14 April 2008

Nasty, brutish and short

Federal Liberal MPs are seeking shelter from the storm in which they can only be blamed for the shortcomings of the Howard government, without receiving the credit that they feel is due them. Brendan Nelson can't offer them that shelter. Malcolm Turnbull offers a storm in himself. And some in the Aussie Rules states still pine for Peter Costello, apparently.
"The real answer is to have the natural leader of the party come back, and that is Peter Costello."

Ah yes, the king o'er the water. Technically, he can't "come back" to a post he never held, nor a parliament he hasn't departed. Won't go, won't muck in and fight.

It's said that one of the reasons why Labor stayed out of office for so long was their reluctance to embrace the Keating record of economic reform. Rudd didn't hide from Keating like Latham and Beazley, but nor did he embrace further far-reaching economic reform. WorkChoices seemed to be a high-water mark of hairy-chested reform for its own sake, and if the Rudd government does much in the way of economic policy it will be something that has come up since the election. Does this apply to the Liberals?

Peter Costello did leave a lot of economic reform undone. Labour market reform was not a high priority and died because it was too far ahead of employer (and employee) needs. He could have adjusted the tax system, and built more infrastructure, and invested in skills and education: it's these omissions that stand between Costello and greatness.

Costello could bring together the competing factions, and negate both Abbott and Turnbull. However, he won't. He would be Labor's dartboard for interest rate rises and bottlenecks in both skills and infrastructure.

The yearning for Costello is the same as Labor's comfort with Kim Beazley, and the fear of taking the risks necessary for victory. If Costello becomes leader of the Liberal Party it would not be able to shift the debate and leave Rudd looking flat-footed, like Rudd did to Howard.

One clear indication that Costello doesn't really want the Liberal leadership is that his erstwhile courtier doesn't rate him.
Abbott has been miffed at what he sees as his demotion to the families portfolio.

This is a man who bangs on about families, families, families in the absence of any real clue about how the country should be governed. As with everyone who's gotten in over their heads in the Sydney real estate market, Abbott should downshift or just cop it on the chin. It's interesting that his real estate woes have not resulted in him coming up with any sensible ideas about how to alleviate the situation facing those less secure financially than he: now that would be an audition for the Treasury (never mind the Shadow Treasury), and a challenge to Turnbull.
Abbott's reticence reflects his fundamental decency as a human being.

No, it reflects his intellectual laziness and gutlessness at not being able to admit a mistake. Deigning to speak to Milney and make him feel less irrelevant is nobody's idea of "fundamental decency".
... Minchin, Nelson's anchor in the present storm.

And the message, as of today, is that Minchin will continue to play that role. And as long as he does, Nelson will probably survive.

What should happen, given the rest of this article, is that Nelson should be the albatross around Minchin's neck and that both of them should piss off back to Adelaide.
Minchin's message is: hold your nerve in the same way Labor did after its 1996 defeat, when Kim Beazley arguably laid down the ultimate matrix for a Rudd victory, the maintenance of a veneer of a cohesive party that did not tear itself to pieces over core values.

In other words, just faff for a decade or so and arguably something will pop up. Hasn't exactly worked for the liberals, has it. Flip-flopper Beazley the exemplar of nerve? What a poor model for a party wanting to get out of opposition. What a poor piece of analysis by Milney, he should have laughed in Minchin's face. Minchin monstered Beazley and he fancies his chances of monstering anyone content to follow the lazy and complacent Beazley model.

The successes of the Rudd government have put the core values of the Liberal Party under strain. Neither Howard nor any other Liberal could have achieved the foreign policy success in China that Rudd did, another example of him shifting the debate beyond the tactical grasp and intellectual resources of the Liberals.

The fact that the Stolen Generations apology was not a damp squib and that economic hardship looms to early to fully blame Labor has put Liberal values under strain - all the more with lack of support from any Liberal government outside municipal Brisbane (and not much there, as Campbell Newman has hardly stepped up onto the national stage).

The next Liberal government will be as different from Howard's as Howard's was from Fraser's government. To get ready for the next Liberal government, the challenge is to start working out what policy approaches should be retained, what junked, and what replaces the elements that get junked.

The storm will get worse. Once sturdy edifices will be blown away. Delicate buds being nurtured to sturdy oaks will be drowned and uprooted. The Minchin vision of the Liberals just sitting there with an umbrella waiting for the bus to stop by and take them gently back to government is beyond ridiculous, it harms the Liberals' chances of winning government again.

There's also the issue of Joel Fitzgibbon getting off scot-free in Defence - if Minchin was the political lion he fancies himself as, Fitzgibbon should be in dire trouble rather than just busy. Same with the hapless Jenny Macklin: Tony Abbott has been monstered by two Labor women already in Gillard and Roxon, do we have to wait until Kate Ellis starts climbing all over him to realise he's a loser?

To realise this is to say to Minchin and Abbott what they did not, could not say to Howard: go, go now, the Liberal Party is better off without you. The fact that these turkeys are good for nothing else need not be the Liberal Party's problem.

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