Winning elections is all about having better credibility than your opponent.
For as long as Joseph Muscat could be the face of the Labour Party he consistently scored higher ratings than Gonzi and the PL was always ahead of the PN. This in spite of the local economy continuing to perform relatively well and the 'it's the economy, stupid' syndrome was not working to Labour's advantage.
The PN knew this. They cared little about the national interest need to solve the political instability caused by defections from their backbench. Instead they limped along hoping to find a way how to re-jig the political pieces and destroy the strong perception that they had become unelectable due to their arrogance, gaffes and strong suspicions of corruption.
Suddenly the pieces changed. The resignation of John Dalli as EU Commissioner was in all probability engineered from Malta by PN strategists to create a vacant post so as to kick upstairs Dr Tonio Borg PN Deputy Leader and make way for a younger face on the PN electoral ticket.
The contest between Simon Busuttil and Tonio Fenech was as fake as the non-election campaign we have during this holiday period. Simon was the anointed one, the one chosen to offer hope for change within the party to those PN supporters who were disillusioned and prepared to switch their vote. In contesting, Tonio Fenech showed the same naivety he exposes when preparing his long term budgets. Cabinet colleagues with an eye on the Party leadership after the election defeat pushed Tonio Fenech to contest knowing that he would be burnt as a potential leadership contender as much as Simon would be when he fails to deliver.
The moment Simon was elected Deputy Leader the media cells of the power network in which the PN occupies the political nexus, instantly switched from GonziPN to SimonPN. It was no longer a contest between Gonzi and Muscat. It became a contest between Simon and Anglu.
Anglu Farrugia is as good a village politician as anyone. He is someone any party would love to have in its delegate and parliamentary line-up. But he does not have leadership and managerial competences and having him as Deputy Leader of PL was not an ideal situation. For as long as his counter on the PN side was Dr Tonio Borg, himself not ideal for the post, the risk from his unsuitability was containable. But the moment the PN decided to attack Labour where it was weak and switched on to SimonPN, the risk became untenable and seriously threatening to erode the lead that Labour had for long enjoyed.
Joseph Muscat, as all recent Labour leaders, suffers from a serious fault in Labour's statute where the election for Deputies is held only one week after the Leader's election. The gap is so short that the elected Leader would have no time to influence the choice of his deputy. The contestants for US Presidential election hand-pick their deputy and put him or her on the electoral ticket. In any other country the Leader would have a say, even informal, on the choice of his deputy but in the PL this is not possible. There is just not the time to do so.
So it often happens that a Labour leader gets as deputies persons he would rather not choose. A good football coach on the bench has to change his team tactics and replace some key players if opponents make changes which create new circumstances. So when GonziPN became SimonPN, as a good coach with emerging leadership qualities, Muscat had to do something. His oath of loyalty is to the Party and the people it represents, not to individuals.
If Anglu Farrugia had become a risk that could jeopardise the Party's chances for winning the next elections Muscat's had to do what was in the interest of the Party to do no matter how painful and even unfair it may be to the individual.
I am a firm believer that loyalty should be to the organisation not to the individual. I was the most loyal servant Alfred Sant ever had for as long as I was convinced that he was being loyal to the Party. When he decided to re-contest leadership after two consecutive electoral defeats then I perceived he was putting his personal ambitions above the Party's interest and my loyalty to the Party meant I could no longer remain loyal to a disloyal leader. I quit.
When Muscat was contesting leadership against George Abela I was of the firm opinion that Abela was a better choice for the Party's interest and chances for re-election. Now I was and still am much closer to Muscat than to Abela but again my loyalty was to the Party and not to the individual and I told as much to Muscat.
With hindsight I was probably wrong although it is difficult to prove the counter-factual. Muscat has grown immensely into his leadership position and with the latest move he showed top leadership qualities which sent a clear signal to people of goodwill who really expect that we start exercising a different type of politics. Abela on the other hand accepted the appointment to President of the Republic even though he knew that the party needed his talents. He placed his personal interest ahead of the Party and gave Gonzi an excuse to say that he included Labourites in his appointments. He reserved for Labourites the single post of the highest slot in the constitutional hierarchy, one largely ceremonial with no executive power except in very special circumstances. Wherever there was any position with executive power, GonziPN strictly reserved it for the Blues and the Reds had to continue to live as strangers in their own country.
Labour has been saved by the bell thanks to PBS ( Peppi Broadcasting Services as per Dr Franco Debono). And in the choice of Louis Grech Labour has selected a person who is far more mature and capable than Simon Busuttil who has never had any executive position in the business sector and who clearly has less than amateurish grasp of economic matters. Louis can have Simon for breakfast,lunch or dinner any time.
Now Labour can start the electoral campaign with full confidence that they have sent the PN to redesign their election strategy and that at whatever level, leadership or deputy leadership they can meet fire with fire.
What remains to be seen is whether Labour will have the financial resources to match the PN in a 9 week long election campaign. But if Labour focuses on the three main points of their campaign then quality will be better than quantity:
A credible and sustainable energy policy which involves reduction in utility tariff at least to the average level of the EU
Promise of a fair, inclusive and corrupt free system of government
A government for the people not the other was round.