31 July 2006

The love song of J. Hyde Page

I had been a Young Liberal for over a decade when John Hyde Page joined a neighbouring branch. He was even more dull than the prose in his tome, Servicing Me, Servicing You: The Edification of a Piss Boy. I had no idea why he joined the Liberal Party, and after reading him spit out all the butt-ends of his days and ways I still don't. He uses some real names and applies pseudonyms to others; he claims to have witnessed events that he didn't and couldn't; and he leaves out examples of his own behaviour that would leave a reader feeling robbed of any time spent with him in his book. As with this song, what's puzzling me, then as now, is the nature of his game.

Hyde Page's is basically a love story. Here was a young man who was not that bright, nor distinguished in any other way. The branch he joined was run by a character not dissimilar to Fagin from Dickens' Oliver Twist (mind you, this could be pretty much the factional warrior's anthem). Fagin convinced Hyde Page that talent, ability to contribute to the common weal and hard work counted for nothing in politics; that self-abasement was the way to success, that you could suck your way upwards by some sort of capillary action. Hyde Page was in love with the idea that someone so unremarkable as himself could get anywhere at anything; and he fell in love with Fagin. He became an easy tool for Fagin: deferential, glad to be of use, and on that basis prepared a face to meet the faces that he met. He clearly bamboozled his publisher as well, but spivs sell and Australian publishers who understand the Liberal Party would be few enough for someone like him to try it on.

The book, like its author, has none of the ideology that is claimed on the wrapper: it was all about him and Fagin. As an activist Hyde Page targetted mostly well-functioning moderate branches and promising moderate liberals than yer standard wood-duck Howard-lovin' conservatives, and almost never did he take on the true enemies of moderate liberals (and humanity generally) the mad, bad Dave Clarke Taliban. You're not a moderate liberal because you say so, or because Fagin considers you part of his furniture. You're a moderate if you believe that the far right and the far left should just go at each other while moderates get on with the business of good and sensible government. You're a moderate if you stand up for refugees and other aspects of human rights without buggering the economy through red tape and bullying like the far left do - Phillip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone used to be moderates before they got ambitious and impatient, believe it or not.

Hyde Page believed nothing more than that he would make an effective and eminent Liberal, that attaining a title might substitute for an achievement. He believed that doing Fagin's bidding was the way to that attainment. There, then as now, endeth his beliefs.

There is no "moderate liberal" justification, for example, for his attack upon my old branch of Paddington Young Liberals. You can read this at pp. 125-128 of the book: no need to buy it, just skim it in the bookshop before one of the staff asks you to buy. Hyde Page tries to demonise his victims, but his description of the people in that branch reveal a fundamental failure to understand human nature: an understanding essential for all leaders and manipulators, and give insight into his political and personal failure:

  • The person he calls 'Lachlan' is actually named Paul - the mistake is understandable once you appreciate how dull-witted Hyde Page is. He has a genuine sense of humour while Hyde Page's lack of sense in this area reveals him as far more "gruesome" than the person he so labels - especially once you realise he made up the incident that apparently galvanised him to act. If you ever wonder why politicians are so same-same, look at 'Lachlan' and realise that he was the second-highest ranking moderate in the Young Liberals. Hyde Page invested all the works and days of hands in forcing out a branch President who was standing down: this proves him to be not only capricious but stupid. It is this combination that helps make both his book and the Liberal Party what they are today: not worth your while.

  • His description of two female members of that branch, Sarah and Nicole, shows that Hyde Page is baffled by women and not in some harmless, gentlemanly way. He accuses one of them of not wearing a miniskirt - now Sarah could sure wear a miniskirt(!), but I suppose that Hyde Page learnt miniskirt deployment at Cranbrook. He says that Chris McDiven's vapid offspring were part of his moderate-anti-moderate stack. Hyde Page's descriptions go beyond misogyny - this is someone who doesn't even like women in general and couldn't be bothered understanding them, another failure in interpersonal relations generally let alone Liberal politics in particular.

If the book was more important, I'd give further examples: chapters that follow like a tedious argument of insidious intent to lead you to an overwhelming question … why? well, that question would overwhelm him. Factional hacks like Hyde Page (or, for that matter, Morris Iemma or Steve Bracks) are not used to answering questions and as such they make appalling politicians, furtive and exclusionary and frightened of scrutiny. It is tiresome watching such people pay hide-and-seek with journalists who are both gullible and lazy. Hyde Page's book lays out the landscape of his mind like a patient etherised upon a table, but offers no reason why you should care about him or his little world.

Read the section on John Howard's contempt for him; a position he developed after the first few minutes and one position of his well worth your emulation. He is not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be. As an author he is not a truth-teller, nor is he imaginative or clear in his writing, full of high sentence and a lot obtuse, certainly not worthy of emulation however briefly.

You have now spent all the time on this book that is necessary, and more than is wise.


  1. The most striking impression that I gained of the Young Liberals and also the Sydney Uni campus liberals from fleeting contact in the late 1980s was that they were essentially a policy free zone.

    You would have hoped that some of them would have got involved because they had some idea about a framework of society, politics and policy that would be desirable.

    The students were simply blank at the mention of people like Popper and Hayek. The Chair of the Young Libs opened the meeting with the statement, "lets have no more of this silly debate about wet vs dry, lets just hope the leadership can get organised and win the next election".

  2. This is because politics is seen as a conduit into PR. After a few years as a staffer, the people you describe go into spruiking, breezily admitting that they worked for Politician X without, you know, any involvement in that silly ideo-factional stuff.

  3. I've just finished reading this book and I believe that some (only some) of the criticisms are slightly unfair. I was also a member of the Paddo Young Liberals at the same time as Andrew and Paul, although I never met John Hyde Page. I'm no longer a Lib but I did find Paul to be a very nice guy. I don't think Hyde Page tries to disguise his own bad behaviour, quite the contrary, he is pretty open about the poisonous way in which he behaves and the vacuousness of his blaze of destruction of YL branches. I believe he probably used "Lachlan" as a pseudonym, maybe on the advice of the lawyers. Hyde Page is clearly no longer a Liberal and this book never pretended to be about policy or beliefs. It's about the ruthless Machiavellian in fighting that exists in all political parties, Liberal and Labor. It's about the blood sport, pure and simple. The book itself I found to be an entertaining read. I think trying to pin him down about specifics is ultimately missing the point: this is just an intriguing insight into what is so wrong with current Australian politics. Who cares if the details aren't all correct?
    Cheers, Tim

  4. I don't remember you, "Tim". I don't mind you posting to my blog, but you have to read what I said first.

    He's written a novel. It isn't non-fiction because what it describes is fundamentally - not just on this or that episode - isn't truthful. Novels can be obliquely truthful but JHP has claimed a candour he has not displayed. It's possible for a story to be plausible without being true, "Tim", and the author has - like the Bourbons - learned nothing and forgotten nothing. I was awake up to him, which is why he only took on my branch after I left, but he is still making suckers out of credulous people like you.

    He's written a novel about a subject that is much in the news, much as a vulture feeds on a carcass - but it's hard to admire the vulture for its only real achievement of turning dead meat into vulture-shit. Intriguing? Hardly.

    You obviously haven't read Machiavelli: "Machiavellian" is not a longer synonym of "nasty" or "deceptive". While there is a lot of that bullshit in the Liberal Party, and the author is nothing if not a bullshitter, this does not mean that the author has been or is being honest with people.