Easy in, easy out

Tuesday, 13 January 2009 

There is just a little bit of hypocrisy doing the rounds about Evan Thornley’s sudden decision to refuse a ministry spot and quit Victorian politics. This morning’s editorial in The Age called it ‘contempt’ that Thornley thought it acceptable to turn down an important post without giving the public any satisfactory explanation.

Now, where could he have got that idea? Maybe from the previous Premier who gave little more explanation for his sudden departure than saying it was partly for family reasons. Or maybe from the then deputy Premier, John Thwaites, who also left at the same time with even less explanation. Or maybe even the current Premier, who was reported by the ABC to be ready to leave as well if Bracks didn’t make sure he was handed the top job on a plate.

The Age didn’t seem to mind Bracks’ departure too much at the time despite it being barely eight months after Victorian voters put him and his government back in. In fact, joining the general hankering at the time for Howard to call it a day, The Age seemed to consider Bracks a true gent. The anger from Labor at Thornley’s refusal to take the post also seems odd given that reports suggest Labor caucus wasn’t that fussed about giving it to him in the first place.

Maybe the reaction has more to do with Thornley’s arrival than his departure. Thornley was one of those strangely named ‘celebrity’ candidates that have especially been a feature of Labor recruitment over the last few years. Brought in to overcome a perception that Labor’s image is ‘stale’, they are usually promoted over the heads and without the approval of the party’s traditional power bases. Both the public perception of staleness and the real decline of the power of the factions are symptoms of the growing social irrelevance of the party. This is especially the case at the state level, which is becoming more an administrative job than anything, and accounts for the seemingly casual attachment Labor Premiers have to the job nowadays. The irony is that the very thing that would feasibly make a millionaire businessman like Thornley take up what is these days essentially a glorified public service job, namely that it represents a social endorsement, doesn’t even really require winning over the party, let alone anyone else.

The problem with celebrity candidates is that there are two contradictions that very often come out. The first is that because they are usually brought in over the heads of the power bases, they don’t really have one once they get in. Having not gone through the hard graft of building a base, they are often tone deaf to internal political manoeuvres.

The second problem is that what makes them attractive candidates in the first place is that they usually have something going on outside politics. This always leaves them somewhere else to go when things invariably get frustrating, or boring, internally. Once they get a feeling there is not as much to the job as it seems, and without feeling either much loyalty or the need to apologise to the public or their party ‘colleagues’, they are off.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 13 January 2009.

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State and federal politics

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3 responses to “Easy in, easy out”

  1. Cal on 13th January 2009 3:38 pm

    “administrative job … these days essentially a glorified public service job”

    Indeed! And more likely to become so in the future as politics loses its ideological force and technocrats become Premiers and Prime Ministers. It’s also ironic that so many Ministers simple don’t have the background or the experience to be good administrators.

  2. deckchair guru on 16th January 2009 11:21 pm

    “Or maybe from the then Treasurer, John Thwaites, who also left at the same time with even less explanation.”

    Brumby was actually Treasurer to Bracks, Thwaites was Deputy Premier though.

  3. The Piping Shrike on 17th January 2009 1:12 am

    Of course, you’re absolutely right deckchair. Fixed it. Thanks.

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