Please do an Alexander. As parliamentary proceedings sink further and further into the mire taking Labor’s re-election chances down with it, Labor members will soon be imploring Julia Gillard to do what could best be described as an Alexander Downer. He, we should all remember because it was a rare political act, voluntarily surrendered his leadership of a political party when he realised he was doomed to lead it to an unnecessary defeat.

Mr Downer explained the circumstances in a recent article for the ABC’s The Drum.

It isn’t enough just to be “the Leader”. There has to be a point to leadership. ‘The Leader’ has to have a plan, to inspire her or his followers with that plan and to reach out to a broader section of the community as a leader of conviction.

Sure, things can go wrong. They did for me when I was opposition leader in 1994-95. A bad joke and a couple of gaffes and down went my approval ratings. In January 1995 my approval rating in Newspoll was 24 per cent. I thought that was pretty terminal.

I had a plan, I had my convictions but I worried. At this rate my plan would turn to dust because I’d lose the upcoming general election.

For me the big question was: is there anyone else who could stick with my plan and win an election. There was. John Howard.

So I figured it was best to facilitate a leadership transfer to him and try to get a decent job for myself if we could win the election.

It was a sad time for me. All those prawn cocktails and rubber chickens and I managed to get myself into a position of power. I had to give it up. But if we could win the election I’d have plenty of influence as a senior cabinet minister whereas where would I be if I led my party to another election defeat?

Morality depends on your hat. In a study to be published in a future issue of The Academy of Management Journal looking at why people make ethical or unethical decisions, lead author Keith Leavitt of Oregon State University explains how an individual’s sense of right or wrong may change depending on their activities at the time.

Focusing on dual-occupation professionals, the researchers found that engineers had one perspective on ethical issues, yet when those same individuals were in management roles, their moral compass shifted. Likewise, medic/soldiers in the U.S. Army had different views of civilian casualties depending on whether they most recently had been acting as soldiers or medics.

“When people switch hats, they often switch moral compasses,” Leavitt says. “People like to think they are inherently moral creatures — you either have character or you don’t. But our studies show that the same person may make a completely different decision based on what hat they may be wearing at the time, often without even realizing it.”

The research paper itself is behind a paywall so the best I can provide is the summary from a university press release.

The researchers conducted three different studies with employees who had dual roles. In one case, 128 U.S. Army medics were asked to complete a series of problem-solving tests, which included subliminal cues that hinted they might be acting as either a medic or a soldier. No participant said the cues had any bearing on their behavior — but apparently they did. A much larger percentage of those in the medic category than in the soldier category were unwilling to put a price on human life.

In another test, a group of engineer-managers were asked to write about a time they either behaved as a typical manager, engineer, or both. Then they were asked whether U.S. firms should engage in “gifting” to gain a foothold in a new market. Despite the fact such a practice would violate federal laws, more than 50 percent of those who fell into the “manager” category said such a practice might be acceptable, compared to 13 percent of those in the engineer category.

“We find that people tend to make decisions that may conflict with their morals when they are overwhelmed, or when they are just doing routine tasks without thinking of the consequences,” Leavitt said. “We tend to play out a script as if our role has already been written. So the bottom line is, slow down and think about the consequences when making an ethical decision.”

Maximising the ratings. How very skillful of the Nine Network to get a day or so of all the other media outlets previewing its interview with a prostitute.

The news that really concerns. The most read story on the Sydney Daily Telegraph website this morning?:Video ref made a blue”. And in Brisbane’s Brisbane Courier Mail?” “GI record try sparks controversy”.

A quote of the day:

“To buy a story from a prostitute is chequebook journalism at its worst. Who is going to take this seriously when they pay a prostitute money?”

— Craig Thomson MP on an as yet unshown A Current Affair interview

Some news and views noted along the way:

Peter Fray

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