A special Crikey correspondent takes a detailed look at some of Tony Abbott’s philosophical musings.

Most of them resolve the contradiction by doing two things. They pretend to be sports fans. (To the Prime Minister’s credit he doesn’t have to pretend to be, in the words of Mark Taylor, a genuine “cricket tragic”) They also illustrate the odd speech with apposite quotations culled, generally by an advisor, from a convenient dictionary of quotations. A variation on this is recounting political anecdotes – if Labor about Gough, if Liberals about Menzies. Most of the Menzies stories are actually re-working of even older stories about Churchill which, in their turn, were re-workings of genuine stories about F.E.Smith.

Those with leadership ambitions actually go beyond the odd quote and anecdote and plunge into the world of historical analogy.

The latest is the Mad Monk Tony Abbott who, with his latest excursions, is hardly an advertisement for the benefits of a Jesuit training or, at least, an indication that as the Jesuits have become trendier and more liberal they have also encouraged some sloppy thinking.

Gerard Henderson, who sipped the seminarian and sectarian syrup at the feet of the old Master, B.A.Santamaria, has been particularly cross with the Mad Monk , taking him to task for his intellectual confusions.

Crikey – without wanting to support Gerry too far – thought they might add some more insights into the Mad Monk’s confusions.

The Mad Monk’s first excursion into this fascinating territory of historical analogy was to begin to refer to himself as a Burkean conservative. The Gallery, who knew the Mad Monk was a berk but not who Burke was, have busily reported his “thoughts” on the subject. The Mad Monk’s ideas have busily been adopted by others (including the PM) who have all begun to gleefully claim a Burkean heritage.

Now while most Crikey readers know full well who Edmund Burke was we know that Crikey is also avidly followed in Parliament where Edmund Burke might as well be related to Hare and Burke.

So – for the record – Burke was an Irishman on the make. He lived to (for the eighteenth century) the ripe old age of 68 dying in 1797. He spoke out against the slave trade, and anti-Catholic discrimination, the French Revolution and Indian corruption. By the standards of the day this was almost progressive although he also ratted on his party moving from the Whigs to support the conservatives under Pitt the Younger. More importantly, while speaking out on these issues in principle he always found some reason to oppose any specific practical change which might have remedied the problems he highlighted. He also had the disadvantage of being a monumentally dull speaker and regularly emptied the House. Unlike the Mad Monk he didn’t have the benefit of rehearsing his bon mots with his public servants.

So, Crikey having studied Burke at school, now wants to know what part of the Mad Monk is a berk and what not?

Does he support Burke’s views on the Protestant Ascendancy which, translated into modern equivalents, would allow religious toleration in return for the different and the dissenters being allowed to operate as peasants and wage slaves with limited rights. Inasmuch as his blunderings in industrial relations policy suggest anything, the answer is probably yes.

Does he oppose republicanism and violent revolution? Well, yes, you have to give him some points for consistency.

Does he believe that MPs are elected to do what they think is right and bugger the voters? Well, probably yes, but he’s unlikely to admit as much.

Does he believe in “one people” with inconvenient ideas like States rights for the Welsh, the Irish, the Scots, the West, Queensland etc etc being subjugated to the greater good of the national idea? If he does he’s keeping very quiet about it.

And does he oppose parliamentary reform and democracy as a dangerous threat to the Constitution, traditional values and the overwhelming benefits of the Burkean concept of “continuity”?

and this last point leads inexorably – burkes are strong on changes leading inexorably to worser things – to the Mad Monk’s other recent historical illusion. In this one he compared the AWU and assorted unionists to the Duke of Newcastle, master of the pocket boroughs. Indeed, as the Monk thundered, the unions controlled more pocket boroughs than anyone other than Newcastle before the 1832 Reform Act.

Now Newcastle was quite an operator, rather better and more ruthless than Richo for instance.

The standard works on him and his brother, Henry Pelham, claim that they used systematic corruption so successfully that, for a period of some 40 years in the middle of the 18th century no British administration could survive without them.

So – as the Mad Monk is rather sensitive about what books say about people – he might start reading those standard works: Namier’s book on the Structure of Politics in the 18th century and Owen’s book on the Pelham family.

Should he do so he might think twice about repeating his analogy too often outside Parliament. He could end up giving back all the family gained from the hapless Bob Ellis, his publishers and their insurers to a few Queensland trade union officials.

Peter Fray

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