07 September 2010

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.

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
Julia Gillard has done the slow and patient coalition-building work that the Prime Minister must do.

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.


  1. derrida derider8/9/10 2:25 pm

    Nah, Abbott never WANTED a deal. His strategy was always to go through the motions in order to force Gillard to make lots of concessions to the independents, especially to their more unsaleable concerns - Mad Bob Katter's defection to him was bad, not good, news.

    Now he will relentlessly attack the government's legitimacy - as we've already seen him start to do. He's counting on an early election.

    This is exactly the sort of shit behaviour that you decry, but it is likely to be very effective. And so long as the swinging voter is too ignorant or uninterested to punish such behaviour it will continue to be effective.

  2. I think those attacks will not have the force they once had. He might be counting on an early election, but if we get to mid 2012 and there's no election in sight he's pretty much stuffed.

    He'll also miss out on being part of the big changes on tax, broadband and climate change if he's not careful. Howard's record in supporting the big reforms of Hawke-Keating blunted many of Labor's attacks in 1996 that Howard was a carping naysayer. Abbott doesn't have that record of consistent principle, which Gillard could well develop.

  3. If Labor gets to mid 2011 without too much trouble in the Senate (Fielding will be the main obstacle as he desperately clings to relevancy) then I'd say they will be ok for the rest of the term.

    There is folk wisdom that Abbott won by losing. If Labor can hold itself together (and that is a big if) they will come out of it front runners for the next election. Even Turnbull may think twice about standing for opposition leader if that is the case.

    Abbott probably will never ever get another chance to be PM.

  4. I think people are impressed with the slow and patient negotiations of recent days and both Fielding and Abbott will look like prats if they just block everything. It's one thing for Abbott to do that a few months out from an election but to maintain that over three years is too much to ask.

    I agree with you about Labor, they'll have the experience of staffers from five state ALP governments which had to manage independents.

    Abbott's position today is much like that of Kim Beazley in 1998 or Andrew Peacock in 1984.