The Stephen Bradbury of Australian politics
This morning, Tony Abbott was tomorrow's man. Tomorrow morning, he'll be yesterday's man. Find his concession speech and have a bit of compassion for the guy, but not too much because he was always a piker.
Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.Julia Gillard has done the slow and patient coalition-building work that the Prime Minister must do.
Where there is error, may we bring truth.
Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.
And where there is despair, may we bring hope.
- St Francis of Assisi, quoted by Margaret Thatcher, 1979
Tony Abbott did the kind of table-thumping hectoring mixed with credibility-sapping porkbarrelling that did for Howard and Rudd, the kind of traditional backroom politics practiced by the sort of people most responsible for undermining their own one-mighty parties: Karl Bitar and David Clarke, for example.
The winning difference is that once the hurly-burly was done, the victorious team allowed their professional politicians - the ones who've had their own names on ballot papers and their own faces on YouTube mash-ups - take over. They cut a political deal, the independents cut a political deal, and politics really is all about cutting deals. Some people got what they wanted and others missed out.
The only ones who really got their throats cut and died in the gutter were those who never really wanted to cut a deal anyway, who lacked the close-order skills and subtle minds necessary for what seems to have been an audition for the next three years.
The losers did not have the sense, the final saving grace, to slink away like whipped dogs. They got up on their hind legs and insisted Abbott engage in the same self-defeating coalition-shunning behaviour, and dispatch himself to the same role, that Minchin and Abetz have flung Isobel Redmond and Will Hodgman into: Opposition Leader. Those two have seen exhausted Labor governments gain a new lease of life and must surely realise that their missed-by-that-much counts for nothing at all. Both stare into the abyss in realising that there is no next time for them, not even a silver medal. Maybe they realise that they've been had. Tony Abbott always believed that introspection is the first sign of madness.
This isn't to get all kum-by-yah about the government: Gillard will have to combine the qualities of St Francis and Thatcher, as well as the guile and luck of Bradbury, in order to make it. The journosphere will focus on how she deals with Oakeshott and Windsor and Wilkie, but they're the least of her troubles. A whole rising generation of Labor activists now look like naughty boys: if they have any disagreement with Gillard over anything, Gillard will beat them and beat them, and the more she beats them the better off she'll be. This is the time that will break many of Labor's wide boys and forge a few others. Only Conroy, champion of the NBN, can face those who hate the Labor right with standing intact while Burke and Bowen (whose seats are named after short-term PMs) will keep vewwy, vewwy quiet and shouldn't open their mouths for fear of showing their shit-stained teeth.
Those who foretell doom for sound policy are wrong: outcomes will just be more ponderous, with the same proportion of well-intentioned and well-crafted government combined with mediocre and expensive dreck that we got (and are yet to get) from more opaque polities.