admit it up front. I have an Adelaide private schoolboy’s accent, too.
But Alexander Downer cops a lot of flak he doesn’t deserve. The foreign
minister might talk posher than most of us – but it’s what he sometimes
says rather than the way he says it that gets him into trouble.
Downer’s accent and sense of humour mean he can sometimes be very
funny, but also mean he can come out with flat gags like “the things
that batter.”

His background has also given him an excellent
grasp of British political history and its mannerisms. He should then
appreciate the fine line between Churchillian rhetoric and hyperbole.
Should. He’s crossed it in the past – and certainly crossed it again in
his speech to the Earle Page College’s Annual Politics Dinner at the University of New England last night.

Minister Alexander Downer has accused Labor leaders from John Curtin
and Gough Whitlam to Mark Latham of appeasement of Nazi Germany,
communist Russia and Saddam Hussein,” Dennis Shanahan writes in The Australian.

was thinking Churchill – and not just in his attacks on appeasement. A
line in his speech about “the English-speaking peoples” was a dead
giveaway. Some neo-cons have updated Churchill’s romantic notion with
the concept of “the Anglosphere.” They point to the involvement of the
US, Britain and Australia on the war on terror, in Afghanistan and Iraq
and invoke the Churchill idea that the English-speaking peoples should
exercise some new form of Pax Britannicus over the globe.

history isn’t that good. They seem to forget that their Republican
Party forerunners were dedicated isolationists in 1940 when Churchill
and Britain were tackling Nazi Germany alone. Downer’s history is no
better. Earle Page was one of the founders of the Country Party. He was
Joe Lyons’ deputy prime minister in the 1930s and PM himself for a few
days following Lyons’ death.

Robert Rhodes James wrote one of the classic studies of Churchill. Called A Study in Failure,
it examines the chequered career of the statesman before his return to
the cabinet on the eve of World War II and his ultimate ascension to
the prime ministership.

It records the Commonwealth Prime
Ministers’ Conference in the European summer of 1937. It “disclosed
alarming schisms amongst the Empire,” James records, before going on to
say how “Australia declared participation in a European war
impossible.” A few pages on he writes about Munich: “The attitude of
the Dominions throughout the crisis had been strongly in favour of
conciliation; the Australian, South African and Canadian High
Commissions in London had been active in urging concessions on
Chamberlain.” Whoops, Alex.

As Crikey was the first to report,
Downer still entertains hopes of returning to a leadership role in the
Liberal Party. Last night’s efforts clearly flagged that he considers
himself a major player, fit to make the big speeches.

But he should watch the grand Churchillian gestures. Other
politicians have been tripped up by them before. Anthony Eden resigned
from Chamberlain’s cabinet in protest at appeasement – then went on to
destroy his career invoking Churchill’s example to tackle a dictator –
a middle-east dictator – over Suez. Menzies’ interventions in the
episode were risible.

“I should have made nothing if it were not for my mistakes,” Churchill once declared. Alex, please note.