What we’ve lost 3

29 Nov

Ancient conservative patriarch Peter Coleman (father-in-law of Peter Costello and Quadrant person in its better days) does not hold back:

So what went wrong? The usual view is that the electorate, and above all the young, believe that good times come naturally. (“It’s the resources boom.”) It doesn’t matter, they think, who is in charge of economic policy. In any case they want more from government than mere prosperity. They also want some idealism.

It is the Vision Thing. There is something of an old-fashioned melodrama in the Howard story, a sort of Picture of Dorian Gray. He emerged in public life as a young man of high ambition and great promise. He rose to dizzy political heights. But there was a fatal flaw which brought him low and devastated his Party. It is his colossal egoism.

In the early years the electorate welcomed his commitment and (on a good day) his eloquence. It looked for new directions and he offered them. But as the Howard years rolled by, his virtues came to be seen as vices. His determination to win at any price gradually now seemed to be an almost brutish selfishness.

The public came to see his agenda — from the gun laws or his rejection of Political Correctness to the liberation of East Timor or Work Choices — as populist stunts or wedges directed at the Labor Party. It even came to see, however unfairly, his great international achievement — the APEC conference of world leaders — as a self-indulgent wank. (It will, ironically, be remembered as a platform for the Mandarin-speaking Rudd.)

Even smaller issues such as living in Kirribilli House came to be seen as social-climbing. He seemed to be more in the mould of Bob Askin (an early mentor) than Bob Menzies…

Mind you, he does not hold back on Kevin Rudd either, being of the “Rudd is a cyborg” school. But I will save that for the next entry.

Christopher Pearson in The Australian, fabled culture warrior as he is — and an exemplar of that oddity which is not as uncommon as you might think, a queen masochistic enough to embrace the most reactionary elements in society and politics — shows a remarkable inability to learn in his latest column.

UNTIL 2004, Brendan Nelson was the media’s darling and its preferred candidate for the Liberal leadership. Since then, he has had to share its favours with Malcolm Turnbull. In the post-election upheaval, few in the press gallery or the commentariat rate Tony Abbott highly as a contender. However, he’s the Liberals’ best bet.

Abbott is said to be too much of a Howard loyalist, too conservative and accident-prone, mostly on the strength of a day on the campaign trail when everything that could go wrong did. The party is going to have to confront its mistakes of the past few years. Although John Howard deserves some blame, disowning 11 1/2 years of successful government would be to play into the hands of the ALP.

Abbott and Philip Ruddock may have been in the minority in cabinet on the weekend of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, saying that Howard was best placed to lead the party and the only one with the stomach for the fight. But the majority quickly came around to that view, vindicated by Peter Costello’s failure to seize his chance and his retreat to the back bench.

Concern about being too conservative a government hasn’t overly bothered the partyroom in recent years. It’s a measure of how far to the right the centre of political gravity has moved that Kevin Rudd should have adopted Howard’s policies wholesale to stay in the electoral race.

Abbott has been demonised for deploring that one in four Australian pregnancies ends in abortion. Yet many voters share that concern and Abbott’s line is borrowed from Bill Clinton: terminations should be safe, legal and preferably rare. On social issues, his positions are more coherent and all of a piece than Turnbull’s or Nelson’s but he can work easily with the party’s progressives, such as Christopher Pyne, because he doesn’t despise people who disagree with him. It’s worth noting all three candidates are Catholics…

None of these considerations may end up swaying the partyroom. If, as I fear, they choose Turnbull, it’s likely to end in tears and sooner rather than later. His exercise in leadership at the Constitutional Convention in 1998 was a disaster. He failed to conciliate his critics, divided his supporters and rejected the safe, saleable McGarvie proposal. Instead he clung to the flawed Keating-Turnbull model, which was inherently unstable and resoundingly rejected by the people.

Perhaps I secretly hope people take notice of Pearson, as a better way of keeping the Libs out of office for years is hard to imagine. But he has missed the boat for now; he does however foreshadow future instability at the top of the Liberal Party thanks to its own ideologues, and that may well have the same effect.

Interviewed last night on Lateline, Tony Abbott foreshadowed as much:

TONY JONES: I’ve got to ask you this. Whoever takes the leadership tomorrow. Should they remain leader under any circumstances until the next election?

TONY ABBOTT: Um, I’m certainly not guaranteeing that I won’t in the future challenge for the leadership. But I certainly intend to try to be a very constructive and loyal member of the team of whoever wins tomorrow.

TONY JONES: So you won’t say that the person who wins tomorrow should remain leader until the next election?

TONY ABBOTT: Well, if that person performs, yes.

TONY JONES: Oh, it’s a bit like Kevin Rudd, is it? Performance measures.

TONY ABBOTT: But look, we are in a new period of time and prior to the election we had very, very well-proven leadership in Peter Costello and John Howard. This is a whole new ball game. I hope whoever emerges tomorrow goes well. I certainly wish that person well. I will be happy to serve in whatever capacity that person might ask me to serve. But in the end it will depend on performance how long that person lasts and how well that person goes.

TONY JONES: You will be riding shot-gun effectively.

TONY ABBOTT: Look, I will be there doing my best for the team…

Oh yes… 😉


Loved the Wilcox cartoon of Tony Abbott.


Former Labor Party member Brendan Nelson (he of the dead stare, enviable record in ill-advised policy in two portfolios, and bad hair) has become leader of the Opposition, with Julie Bishop as his Deputy.

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Posted by on November 29, 2007 in Australia and Australian, Brendan Nelson, culture wars, current affairs, John Howard, Political, right wing politics, Tony Abbott


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