Every man and his dog and canary have said their piece about the PN. Labour stalwarts apart, most of us wish to see a revived and reinvigorated PN, not just to swipe the smile off Joseph Muscat’s face but also to offer a true and viable alternative to the Labour Party. To make the PN electable again.
There are, and will be, many mea culpas and many deep analyses of why the PN lost so heavily. But what does the PN stand for? What are its real attributes? Who votes for it and why should new voters—or old voters not entrenched in their ways—choose the PN?
Putting aside the issue of corruption and good governance, did the PN offer much, besides a whole array of tough-to-deliver promises?
What was the strategy behind the PN’s every move? Was there a central idea, a hub that coordinated the message being conveyed?
Ever since 1977—yes, 40 years ago, when Eddie Fenech Adami won the party leadership contest—the PN has proudly fought all elections on the basis of having superior brains, a superior love of liberty and superior means to keep the Maltese islands buoyant and Europe-friendly.
Maltese provides a grand word, il-babaw, the scary ghoul, the monster, the bugbear. And for a long time Labour and its leaders were the babaw and people firmly believed that the PN were the ones to keep the babaw at bay. This strategy worked brilliantly.
It obviously helped that the PN had proper goals, and proper foundations to propel it forward. Besides fighting and winning the battle to get us into the EU and to turn a third-world country into a modern state, the country needed huge changes in its infrastructure and its economy to find new avenues to attract investment and create wealth and employment.
But today? What is the PN today and where is it going? Many doomsayers believe it’s headed for the junkyard of history. But many a fallen general, team, company, party or brand has been heavily bruised only to rise again.
However, this requires a huge soul-searching exercise. A change of leader should be just one small part of a complete rethink of where to go and what the PN truly stands for.
One of the most important lessons to learn is humility: to stop thinking that people are daft, dumb and delinquent when they vote Labour, AD or Ajkla. And that the PN has a rightful God-given privilege to govern these islands.
Interestingly this is borne out when the PN-PD vote is analysed. People flocked to the PD and voted its two highest profile candidates—Godfrey Farrugia and Marlene Farrugia—into parliament. People wanted change and hardly gave carte blanche to the PN as the minority party in opposition.
The PN needs to reconsider its roots and its old strengths. Is it still relevant in the secularised world of today for a party’s motto to be religio et patria?
The party’s emblem, the maduma beloved by the old guard, the anthem, even its name, are a part of history that needs to be confined to the history books.
These symbols make the party sound like a small pompous group of right-wing, black-shirted fogeys harrumphing away while marching and longing for the old days when all was fine, when people who misbehaved were shot at dawn and every Maltese citizen needed to be protected from the world’s wicked ways.
In a world where the right wing is so horrific and bigoted—even if sadly it is on the rise in some countries—the last thing the PN needs is to be viewed by outsiders as a xenophobic grouping.
The party needs to take a quantum leap into the 21st century and dump all its stuffiness.
A new name, a new slogan and anthem will help in revitalising it. If done well and a proper in-depth analysis of what the party is and represents the party will at last have a few signal ways forward.
Slogans do not change a party or a brand. But if the slogan is old and unsuitable for today’s world, the central message is then lost. The young, the new voters, the old voters who do not think they were duped by Labour and its sweet talkers need a new vision by the PN—or whatever its name will be. This vision will turn the party into a modern one with a winning long-term view of what it stands for and what it will represent in the future.
If this is not done and done immediately the PN and its people will not be enjoying too many celebrations in the foreseeable future.