01 September 2009

Too excited to think straight

Now you can see why Gerard Henderson is usually such a sad sack - when he tries to be optimistic he gets all giddy. He also trots out some of his hoary old themes which haven't survived the passage of time.
A reasonable result in Bradfield would give Turnbull the chance to re-establish some authority in the lead-up to the next federal election.

Not really. A reasonable result would be a reprieve rather than a bonus. The following paragraph, apart from the pointless piling-on to Latham (once hailed by Henderson as one of Labor's great thinkers), puts paid to the whole pay-peanuts-get-monkeys thing: there was a time, before the culture wars, when Henderson would have given some thought to that.
The indications are that the candidates will include the lawyer Sophie York, the businessman Paul Fletcher, the Menzies Research Centre director Julian Leeser and the former journalist Tom Switzer, who worked briefly on Nelson's staff when he was Opposition Leader.

All four would add much-needed youthful talent to the Opposition frontbench.

Fletcher is good on telco policy, that's about it. He's a cold, aloof man with not much to show beyond his area of interest. I can picture him raving on and on about optic fibre and digital content to a disbelieving and bewildered bunch of oldies who regard computers both as trivial children's toys and at the same time all-powerful evil machines that will eat you. A lightweight like John Alexander will run rings around Fletcher, and that will piss him off no end.

Julian Leeser is both very bright and very personable, and while he should be in parliament one day - but not now, not here. Selecting him would be a clear demonstration of fealty to Turnbull, and the leader's grip over his party is still too tenuous for that. If he loses in the first round it will be a clear rebuke to the current leader, and a good man will be collateral damage (but hey, that's politics!). Henderson undermined his own point by failing to praise Leeser's considerable intellect and hard work, especially when compared to Frydenberg or Switzer.

Tom Switzer is a shrieking goon who has only two operating modes: thunder and bluster, or whiny victim. It is a symptom of the intellectual poverty of the US Republican Party that it only offers such people, and for Switzer to enter Parliament would demonstrate that the Liberal Party is similarly bereft. Switzer and Wilson Tuckey would compete for getting chucked out of the House most often. His public appearances give no sensible person grounds for basic respect for his views, as both his ego and intellect are so brittle he could not face down a challenge. The far left are either defunct, or have become conservatives (but I repeat myself). In a meeting of minds you'd send Tom out for the biscuits, but he'd probably scoff them all Cookie Monster-style just to show his rugged disdain for namby-pambyness.
The recent preselection of Joshua Frydenberg for the relatively safe Liberal seat of Kooyong in Melbourne is a plus for the Coalition. His work experience in Howard's office and in business entitles him to a frontbench position after the next election.

Joshua is intellectually and morally lazy, as we at the Politically Homeless Institute have pointed out repeatedly, and any minister shadowed by him would get an easy ride. Someone with his resume should be the goods, but Gerard you have a responsibility to look beyond what's on the label.
Unlike Labor, too few Liberals read widely on policy before they enter politics.

This was probably true in the 1980s: it simply isn't true any more. It is absurd to claim that, for instance, Kate Ellis would be better read/more experienced than Greg Hunt, or that Craig Thomson would be better read/more experienced than Michael Keenan. Once, perhaps: no more.
The Howard government had only a few ministers who were subsumed in politics since their schooldays and who had the conviction and the intellectual courage to take on all comers in the political debate. This group included Howard, Peter Costello, Alexander Downer and Tony Abbott. Howard and Downer have left politics and Costello says he is about to depart. This leaves Abbott who, on his own admission, had a poor 2007 election campaign and is regarded by some colleagues as a risk.

Abbott is the bollard over which Julia Gillard, Nicola Roxon and Jenny Macklin have cruised into office. If Abbott merited the intellectual reputation that unthinking people give him, these promising Labor up-and-comers should have been political road-kill by now, skulking back to dingy Melbourne moaning about how tough politics is. Battlelines has sunk without trace - for intellectual content, not to mention lasting political influence and resonance in contemporary debate, it makes the works of Don Chipp look like Kant or Gramsci.
Nelson was a competent performer in the Howard government and a fine education minister. Yet he was never leadership material.

The first sentence is tosh and Henderson can only ruin what remains of his reputation with crap like that. The second sentence is a reversal of what he said during Nelson's leadership at the time - again, as with that other failed Opposition Leader, Latham - Henderson is being smart after the event.
It's almost two years since the Coalition lost the election and its prime minister lost his seat. The years have not been kind to Howard's refusal to hand over to Costello in his final term. The opportunity of a Costello leadership is now lost. The task is to rebuild the party with young, articulate political conservatives who believe in their cause. Traditionally, the conservative intellectual political tradition has been weak in Australia. There is no reason why this should remain the case.

Bradfield offers the Liberals a chance to demonstrate that they are willing to engage in the battle of ideas with a view to returning to government.

Yes it does, and they will squib it. Self-belief gets you a long way in politics but it is not the same as, nor a replacement for, the willingness of others to believe that you understand the challenges facing Australia today. Switzer doesn't, Fletcher does only in very small part, and Peter Costello's fine words were not matched by the necessary bravery on his part whilst in office.

Gerard Henderson used to be intellectually nimble enough to adjust his beliefs in line with objective reality. No more: he's a broken record in an iPod age. He didn't say anything different to what Miranda Devine said on the same topic on Saturday (except she didn't deign to mention Leeser or Fletcher), and people wonder why we don't want to pay for online content from Fairfax.

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