Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Chris Cardona. Consequently he has erected a flimsy edifice built on the likes of Neville Gafà, Silvio Scerri and Joe Gerada, which makes it fragile and precarious, rather than merely rotten and corrupt.

On the other side there’s Adrian Delia. An Opposition leader who peaked in his role as the inevitable mainstay of Christmas panto humour. He is as likely to become prime minister as he is likely to grow wings. No one takes him seriously and, statistically at least, he’s a vote magnet only in so far as his poles are inverted.

His limbs are severed by scandals he has never managed to explain away. One leg removed by shady dealings in Soho. Another lost in a dragged-out dispute with the taxman. One arm torn off by inexplicable personal financial shortfalls. And his last limb severed clean by accusations of domestic violence. He may be alive but his ability to act is severely impaired.

These two share the entire space of a politi­cal duopoly. Our zero sum game of para-presidential power play is a tennis match between an Indian god with a hundred arms each barely covering yet another corruption scandal and a Pythonesque worm that hasn’t figured out how to handle a racket.

They are only the subject of admiration of people who would follow anyone in their position. They lead cults: irrational, undiscerning, indiscriminate and hysterical. Each is only theoretically legitimised by elections. In practice they are a product of divine providence, because their followers like to think they can make no mistake. What others see as mistakes, the cult followers see as tactical moves in a cunning plan.

To be fair, Muscat’s electoral successes feed into the cultists’ need for a return on their investment. Delia on the other hand only has abysmal failures to show for himself. When his trust rating improved by seven points, his supporters blamed the domestic abuse allegations on a conspiracy to send him spiralling back down to rock bottom. Every god has demons to contend with, they told themselves and anyone who would listen.

Whatever their qualities, both Muscat and Delia would have lost their jobs a long time ago, in any other parliamentary democracy.

Making the assumption that all Labour MPs are ambivalent, or supportive of corruption is tribal, brutish and wrong. Only a minority in the group faces and seeks to ignore evidence of corruption. Not all of them have set up offshore accounts and sealed deals with contractors for under-the-counter millions. Not all of them have cavorted with strippers shoulder to shoulder with assassins. Not all of them have forced themselves into private business as silent partners. Not all of them have gone into business with Libyan warlords and smugglers.

Yet none of them have lifted a finger to challenge any of this blatant wrongdoing. What is clearly wrong to us must be clearly wrong to them. And yet Edward Scicluna told CBS’s 60 Minutes a few days ago that though the matter was very serious and looked very bad, his ultimate choice was to defend it.

Chris Fearne ‘fired’ Neville Gafà from an organisation that reports to him but did not challenge the government for continuing to employ Gafà.

Evarist Bartolo did not hesitate to say that Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri had broken the laws of gods and men when setting up their offshore nests. But he sits alongside these outlaws every Tuesday morning as if they simply disagreed about the price of milk.

No one believes that all PN MPs are besotted by their leader. And yet not one of them has expressed the view that accusations of domestic violence are incompatible with the party leadership. They all supported the self-described journalism of the media owned by their party that secured the resignation of Mario Tonna from Assistant Police Commissioner on exactly the same basis: allegations filed by his estranged wife over the Christmas holidays.

MPs truly have the keys to keep their inadequate leaders in check and fire them when they are clearly beyond repair. And yet they seem to have lost them

And it’s really what you would expect. Even the White House, hardly a paragon of proper public administration these days, fired Rob Porter and David Sorensen over 10 days last February because their wives told journalists their political husbands had raised their hands in anger at them. Donald Trump’s initial bluster did not save their jobs.

It is unimaginable that all those PN MPs have forgotten the brief that there’s a difference between conviction in a court of law and the standards people in office ought to be held to. After all, this is why Scicluna’s defence of his colleagues (“these are just allegations”) was so solidly mocked on the PN’s TV station.

You’d expect all those self-appointed apotheoses of leadership – 65 MPs – to be doing something about the allegations. But they are not, because they turn out not to possess one leadership bone in all their bodies.

All these MPs, sitting across the House, are concerned with their own political survival above all else. And none see that survival compatible with taking a stand against corruption, whether bribery or the abuse of political office to fight personal battles.

For what is leadership if not the skill and the ability to persuade people to change their minds and act in a way contrary to their initial instincts?

What is leadership if not Labour MPs calling out Muscat for covering up corruption, and by extension being corrupt himself, to replace him with a cleaner leader for whom politics is but a force for good?

What is leadership if not Nationalist MPs calling out Delia for fighting his separation from his wife over their party’s media, using his influence and his authority to strong-arm his way out of bullying accusations?

What is leadership if not converting support away from uncompromising cultist loyalty, right or wrong, and towards a shared political vision that can tell right from wrong?

These basic and fundamental expectations from our parliamentary democracy have become so unlikely as to sound fantastical. And yet our Constitution is designed for just these situations. MPs truly have the keys to keep their inadequate leaders in check and fire them when they are clearly beyond repair. And yet they seem to have lost them.

This too is how democracy dies: when in place of leaders giving direction, we have followers uncertain where to go; when fear, conformity, unjustified loyalty and misplaced optimism drain the souls of politicians and make them wraiths in thrall to a power they dare not challenge; when the race to the bottom comes to pass and darker depths seem likely.

Our crisis of leadership is not in the persons of Muscat and Delia. Their longevity tells us they’re doing okay. The crisis is in those who are supposed to be their bosses and have now become their vassals.

And no one seems able or willing to do anything about it.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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