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Monday, December 03, 2007

A crack in the shell and it all just fell apart...

Graffiti in Sydney suburb of Redfern

It's been roughly a week since the Liberal Party lost power in Australia. It has been interesting to see how drastically the party has imploded in that time. The (former) Prime Minister, John Howard, lost his own seat of Bennelong, and has therefore not managing to be re-elected to parliament. It is only the second time in Australia's political history that an incumbent Prime Minister has lost in his own electorate. Peter Costello, the former Deputy Prime Minister, a man who had made his desire to lead the Liberal Party no secret during the last eleven years of government has finally decided he doesn't want to run for the Liberal leadership. In fact, he no longer wants to remain in politics at all, preferring to move into the private sector. Similarly, prominent ministers in Howard's former government, notably former foreign minister Alexander Downer and former Attorney General Philip Ruddock (who was once described by David Marr as "a dark star" and "a blank page of a man"), have taken much diminished roles in the new Liberal opposition government.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how much Howard's obstinate iron grip of the party, his muzzling of the more liberal Liberals, his "we work as a team and we do it my way" policy to leadership was the only thing holding the party together. Without Howard the party finds itself rejoicing in the increased freedom of life in the Liberal Party without Howard, but also daunted by the consequences of what unbridled freedom involves. The implosion of the party demonstrates just how fragile the faith in Howard as a leader was within the party. With Howard no longer dominating the party room, it is clear for all to see just how discontented many members of the Liberal Party were with the way the party was being run. Remember, this is the party that only a week ago, some 47% of the Australian population voted for.

Without Howard the unquestionable is suddenly being questioned. Suddenly apologising to the Aborigines for the Stolen Generation is no big deal. Suddenly, signing the Kyoto Protocol is the right thing to do. Suddenly, gay rights are on the agenda. Suddenly, instead of petulantly crossing our arms and saying, "well, why should we?" we're asking, "why shouldn't we?".
I find it a little disturbing that we followed along so obediently and unquestioningly for so long. Many political commentators have pointed out that one of Howard's great skills was to induce apathy in the Australian public. His leadership was devoid of any real inspiration. It was a case of trying to annoy the least number of people, rather than any real attempt to inspire a nation to follow a dream. When it is revealed, as it has been, that even those in his own party were only marginally behind him (if they were actually behind him at all), you have to wonder why we were all so easily convinced. We just learnt to swallow the pills. We thought, "he doesn't want to talk about Guantanamo? That's ok. He doesn't want to talk about Woomera, about Villawood? Well, hmmmm it's all so complicated anyway. He wants to go to Irak? I mean, pass me the sport would you.... yeah... that's better."

What was gained by being so obstinate towards taking responsibility for anything? What did we gain by being evasive of answers? Why did we feel the need to go out of our way to be so disdainful of the idea of everyday decent values? It didn't amount to anything in the end. Howard hasn't left the Liberal Party in a position of strong intellectual or conceptual consensus as to what it stands for. Instead, the party is left groping in the dark, having to redefine itself, perhaps now knowing more about what it doesn't want to represent, than what it does.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I liked your blog entry about the election. The point about apathy and offending the least number of people is exactly right. Leadership isn't not offending people and getting re-elected, it's about explaining and convincing people why this is the right thing to do, even if it isn't popular. Democracy will ultimately sort out whether or not people agree. The two get confused sometimes.

Leadership should be visionary and aspirational. Leaders should give us a sense of who we want to be as a nation and how we want to be seen in the world. The small issues will always be dealt with.

West Wing: "I think ambition is good. I think overreaching is good. I think giving people a vision of government that's more than Social Security checks and debt reduction is good. I think government should be optimistic." Sam goes on later "In 1940, our armed forces weren't among the 12 most formidable in the world, but obviously we were gonna fight a big war. And Roosevelt said the U.S. would produce 50,000 planes in the next four years. Everyone thought it was a joke, and it was. 'Cause it turned out we produced 100,000 planes."

Not in the same realm, but I remember the unenployment rate was 9-11% in the early 90s, and people joking aobut how incredible it would be if we could get our unemployment rate to below 5% like in the US. Everyone thought it was ridiculous. Last week it was 4.3%. Not quite the same but can't think of a better example at the moment...

Christelle said...

It's awesome how so little time after the new PM is elected, Kyoto is signed and you're out of Iraq! :D Way to go Oz!

Andrew said...

once again, off the topic in true andrew-style. love how richie benaud and the 12th man are impervious to any piece of your work: "we work as a team and we do it my way..."

couldn't help but to think that perhaps it shouldn't have taken a "rocket surgeon" to see how much Howard's obstinate iron grip of the party... whatever, that's just being pedantic. love your work!

James Pender said...

I totally thought about using rocket surgeon, but I thought it might have made the post too 12th man heavy!

zhuk said...

Glad you like my pic enough to put it up James :)

Although I took it in Redfern waay back just after the 2001 election...long since painted over now.

I too have pondered for years about Howard's ability was to play on the nation's baser unconscious instincts...appeal to people's greed/prejudice/fear and then cleverly inflate them.

Strange how the man who so professed to love his Party til his dying day has left it in such a wreck...

Chris Mc said...

Insightful writing. Nice. There is more confusion in truth is greater than the frustration of lies.