Ousted PM returns to a hero’s welcome, the headline screams. What? Where? Oh it’s Pakistan, where former PM Nawiz Sharif is coming back after seven years of exile, permitted to return by General Musharrif so as to help mozz the chances of Benazir Bhutto in the forthcoming elections. People see this bloke as a saviour. How unlike the homefront of our own dear dweeb.
With the Liberal party falling in on itself – and for the last couple of years it has been pretty much a facade anyway, with several state branches in seemingly permanent torpor, the burnt out NSW shell squatted by crazy neo-uglies, and many of the suburban branches having average ages in the mid-to-late 60s – the knives are coming out for Howard.
Peter Costello didn’t challenge and could have. Now Nick Minchin is revealed to have had a no-nonsense chat with the PM. And Gerard Henderson always thought he should go.
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This is only one chapter in a comprehensive and delusional rewriting of history. Quite aside from the fact that no-one in the Libs really had the courage to knuckle down for the sort of factional stoush that, necessarily, consumes Labor from time to time, there remains the possibility that the presence of Howard actually saved the Libs from an even greater pasting.
After all, almost daily during the campaign, the conservatoriat were jumping on Howard’s higher “preferred PM” polling. Well, if that had any validity it must mean that Howard get a few Tory working class voters from drifting back across – the sort of people who thought Keating was a spiv, and who would flay Costello alive and make shoes from his skin if they ran into him. Was Howard good for holding one or two seats, and keeping Labor below the psychologically important barrier of 90 seats?
Nor are they out of it. The party needs someone who’s a political lifer, has it under their skin, since every aspect of it has to be reconstructed. Turnbull can’t do that. He thinks he can, presuming that business, law, etc provide a set of transferable skills. They can’t. Politics is an art, and the hallmark of any art is that its key skills can’t be abstracted or generalised.
They are learnt by lifelong immersion, the unanalysable blend of ruthlessness, empathy, vision, cynicism, frailty and transcendence. Watch Turnbull and you feel like George C Scott sizing up Paul Newman in The Hustler – “keep playing. This kid’s a loser”.
Nevertheless, Turnbull is Count Metternich compared to Brendan Nelson, a photocopy of a real person. Should he somehow grab the top spot, we will have the interesting situation whereby both PM and Opposition leader are ALP members. One of them former of course (I don’t know if Nelson still is).
Of all three contenders, Abbott is the only one with sufficient grit under his fingernails to reconstruct the party – but in doing so he would split it.
Given this turmoil, you’d reckon there nothing else could go wrong. Could it?
What about Operation Crazy Frog? When Sarkozy made it over the line in France, practically his first act was to invite Bernard Kouchner from the Socialists into Cabinet. Kouchner, founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres, and another political draft in, accepted. Why? Because he wasn’t political enough to relish the prospect of years of infighting to rebuild the Socialists. Offered a chance to get things done, he accepted with alacrity, kicking the SF deep(er) in the escargots.
Could Labor do the same? Find a plum job for, say, a distinguished lawyer, merchant banker, prominent republican, something just too good to refuse? Would he jump for the right gig? You bet he would. After all no man knoweth the hour, and spending days locked in a room screaming at the Mad Monk and Sophie Mirabella isn’t life, it’s a Fassbinder movie. He’s waiting for the call, even if he doesn’t fully know it yet.
And that would leave less a party than a sack of spare parts for one. With a Downer-Pyne ticket the best option.
Oh man. It’s like a deep tissue massage every morning.