On Road To Ruin

Misha Ketchell writes: Re. “Razer: Niki Savva betrayed the sisterhood, but that’s not why it’s a crappy book” (yesterday). Sorry Crikey, but we’re really through the journalism looking glass now. How can Helen Razer’s sideswipe of Niki Savva for not seeking comment from Abbott and Credlin, among other crimes against the sisterhood, be taken seriously when she hasn’t even read Savva’s book? When your article is a dismissive rant on said book, this isn’t a small matter that can be dispensed with via disclaimer. I’m tempted to say they’re as bad as each other, but that’s not right. Savva’s book might be compromised by her failure to speak to her subjects, but as I haven’t read it I’ll reserve judgement. Razer’s article I have read, and her serene indifference to the actual contents of the work on which she bases her opinion renders it worthless.

David Edmunds writes: I think Helen Razer rather misses the point about Niki Savva’s Road to Ruin.  It was inevitable that the book would be viewed in gender terms, but this is hardly the point.  It will come as no surprise to most readers that there are people of all genders who are incompetent, bullying sociopaths.

Niki Savva is outraged at the mess that Tony Abbott made of the conservative project, and this appears to be the driver behind the book. While from the text it emerges that Savva probably dislikes Credlin, she quotes many people whose experience of dealing with Credlin has led them to the same conclusion.

She does not blame Credlin for being what she is perceived to be, but is at a loss to explain Tony Abbott’s complete failure to deal with the evolving situation.  Credlin is not presented as a femme fatale. Savva goes to considerable lengths to prove that she is widely disliked by both men and women. Further, while Abbott not unreasonably related to Credlin as a woman, Savva does not suggest a sexual relationship and goes to some lengths to say that the exact nature of the relationship is irrelevant, just that it was weird and dysfunctional.

While I have only read half of the book the picture that emerges is that of a man particularly unsuited to be prime minister. Savva points out that Credlin did nothing to lead policy development, a role that she clearly believes resides with the chief of staff, but surely this should be at the direction of the leader. The absence of policy development has now become startlingly obvious.

Abbott adopted the Newt Gingrich approach to opposition when he led the US Republicans during Bill Clinton’s tenure at the White House.  His view was that you make the place ungovernable to destroy your opponent.  Abbott was successful in using this approach, and actual policy was not necessary for this project.

Enamoured of this strategy, he then adopted the Karl Rove (chief of staff to George W Bush) concept of “We make our own reality”, a view which explains the complete absence of coherent policy presented by the coalition for the 2013 election. So, lack of policy development is hardly Credlin’s fault, although a better operator may have been able to overcome some of this weakness.

While Savva did not interview either Credlin or Abbott for the book, it is not at all clear what she might ask them that would elicit an honest and informative response. She reasonably points out that they have access to the media.  Credlin has used that access to pen a piece for The Australian, which not unexpectedly completely misses the point and justifies Savva’s decision not to interview them.

Phillip Roslan writes: Re. “Dangerous liaisons: why Savva brought up affair rumours where others feared to tread” (Wednesday).

Myriam quotes Melbourne University Press publisher Louise Adler who stated,

“Until the publication of Niki Savva’s The Road to Ruin, the private lives of Australian politicians were generally accepted to be off-limits. Now it is suggested that the former prime minister and his chief-of-staff were so intimately involved as to ensure their own downfall.”

As Myriam Robin showed, there have been many occasions when politicians’ personal lives have been brought to the public’s attention for political advantage. Yet, every time we hear journalists and others, say, “until now”, the private lives of Australian politicians were generally accepted to be off-limits. The fact that this time the politician is Tony Abbott may be seen by some as an instance of ‘what goes around, comes around’.

Tony Abbott destroyed Cheryl Kernot both politically and emotionally by continually attacking her earlier, and private, lifestyle which he disagreed with (when 27 years old she lived with a younger man who was a former student of hers). Julia Baird wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2008 that, the intensity of the attack, the level of media scrutiny, and the ‘scale and vehemence of the coverage’, largely destroyed Kernot’s reputation. Like a shark feeding frenzy, the media finished off what Abbott had deliberately started. Abbott was good at trashing noble convention for political advantage.

Politics is a dirty business and Abbott was one of the worst offenders. Perhaps Niki Savva had this in mind when writing the book (that I have yet to read).

On early elections

Joe Boswell writes: Re. “Turnbull turns the election date weapon on himself” (Wednesday). Malcolm Turnbull’s apparent preparations for an early election are strongly reminiscent of Gordon Brown not long after he became the British PM in June 2007.

Like Turnbull, he replaced a sitting PM and he was initially popular. After some time the gloss began to wear off and for weeks the media, with mounting excitement, declared that all the signs showed Brown intended to cement his authority and legitimacy by calling an early election in October. At the last moment Brown chose instead to delay the election as long as possible. His position never recovered from the public reaction to the “election that never was” and the perception of indecision and failure of nerve. It was ably exploited by the opposition.

The media was bitterly resentful that Brown had spoilt the fun they anticipated in covering the election. Labour lost the subsequent election and Brown resigned. Raising such expectations was a huge unforced mistake and Brown’s cabinet later mourned the cancelled early election as the key point where the government lost its momentum. Of course, this need not worry Turnbull, since you must have momentum in order to lose it.

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