Friday, 30 January 2015
Conviction politicians hard to find anywhere. Australia’s Tony Abbott a rare exception. Opponent Rudd all over the place convincing nobody.
R Murdoch scribbling on a wall, 19 August 2013
Abbott again. Tough to write, but if he won’t replace top aide Peta Credlin she must do her patriotic duty and resign.
Tagged R Murdoch 18 months later
You can imagine the thinking. “That Honours system I introduced is in danger of being ridiculed. What it needs is gravitas. I know!” And short of Elizabeth tapping herself on the shoulder, who better to do it than the Duke of Edinburgh, Baron of Greenwich, Earl of Merioneth etc. etc. etc.
But the mistake Abbott made was failing to get that it was not that people didn’t take the Honours system seriously enough, but they got the serious central point of it all too well, the problem of the Monarchy. Abbott is a Monarchist in a Republican country, that only isn’t so because 15 years ago the idiotic left decided to offer Australian voters an even more unpalatable alternative, a Politicians’ Republic.
The last time this blogger checked, the Liberal party was still fairly Monarchist as well, with only a creeping Republicanism as it transforms from the democratic impulse of forty years ago to the nationalist tosh of today. The party may not have proposed Philip in the first place, but the idea that it would have delivered such a snub to the Monarchy by rejecting Philip, as one Liberal MP suggested, is typical of the furious re-writing and back-tracking that is now underway.
The desperate positioning going on in the right at the moment at least explains some very curious features of this outbreak of speculation over the future of Abbott’s leadership.
The first is the sheer casualness of it. The dumping of a Prime Minister in his first term because of poor polls is virtually unprecedented in Australian political history. Rudd, of course, was dumped not because of his unpopularity (the 52:48 lead he had in his last Newspoll in 2010 is one this government hasn’t enjoyed since two months after it took office). Rudd’s dumping was an institutional power play disguised as a poll driven one, which became increasingly unconvincing as his successor clung on with full institutional backing, despite plumbing the polling depths.
On the Coalition side, Gorton’s dumping after three years in 1971 has been given as an example. But this too was less poll driven than essentially a battle over states’ rights, as the Liberals showed the limits of their ability to implement what would be later best described as the Whitlam Settlement.
The only remotely comparable example is the dumping of Abbott’s twin, Gillard, which Rudd pulled off against overwhelming institutional resistance because of polling. Although even here, it was also a lot to do with the power brokers and unions starting to lose control of the Parliamentary Party (plus the additional incentive highlighted by Rudd in the last caucus, that if the Libs won control of the Senate, there could be a Royal Commission with full powers against the unions that could …).
The point is that at the moment there is no issue that the Libs could really summon up that would justify Abbott’s removal other than lousy polls and mistakes. That’s not normal. Howard survived worst in his first term. But this leads on to another odd feature about the current leadership speculation.
Pretty well nowhere in the commentary is the problem seen as extending beyond Abbott and his office, to the Liberal party as a whole. This is odd first of all because it’s hardly just Abbott who had a problem last year. The performance of the holders of two of the government’s most important posts, the Treasurer and the Attorney General, has hardly been sparkling. And furthermore, the problems of Hockey and Brandis have been on issues that are precisely what modern conservatism is supposed to be about, economic rationalism (the Budget) and the tedious culture war to roll back the Whitlam Settlement (18C).
That the Liberals have escaped such scrutiny is especially odd if one thinks why they are led by someone who is, and has long been, so unpopular in the first place, namely to restore the Liberal party’s brand.
It’s been forgotten now but Abbott was appointed not because he was going to be a killer against Labor but actually the opposite. The Liberal front bench split in half and resigned in 2009, and were prepared to default the next election by choosing one of their least popular politicians to lead it, because they were more worried what was happening to the party’s political identity than electoral success – reaching a crisis point when Turnbull signed up to Rudd’s CRS.
The dilemma for the Liberals at the time was that in defending the party’s brand, it would also expose its electoral irrelevance, because its ideological agenda was as anachronistic as the unions’ social one. This dilemma was not only shown by the unpopularity of the party’s banner carrier, but that as soon as he took over, the public show of climate scepticism that rallied the party to him had to be dropped.
The subsequent disintegration on the Labor side allowed all of this to be ignored, and allowed conservative commentators to dream that their agenda had some electoral relevance, and the less ideological commentators to believe the electoral pendulum was still swinging (if getting a bit rusty on the Labor side).
The dreaming is over. The reckoning now, and the frantic attempts to cover up what had been evident all along by dumping all the problems of the right and the Liberals on to Abbott, and even his Chief of Staff, is feeding this irrationality. It is permitting the open thinking of the unthinkable barely a year and half after they were crowing about Labor doing the same thing. If Murdoch is taking the lead on it, it’s only because the sly old fox is showing conservative commentators (including those in the Fairfax stable) a temporary way out of this mess, and to maintain the pretence the right agenda still has relevance.
It does not. This is especially clear in Australia where the right has never stood on its own feet, but relied excessively on a dull, if rather sleazy family in the south western London suburbs – or otherwise being against Labor’s project, which has clearly run its course. Bill Shorten.
What we are really seeing now is not the stumbles of one leader, but that the pas de deux that has kept this tedious show on the road for the last four and a half years is now, thankfully, coming to an end. As it does, at least the real state of things since Howard left the scene will now become unavoidable, even to conservative commentators with a franchise to protect.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 30 January 2015.Filed under State of the parties