John Howard deferred to nobody as a monarchist but was paranoid about looking complacent and entitled. Reinstituting those titles looked like more trouble than it was worth politically, and it would have added to the ferocious pressure that all governments face from status-seekers grasping for a gong. Consider certain people from that era who might have been thus ennobled under Howard:
- Jeff Kennett
- John Elliott
- Dick Warburton
- David Murray
- Colin Barnett (in retirement mode)
- Ziggy Switkowski
- Alan Jones
- Jocelyn Newman
- (add your own)
The former director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy would have been less convincing at eschewing those titles. Abbott has not learnt the hard lessons about politics that Howard had before entering the Lodge.
Samantha Maiden should have been awake to this rather than just taking dictation and letting Flint and Downer run interference. This, along with the fiasco where News hid Maiden's story for a few days, made Maiden look like a dupe and showed that neither she nor those she quoted can be relied upon for any useful opinion on anything. Insofar as it matters, both Lenore Taylor and poor Mark Kenny cemented their reputations for being able to predict things after they happen rather than beforehand; a quality valued highly within the press gallery and almost entirely worthless beyond it.
The market for Holden cars, dire and declining though might be, is far greater than that for conventional press gallery journalism.
When you add this to the fact that Abbott made his announcement on a day when Arthur Sinodinos made a monkey of everyone who thought he was a copper-bottomed Canberra insider, and George Pell was dumping on everybody who'd protected him (except Abbott) before his departure for Rome, the entire press gallery and those who employ them should not have been diverted to the extent that they were. PR dollies might have marvelled at Abbott's ability to change the narrative, but all it did was further reinforce the idea that those who make news decisions within the Australian media are idiots - and idiots who come to the samey-same idiotic conclusions.
Coverage of recent events involving the British royal family are notable for their utter reliance on what was announced by Abbott's media wranglers, with no analysis independent of that as to what they might mean.
Abbott has form on treacly fawning over the royals, as though they were his own parents (without the adult acknowledgement of their foibles and the context of whether they mean well), yet something more and better in an ill-defined way. Two recent encounters with the royals were notable for their absence of this, however.
The first was his encounter with Prince Charles. Note this piece, the photo, and the story beneath it which doesn't relate to it at all. A typical Abbott-royals piece would go on about Our Next King, How Awfully Gracious It Is To Meet You Your Royal Highness, etc. There was none of that.
Prince Charles is a leading campaigner for limiting climate change as far as possible, and he has been increasingly vocal against climate change scepticism/denialism. In his meeting with Abbott in Colombo it is impossible to believe that the prince wouldn't have given Abbott a stern talking-to about his antics in opposition and his proposals in government, particularly with regard to the environment. Abbott's beliefs for the monarchy and against meaningful climate action would have collided at that meeting. Environmentalists should have been awake to that. Because Abbott's media wranglers put out no statement to that effect, journalists simply assumed that the photo op was the story and went off on other, easier story lines.
Let us have no nonsense that Abbott was trying to protect the Prince from publicity, or that what's said behind closed doors stays there. Charles is far more media savvy than Abbott is; if he thought he could get his way by drops and backdoor briefings and what have you, he would run rings around Abbott and all of his media people.
"Difficult things happen" is a slightly more couth version of "shit happens", and Abbott is siding with the government and its desire for control rather than Sri Lanka's people and their need to be free of repression. Be it on his head, and let him have no room to claim, as he will, that "I had no idea it was like that, and if I had known ...". Whether they are in a prison in Sri Lanka, Manus Island or anywhere else would appear to mean that there is no way these people can hope for any station, as it were, above the one they seem to occupy. Libertarians who welcome this government's policies on, say, a fruit cannery or bigotry protection should pay more attention to basic human freedoms than they do.
The second incident involving the royals involved putting Prince Harry at the centre of last year's International Fleet Review in Sydney Harbour. Again, no treacle; it would have been demeaning for Abbott to be seen to be bowing to such a young man (even though he would have done so off-camera). Abbott's media people foisted Margie-and-the-girls onto the Prince, reminding me of that part of the Cinderella fable where the prince has to go around wedging unsuitable feet into his glass slipper and trying to be polite about it.
Good journalists are sceptical of set-piece displays. Australian journalists who cover politics are selected for their propensity to be easily and thoroughly gulled, and their conviction that they represent us in the process.
Prince Harry as the focus of that exercise can be understood in light of this. The UK government, notwithstanding its declining military and economic capabilities, wants to project itself as a global power. Prince Harry is a commissioned officer (and a junior one) in the British army; the commander-in-chief of the Australian armed forces is the Governor-General (whom Abbott, in his ACM days, said was the true head of state rather than the Queen).
The Australian commander-in-chief/head of state was obviated in a symbolic show of power and political strength by someone who was then third in line to the British throne, someone with no more connection to this country than any other Pommy blow-in. The government which Abbott leads made that decision, which in turn will influence perceptions and outcomes about how we are governed. We squibbed an opportunity to position ourselves in our region in order to prop up another government in a country that is also unclear about what its real role and capacity is. At least the weather was nice. #GloriousSydney
Note how Peter Hartcher dances around the question of whether or not Abbott is a stone-cold liar, in a way that he never did with Julia Gillard. By this point in Gillard's Prime Ministership most people accepted her in the job, while the press gallery as one was committed to sneering her out of office. It took them years and they lost a lot of their employers' audience on the way, but they did it! What triumphs lie ahead of the press gallery now? Back to the daily grind of spoon-fed stories and regurgitated pap for the audience, it seems.
Reading between the lines of Hartcher's article, it appears Abbott has pre-empted the Palace in the hope they won't embarrass him. He would not want to do that too often.
There have been many articles claiming that bringing back knighthoods is the moment where people laugh at Abbott and stop taking him seriously. Regular readers of this blog know I'm a sucker for Abbott-is-finished narratives. It's certainly true that mocking Abbott (and Bronwyn Bishop) did them more damage than years of angry rants would or could. What will do for Abbott is that after he abolishes the carbon price and mining tax, nobody's bills will go down and nobody's job will be safer, and when the stunts of Textor and Credlin fail they will blame the stunt-man and not the stunts. Then it will be over for The Situation - but not now.
Conservatives are people who cannot distinguish between an emerging trend and a passing fad, and so they stand against them all assuming they are the latter. Australians elect conservative governments from time to time to test which new ideas have a future, which progressives see as flinching and shirking responsibility. Australians shouldn't have to choose between, say, the Great Barrier Reef and Queen's Counsels, but if that's the choice then no amount of culture-war will turn a ground-shifting long-term trend into a fragile fad.
Australia's most avowedly royalist Prime Minister likes the idea of the royal family (unearned privilege) more than the practice (being advised, counselled, and warned). The royals aren't nearly as loyal to him as he has been to them. Royals play a long game; politicians, royalist or not, talk a long game but play it short. Abbott might think of the royals as a rock to base his political and personal identity upon, but they aren't.
Knighthoods and dameships confer no dignity but turn real, imperfect people into Gilbert and Sullivan characters. This much is clear: Australians like royalty so long as they stay remote and don't try to ennoble that which can't really be ennobled. Abbott's invocation of royalty looks dodgy. It is dodgy, and if the royals can outwit those who would do them down they can outwit those who would puff them up, and hitch a ride.
Abbott tried to position himself as the long-term, ground-shifting answer to whatever the problems were over Labor's term. It worked for many, but the tentative reception he got before, on, and since last September has shown him to be a passing fad. When they do the culture-war stuff it looks like the Coalition are out for a good time, not a long time; particularly when Prince Charles won't play 'the royal game' to the extent that, say, David Flint does. There's nothing ennobling about being out for a good time, not a long time. Abbott has built his house upon the sand, not the rock. Given the short timeframes involved it is doubtful that the Liberals will forgive this conflicted man, nor themselves for betting their party, and their future, upon him and his hollow baubles.