Real power must be taken
Yes, isn't it great about Aung San Suu Kyi. Anyway. Fancy reporting on politics for as long as Paul Sheahan has only to come up with something like this. That first paragraph, in its staccato style - well, it could be staccato, I thought it was, it could be anything, why am I writing like this? - is like the jabbering of the White Rabbit before Alice decides to follow him down the hole.
It's stupid to call for people to stand aside. Nobody's going to stand aside. Real power must be taken. If you want to see real power at work, cast your mind back to 1995 and I'll tell you about real power.
In 1995, the State Director of the Liberal Party was Barry O'Farrell. He was a former staffer to John Howard, who was on his last chance to become Prime Minister. O'Farrell was uncommonly attentive to the branches, small and large, unlike the arrogant dickheads before and since who'd snarl through clenched teeth about loyalty but not show any to the party that paid them. When O'Farrell went into State Parliament O'Farrell was replaced by Tony Nutt, who was also trusted by Howard and who also succeeded in hosing down factional squabbling. O'Farrell and Nutt turned the NSW Libs into the powerhouse of the Liberal Party nationwide: focused on winning federal government.
Cut forward to 2010. Tony Abbott hasn't exactly taken the NSW Libs by the scruff of the neck. He hasn't imposed his people in the organisation, because it takes real leadership to have followers who are both capable people and absolutely loyal. The only people who are absolutely loyal to Tony Abbott are people he's hired: as with David Clarke and Bronwyn Bishop, those who are most loyal to him aren't much chop, and can't convince Liberals that they should be trusted to run a bath. Liberals who are capable tend to be on good terms with Abbott, but they don't owe him anything and wouldn't die in a ditch for him the way that Howard's people did.
A year ago the mail on O'Farrell was that he was a nobody, wouldn't and couldn't become Premier. Now, conventional wisdom is that he might just have a chance, but ... but what? He's never been Premier before? Give me a break.
The NSW Liberals is focused on getting Barry O'Farrell elected. Clarkites can get up in the Hills and it doesn't matter, the big fights in Hornsby and Baulkham Hills have been won and O'Farrell has what he needs to become Premier. If only Abbott could do something similar.
... Labor is frantically jettisoning the lead in its saddlebags ...
No, Labor is proving that it is weak. The central critique of NSW Labor is that it shirks the big challenges. What are Tripodi and all those departing MPs doing? Proving that NSW Labor shirks the big challenges.
The NSW party has already cost the federal party the 2010 election. Tony Abbott would be prime minister were it not for bungling in several NSW marginal seats. Somebody had to pay for this, but nobody did.
Yes Paul, nobody did. Howard would've had their guts for garters by now. That's what real power is, and Tony Abbott doesn't have any. If Tony Abbott really thinks that Nick Campbell cost him fireworks at Kirribilli House, he'd have Campbell's head on a pikestaff - but Tony Abbott doesn't have what it takes to match it with Nick Campbell, let alone Julia Gillard. Once you realise that, your whole critique will make more sense than it does.
And what about all the dummy spits? They are endless. The latest came last week when Nick Berman, the mayor of Hornsby Shire, announced he was quitting the party and would stand as an independent at the March election. "It is clear that the interests of factional warlords drive the preselection processes of the Liberal Party now and not the best interests of the constituents of Hornsby," said Berman
Nick Berman was a Young Liberal with considerable promise until he hitched his star to David Clarke. Now that Clarke is fading, Berman has not worked out how to avoid going down with him while still remaining in the Liberal Party. A shame, and I hope Berman doesn't become another Mick Gallagher but I dare say the NSW Liberals will get over the loss of Berman.
Also last week, Michael Yabsley, a former NSW MP and veteran fund-raiser, resigned from the post of honorary federal treasurer while directing an attack on the Liberals' federal director, Brian Loughnane, and president, Alan Stockdale, saying their leadership was opaque and the party was in danger of insolvency.
Tony Abbott can't even knock over two clowns from Melbourne, and he wants to be Prime Minister? Things are worse than I thought.
But there is also an antidote to the malaise of self-absorption. It starts at the top. Both the federal leader, Abbott, and state leader, O'Farrell, want Arthur Sinodinos to become president of the NSW Liberal Party. Sinodinos, 53, is almost unique in the gravitas he has within the Liberal Party. For more than nine years he was John Howard's chief of staff. He kept the federal machine ticking over. He also knew when to leave ... He could have had a Senate seat but believes his most effective role would be inside the party. There have been several moves to install him as president but the existing president, Natasha Maclaren-Jones, a woman of almost no public profile and comparatively modest resume, has not been inclined to step aside.
Yeah, he's such a behemoth but he can't even knock off Natasha bloody Maclaren. But it isn't really about Sinodinos at all.
Paul Sheahan used to be one journalist Liberals listened to. Sheahan thought it would be a good idea if Kerry Chikarovski became leader (no, seriously). He liked the cut of Peter Debnam's jib, too (stop that laughter at once). He was keen to publish any scuttlebutt going, until one day O'Farrell started fronting the press gallery in person saying "ask me anything you want", and all of a sudden nobody's leaking to Paul Sheahan any more. This is the key to this piece right here, the bellow of the bull-elephant who's no longer alpha male:
... the antiseptic of media scrutiny. Sydney is the capital of the Australian media.
We're important, damn it! Feed me leaks! Hello! Why have people stopped returning my calls? The tone here is not the hand-wringing of par one, here the NSW Libs are facing the full fury of the journo scorned. Anti-septic? Hardly. Fancy Paul Sheahan being done over by some guy from Johnson & Johnson!
Barry O'Farrell has all the control he needs to become Premier. The Sydney media did him no favours at all - they patronised him about his weight. The Sydney media said he had no policies when he has more than the incumbent government does. The Sydney media lionised fools like Michael Costa while O'Farrell outflanked him politically time after time. The Sydney media lavished attention on Miss Ohio Wonkyhair who had nothing to contribute to anything whatsoever, and now that the foreseeable has come to pass the Sydney media still can't realise the extent of the long game O'Farrell has played. The Sydney media fell in love with Bob Carr for ten years, and the rest of us are still wondering what we got out of it. Bugger the Sydney media.
Tony Abbott isn't in control of his own tongue, let alone the party machine, and nobody wants to go near the guy let alone make him Prime Minister. For all Abbott's disdain of the states, the brutal fact is that if he wanted to seize the NSW Libs between now and March, he'd get no support at all: people like Natasha Maclaren and Michael Photios would laugh at him. Abbott will look funny trying to claim credit for the coming O'Farrellanche, and truly pitiful trying to make something of it federally. Barry O'Farrell will be OK, and Nick Campbell is one cat who always lands on his feet.
We are watching Tony Abbott morph from Tomorrow's Man to Yesterday's Man before our very eyes. If there is to be blood, it will be some attention-seeking self-harm thing by Sheahan himself.