How many times have we heard that ‘being Opposition Leader is the hardest job in politics’? Almost since the day Brendan Nelson was elected we have heard this mantra from Coalition members, increasingly in recent months as Nelson’s performance failed to improve. There seemed to be a need to excuse his performance by pointing out how hard his job was. But is the mantra true? Is being Opposition Leader inherently as hard as has been asserted?
Let’s look back. We can still remember the days of Simon Crean. Coming as he did from the position of Shadow Treasurer, he carried the baggage of that position, a position in which he was often carping about what the Howard Government was doing. Although a thoroughly decent person well versed in his shadow position, he was characterized by the media as whining, lacking charisma and not up to the job. It wasn’t long before one could see the writing on the wall. The media began to write him off. He was unable to meet the expectations people had of him. Eventually he succumbed to the pressure. But was this because his was ‘the hardest job in politics’? No. It was because of his unsuitability for the position and the media’s realization of this.
Take Kim Beasley. He had two stints as Leader of the Opposition. He suffered electoral defeats. He was well liked by the public, his fellow parliamentarians and by most of the media. During the years he exhibited competent leadership no one mentioned that he had the hardest job in politics. But because he was seen as verbose, and eventually boring, people stopped listening. He was, to use a media cliché, no longer ‘cutting through’. A reason to replace this nice man was needed. It turned out to be a couple of small verbal blunders – we all remember the Rove McManus – Carl Rove gaffe. From then the mood for change crystallized. But was his political demise the result of him holding down ‘the hardest job in politics’? No. It was of his own doing, with help from the media and some of his colleagues.
Remember Mark Latham. His early days as Opposition Leader generated great excitement. He was someone ready to take on John Howard. We all remember his successful attack on parliamentarians’ superannuation. He was riding high. No one said he was labouring in the toughest job in politics. It was not until he began to make tactical mistakes, beginning with the surprise ‘we’ll bring the troops home by Christmas’ announcement that he was increasingly seen as erratic, too emotional and angry about media intrusion into his family life, too unpredictable. He lost the election and retreated. But was his departure because the job was too hard? No. It was because he proved to not have the temperament, the judgement and the wisdom a leader needs, and his colleagues, the media and the public had lost faith in him. More...
What happened? Why? What’s next? are questions we all ask. Peter Costello has given us his answers to the first in The Costello Memoirs. But not why, and what’s next?
Why did he never challenge for the leadership? Why didn’t he accept it after the election? Why has he refused it ever since despite his party’s pleading?
His detractors conclude he has never had the courage – John Hewson uses ‘balls’ – to challenge Howard, that he wanted it handed to him without a contest. His supporters insist that because he never had more than a third of the party room behind him, he wanted to avoid the disruption that a challenge, a defeat, a retirement to the back bench, and the appointment of another Treasurer would have inflicted on his party. They say he put his party ahead of his ambition. He would argue that he had enough hints from John Howard and others to persuade him to be patient. He says this was the case right until near the end, at the time of APEC. His detractors say he never had enough 'mongrel' in him to fight for what he wanted.
Why then did he reject leadership when handed to him on a platter after the election? His detractors would say that the prospect of leading a defeated party back to prominence against a popular new Government was too overwhelming, too hard a road. Paul Keating classed Costello as the laziest Treasurer in history who lay in a hammock for 11 years, and periodically asked for a push. ‘All tip but no iceberg’ was his acerbic assessment. Costello’s supporters, who were surprised, mystified and disappointed, attributed his decision to a laudable concern for his wife and family, who had suffered his absences from home for 11 long years, and now deserved more of his time. After all, ‘Australia’s greatest Treasurer’, with 11 hard years under his belt had earned the right to do it his way and to take his time about it.
Then there’s the question ‘What’s next?’ More...
Part 1 – What is a political narrative?
The recent media obsession with finding Kevin Rudd’s ‘narrative’ came to a head last month with Jack the Insider’s blog in The Australian In search of the Rudd narrative. It attracted 386 comments. But so far no conclusion has emerged. This followed Rudd’s Press Club address at which journalists, keenly anticipating the emergence of the Rudd narrative, came away disappointed as Rudd’s focus had been on another chapter of his ‘education revolution’. The term ‘narrative’ seems to be enjoying the contemporary spotlight because journalists have taking a liking to it. It’s become a political buzzword. Yet I have not seen one journalist explain what the term means. Its meaning is assumed to be self-evident.
A dictionary search gives the usual meaning that we all understand - a story or account of events, experiences, or the like; a literary work containing such a story. We know too that stage and television shows have a narrative. In medical circles the word is used to describe a patient’s life story and history of health and illness, and because of the narrative’s role in predicting future events, ‘narrative therapy’ has emerged as a type of psychotherapy.
But nowhere is ‘political narrative’ defined. Nor does Encyclopedia Britannica shed any light. Wikipedia casts ‘narrative’ as a record of past events; it derives from the Latin verb narrare, which means ‘to recount’, but goes on to say “…narrative is the general term for a story, long or short; of past, present, or future; factual or imagined; told for any purpose; and with or without much detail.” The political narrative that columnists talk about seems to about the future, an underlying theme that authenticates the direction in which a political party is intending to travel – a theme that is as much philosophical and ideological as it is practical. Or at least that’s what I’ve come to conclude. One can’t be sure because journalists never say. Which leads one to ask whether they really know what it means, or at least whether they all agree among themselves what it means. If they do, it would be good if they were to let us ordinary mortals into the secret. More...
This is the first posting of The Political Sword blog. Its focus is Australian politics.It is intended to give expression to those who have opinions about contemporary political events. In particular it will provide a forum for exposing deception among politicians, bureaucrats and commentators.
The people deserve to know the truth about political decisions, how and why they were made, and about those who made them. They are entitled to know if political commentators are truthfully representing the situations they are reporting, and that they make clear what is fact, and what is opinion. They owe it to their readers to validate the facts they report and reveal their source.
By challenging politicians and commentators to stick to the truth and to justify their words and actions, it is possible that the quality of political discourse in this country might improve. The Internet provides ordinary citizens with the opportunity to influence political behaviour between elections, rather than only at election time.
Politicians, journalists and academics read political blogs - they are bound to be influenced by them, at least to some extent.
Al Gore said that political blogs have become a significant new force in political debate and decision making in the US. The same opportunity exists in this country to put politicians and commentators to the verbal political sword.