He’s the Bert Newton of Australian politics: the polished performer whose gift for spontaneous, stiffly splenetic wit was honed in tougher vaudevillian times, times when having a personality meant more than booking an in-store appearance from Sophie Monk. “He” is of course Paul Keating, a man who knows how to milk a moment in the public gaze, a man who also knows how to fill that moment with something pointedly amusing and worth the repeating.

Two brackets of achingly sharp political standup from Keating yesterday have hogged the airwaves and set a handful of agendas in the 24 hours since. That Keating need only floss his teeth in public to turn the news cycle on its ear says a lot for the standard of over-massaged, verbally neutered performance we have come to expect from the modern political operator.

More’s the pity. This subtle sense of loss and nostalgic regret that fills us every time PJK even thinks of appearing on the 7.30 Report might have some echo in the push to have that “nong”, that “policy mouse” Peter Costello return to the upper echelons of the Liberal Party. Maybe the same sentiment should propel Keating back to lead Labor. We’d be the funnier for it.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey