08 May 2012

Abbott delenda est

There was a Roman Senator named Cato the Elder (no relation) who ended every speech he made, on any subject, with the phrase: "Carthago delenda est" (Carthage must be destroyed). Carthage was the main superpower rival to Rome at the time, and once the Romans finally got around to destroying it Rome became the dominant power in its region for hundreds of years.

For anyone who wants the Australian political system to be different to the way it is, this is the attitude that you have to take: Abbott must be destroyed. Abbott is the problem with our political system: not Gillard, not the independents or the Greens, and not even the dead-men-walking Slipper and Thomson.

Certainly, Liberal numbers men know this. Political parties appoint whips to ensure that MPs/Senators vote in line with their leader's wishes. The Deputy Liberal Whip in the House of Reps and the Liberal Senate Whip have each been rolled, a direct attack on the authority of the leader and a sign that real power in the Liberal Party is exercised by rightwing factional bosses, not the leader. That's why Abbott is not the solution to the Liberals' problem, but part of the problem itself.

Today of all days, Liberal powerbrokers with any sense for their party would hold off with the minor task of replacing Helen Kroger as Liberal Senate Whip. To delay would keep media focus on the government, its budget and attendant scandals, and Kroger could have stood down after the Budget. The fact that she has to be replaced now can only mean that the powerbrokers want Abbott to be seen to be dancing to their tune rather than the reverse.

Senators Cormann and Bernardi and non-members of Federal Parliament like Nick Minchin and David Clarke have usurped the role of the whips in the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party. Time was that Chris Pyne played a similar role for moderates, but there are two problems with this: a) moderate liberalism is essentially meaningless in the modern Liberal Party and b) Pyne is a bit too busy with Jamie right now to play intra-party games.

Every difference of opinion between Abbott and the factional bosses has been resolved in favour of the latter - every one. This was true of John Howard in the 1980s, but by the time he came back in 1995 he demanded, and got, the factional players to bend to his will. Once he did that Howard had the combination of goodwill and awe from the Liberal Party that a leader needs to achieve big things (like beating Paul Keating). Abbott is no Howard ad is not entitled to be taken at his word, but it suits Liberal factional leaders to use him as a merkin. Once the media realise that they will cover him differently.

When Abbott complains that Labor has "cooked the books" with the budget, it is part of a campaign to make the nation feel the way that Liberals feel - that they ran a good government that was swindled out of office by trickery. Part of this is imported tactics from the US Republicans and it will be fascinating to see what the Liberals learn from Mitt Romney's (ultimately unsuccessful) campaign this year.

Liberals are pleased that the polls are good but Abbott gets no credit for that. If they slip even slightly, Liberals will turn on him and he isn't big enough to demand that everyone pull in the same direction.

One of the reasons why Hawke and Keating did so well was that they messed with the heads of their opponents. Hawke had the measure of Peacock and '80s Howard. When Hewson outflanked him in economic policy, and without Keating by his side, he was finished. Keating got on top of Hewson, he toyed with Downer and he made Howard work and sweat for everything he got. Labor had the ability to mess with the Liberals' heads, and once they lost that ability they lost everything.

Howard had the measure of Beazley, Crean and (eventually) Latham. Rudd had his measure, never the reverse. Rudd had Nelson's measure too, but so did plenty of others: it was part of his charm.

Gillard can fend off Abbott, as her legislative and policy record demonstrates. Lawyers are taught that they have to work with whomever the other side puts up, and must maintain a veneer of professional cordiality with those against whom they engage in professional conflict. She doesn't realise that she doesn't have to just accept whomever the other side put up; she has to destroy whoever would lead the other side against her to take her job. She has to take it personally: there was a brief flash of that when she was annoyed at Abbott for accusing her of siding against Ashby's rights at work, but she can't only react.

Labor people can fret about their party's polling results, and whether or not this or that policy might be trimmed or reframed, but this will not bring about the change that all the "W(h)ither Labor?" witterers are seeking. What will bring about that change for Labor is for Abbott's gibbering critique to be invalidated, and that can only happen if he is denied the platform that he currently has.

A good budget tonight will be part of that, with grown-up economic and other policies outflanking the adolescent gibbering to which the Coalition is reduced when confronted with real policy debate that can't simply be flicked away. The slowly-building wider narrative that Abbott is going to cut social services and shovel money at billionaires in "compensation" is a good start, but what may eventually become the crush of a constrictor looks now like a swish of a feather boa. Time to ramp it up against Abbott.

Those who think the Liberals' problems will all be solved by a switch to Turnbull, Hockey, Brough or whomever else have to factor in the tightening factional grip over who gets admitted to the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party, let alone what they do there. Whether the title of "leader" is held by Abbott, or by any of the guys in the preceding sentence or whomever else you like, is only of interest to journalists and other dilettantes. The next Liberal Prime Minister will be the one who stands on the forecourt of Parliament House, picks up the likes of Cormann and Minchin (not just their delegates) by the ears and drop-kicks them into the lake. Anyone else is just a seat-warmer. Abbott has proven already that he can't and won't do the job; he has already failed, and any polls to the contrary can be safely ignored.

Labor need to develop the ability to mess with the Liberals' heads. Craig Emerson comes closest to this: he niggles the Liberals and can outflank them on economic policy, but talking points hold him back; he should be liberated from the lines in order to land some telling blows. Greg Combet has flashes of it when he's particularly irritated but this happens all too rarely. Albanese is not quite dormant but he is past his most intense. Conroy and Shorten can do it but they'd rather an internal Labor stoush any day. Gillard has to be both Prime Ministerially above-the-fray and, as part of the sexism that hasn't been worked out of her role yet, has to be whiter-than-white Calpurnia-style. Swan made a start with the billionaires but he hasn't really chained the Liberals to them; again, he's a factional player and despite a long career in politics he hasn't got any Liberal scalps to speak of.

Labor people need to demonstrate mastery over the Coalition. There is no better demonstration of dominance than to see someone like Helen Kroger, recently a major player in Melbourne, limping and bleeding at the hands of lesser operators like Fifield and Ryan. Complaining, like Gillard does, won't do it; only shirtfronting them, publicly revealing that the Coalition don't know what they're talking about and can't do a better job than Labor, will get the desired effect.

It's often said that Tony Abbott is Labor's greatest asset, but he isn't. Labor's best assets have to come from within its ranks or there is no point voting for it, no point joining it or in any way supporting them. The Australian economy is doing better than most but not as well as it could; and Abbott's self-seeking cloud of FUD is a depressant on the economy like this country has never seen. Lift that cloud and watch the country come to life.

This isn't something you can delegate. If Whitlam had been brought down by Snedden, or any Liberal other than Fraser, then Fraser would never have been PM. If Hawke had dispatched Hewson as he had his two more politically formidable predecessors, or had Dawkins/Beazley/someone else stepped up and done so, Keating might never have become PM. A Prime Minister who can see Rudd off twice - more than John Howard could ever do - lacks neither the wit nor the courage necessary to deal with The Situation. Abbott fans know it in their bones and dread the possibility that this - and they - might be exposed.

A Prime Minister who sets about wiping Abbott off the political map will not only have the power to get things done but be seen to get them done, and get credit for them, and lift the polls against a demoralised opposition that would not be able to set the agenda as it does today. The fact that the Coalition agenda consists almost entirely of Craig Thomson (blowback ensures they can't talk about Slipper) is a testament to Abbott and an indictment upon the rest of his party.

Gillard has to step up, otherwise, all the hard work of government becomes hostage to dreadful, Walkley-winning shite like this, over and over again; people will do something desperate like voting for Abbott just to make it stop. If Gillard pole-axes Abbott all the comments about her fashion sense disappear: she could wear whatever the hell she likes, and what's more she'd be copied. Polls, challenges, all that crap goes by the board once Abbott is removed from the equation. The only way to change the game is to make voting for Abbott a non-option, persuading even people who hate Gillard that the Coalition would be worse, rather than the benefit of the doubt it gets (and relies upon) now: Abbott delenda est.


  1. gillards painting abbott as mr. negativity can only take her so far but i have to admit that last nights "i'm red and he's always cross"was very effective and didn't he look shit faced.

    1. I heard a lovely joke on the radio this evening.

      Q: What's the difference between Abbott and a battery?
      A: A battery has a positive side.

  2. This is what I've been itching for the ALP to do for 12 months - take the fight up to the crapposition and watch 'em fold like deckchairs.

    A few public spats with the Greens wouldn't go astray. It's not as if they are going to jump ship now, when they wield more influence than they ever had (or likely will again)...and if it's good economic policy, tell the Greens to go hang - the opposition will either vote for it (thereby passing the bill) or not (wedging the coalition from their constituents and further trashing their claims to economic literacy).

    Get on the front foot, get in their faces. Show a bit of that old red fighting spirit. Never pass up an opportunity to mock, pillory or ridicule the other mob. At the very least, it'll spice up the media coverage...and it can't possibly work any worse than what they've been trying so far.

  3. My theory is that Gillard is constrained by the barely-restrained (usually subconscious) misogyny of the media and the general voting public that you briefly refer to. To some extent this is balanced in the public conscience and consciousness by the "hyper-masculine" alternative presented by Abbott. They may be uncomfortable with either feeling, but unwillingness to admit the misogyny means the crap coming from Abbott provides an acceptable, traditional you could say, refuge for the negativity they are unwilling to acknowledge.

    I don't doubt Gillard could EASILY demolish Abbott, but if she does it too soon and he is replaced with Turnbull for example (no idea if he is in the running) then they suddenly have a moderate alternative they can actually feel good about voting for which they will not be willing to change their minds about.

    If there is confidence that the Thomson and Slipper situation etc are not going to engender a need for an early election, then why not wait a little longer before making a move? By the rest of your theory, the Coalition will only continue to fortify a weak position.

    Probably a playful acerbity will work best for her e.g. the red/cross thing.

    Well, it's just a theory.

  4. How the government is so completely ineffectual against an opposition which openly states their intention to raise the taxes of 60-70% of Australians whilst cutting the taxes of foreign mining giants at the same time is completely mindboggling.

  5. Nice article. Your "Cato the Elder (no relation)" had me in stitches. Just the notion that the Elder family might have been around then is a wonderful piece of whimsy.

    And I agree, Gillard has to gut Abbott. The next 6 months will be crucial, if only so we don't have to put up with the moron Abbott as PM.

    1. Oh, we were around, just busy doing other things than blogging or addressing the Senate.

  6. I have a feeling (a hope too) Gillard et al are about to unleash hell on the opposition. Murmurs are that an advertising blitz is on its way re: the NBN, carbon trading, national disability scheme and dental scheme. They have apparently been waiting for the good ship surplus before starting on it - and were probably hoping for some clear air which Thompson and Slipper have stuffed.

    Is this the sort of offensive you think could work?

    1. I think plugging the policy was always going to work, that even the most determined shower of crap couldn't drown out good policy. Abbott is also an inherently weak person and can't sustain what little he offers over time.

  7. Nice. Didn't Cato the Elder have that fine trick of holding up a fresh fig or pomegranate and pointing out it came from Carthage to say "Look how close they are!". I think you are right, the ALP are stuck in a second punic war mindset, playing Facian to Abbott's Hanibal, time to move on to the third decisive phase and end with salting the earth of the conquered. then Albo can chuck a Patton and impulsively visit the north shore and tell war tales.


  8. Beaut article Andrew, when we have the "situation" being totally bamboozled by the question err: difference between baby bonus and school kids benefit we had"because the're different". Most enlightening but it shows that over and over again this fool is unable to respond to any question that Credlin has not forseen. Hardly recommends him to be PM.

    I just wish that the media would attribute credit when the Govt. gets it right and put some hard questions to the "situation" when he blathers crap, instead of crawling around at this feet in reverence and promoting all his bullshit as fact.

  9. Just now, I wouldn't want to be Christopher Pyne. Let me rephrase that: I would never want to be Mr Pyne, but if I were, I'd be quaking in my boots. Perhaps that's why he was looking so puffy today.

    1. Great photo. Slipper looking very resplendent, and venomous, in his garb. No matter what anyone says true or untrue he is a great speaker. Looks the part and always held the parliament brilliantly.

  10. Abbott is only keeping the seat warm for a Costello return,, ask Kroger. If this is true, Labour will be decimated at the next election. The polls consistently show only lukewarm support for Abbott, if Costello returns, it will swing a whole lot more support towards Costello.

  11. "Abbott is also an inherently weak person and can't sustain what little he offers over time."

    Abbott is your classic spoilt bully. He's used to getting everything his own way simply by whinging and throwing his toys out of his pram and falls apart at the slightest challenge.

    The overcompensating with all this iron many bullshit to try and hide his insecurities is laughable.

    Prime Minister? Christ, I hope not. Can you imagine him negotiating with the Chinese? He's already been slapped down by the Indonesians for his arrogant hubris. Give me a break.

  12. I believe that the PM gets stuck in ruts of wordplay about Abbott. 'Negativity' is adequate, however, as you yourself have identified over time on the blog here, there are far more devastating words that the Gillard government could bowl up against Abbott to knock his legs out from under him. I often have fun coming up with them myself. So I don't understand why it is that the PM's media team can't keep peppering the public conversation about Abbott with them in order to exemplify the multifarious areas of weakness that he, and the Coalition he leads, manifest to those with more than half an eye open. We get the negativity thing already.

    It's always been an effective strategy to have your opponent trying to put out multiple fires, even if they are only small ones, because it is the time taken getting from one to the other that distracts them the most from their task of trying to take you out. It is for this reason that, as you say, the Gillard government need to deploy more of their effective heavy hitters like Simon Crean, Tony Burke, Bill Shorten, Stephen Conroy and Nicola Roxon, to keep the niggling up. I know they are Ministers and have portfolios to run, but surely there could be brainstorming sessions that run over the latest Liberal BS and get it into a shape which can be thrown back at them? People love gossiping about SNAFUs, so keep finding them from out of the bowels of the Liberal Party, State and federal, and they are starting to mount up nicely, and just keep putting them into cream pies and throwing them about.

    Finally, Mark Butler needs to be encouraged. He has the sort of cut-through way with words that you are talking about. Seemingly simple, but deadly effective. Tony Abbott, or should that be Peta Credlin, is not invulnerable. Neither is Mark Textor.

  13. I simply can't believe come the election, women are going to compliantly vote for Abbott. My naive hope against hope is that there are a lot of people, women in particular, who don't currently want to get dragged into the nasty policking and are just agreeing in public for the sake of peace, but come the election, in the privacy of voting they will get real! I just read Abbott's speech and it was nothing but repetition and one big slag off. PM Abbott? I hope not.