Desperately trying to shed his Lord Downer of Baghdad image, foreign minister Downer yesterday pulled off something of a coup. In future, he should always appear on TV with US secretary of state Condeleezza Rice, who made him look assertive, credible and even grown up.

In Washington for his latest set of instructions, Downer assumed his serious pose – not always easy for him – and without as much as a giggle or a smirk he spoke about the Australian hostage in Iraq and what was happening to secure his release. “Alexander of Arabia” was showing the compassion for Douglas Wood denied to the wretched David Hicks, who is now the forgotten and abandoned Australian citizen rotting away in George Bush’s modern version of Auschwitz. Both men have been kidnapped, both men have loving families and both men deserve to be freed.

Alexander no doubt will be showing more than just a passing interest in the latest circus taking place under the Liberal Party big top. After all, his decision to go quietly after being Australia’s most preposterous opposition leader ever paved the way for the Man of Steel to move into the top job. His failure though hasn’t dampened his absolute belief that he is, at the end of the day, the man to be the next prime minister.

The pity for him is that only about four other MPs and senators share his optimism; politicians have long memories when it comes to the failures of one of their own. Under Howard’s tutelage and the occasional appearance with the likes of Rice, Alexander doesn’t giggle as much, utters his “um ums” sparingly and the Billy Bunter image is gradually being replaced by something more mature.

If he wants out of parliament he could opt for the High Commissioner’s job In London – his dad, Sir Alexander, was there for a long time and his reports back to Canberra were, in the main, vivid descriptions of what the Queen Mother wore to Australia house cocktail parties. His next political job could well be treasurer or even workplace relations – but prime minister? Pull the other one Edna.

Peter Fray

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