When I watched Jean-Claude Juncker address the European Parliament on refugees the other night, I was looking at a room full of people who were almost visibly looking for leadership. Making allowances for differences in style, I thought that they got some.
That body itself reflects the crisis affecting representative democracy across the West, and in two-party democracies in particular. People everywhere are sick of place-fillers and time-servers and parties that stand for nothing except themselves. Voters are repudiating all of them and looking for a way out – so making way for crooks and weirdoes.
As a result, one major party in each of the UK and the US is looking at blowing itself up to kingdom come. In Australia, the disenchantment has meant that parties have become forced to sack leaders who fall out with the voters. This show of party power does nothing for faith in the party system. What is to be done?
The answer is for governments to stop doing the bad things that have put their people offside. They need the sense to formulate policies and the nerve to implement them – even if they are in the short term unpopular. Mr Abbott did not have enough sense or nerve.
I think that Mr Turnbull does. Most of his parliamentary party agree. The dissidents are the mediocrity that got us into this trouble in the first place. If you want to see the prescription set out above in action, just have a look at Mr Baird in New South Wales. He is not just popular because he has shown sense and nerve – he is even respected, something that we have not seen here for a generation.
I doubt that Mr Turnbull presently has much to worry about. Mr Shorten looks to be a shifty little piece of work. He has now lost his main prop. A friend of mine, an artist from a country that knows despair, and who has the gift of getting to the heart of the matter, said: ‘I think Shorten has some character fault. Really dislike him. He said he wanted to get into politics, because he wants to be the Prime Minister. I want to be the Queen of Sheba.’
Mr Shorten looks like Hillary Clinton to me – raw ambition uninspired by any need to serve others. Every single thing that he does is calculated for its effect. I wonder if he ever did one sincere thing in all his life. If this were the season to mow down mediocrities, this talking head should be next. If he is not, it is only because his party has no alternative.
The other party did have one, and the necessary change was made. But whatever else may be said of Mr Abbott, he was not in the same mindless blank paper class as Mr Shorten. If nothing else, Mr Abbott has done more hands on and shown more commitment for our indigenous people than any other Australian politician that I can recall. There is no basis for saying that this politician was there only for himself.
Mr Abbott’s background was journalism, and it showed. The press are a large part of the cancer in Canberra. They see themselves as part of the game, and the results have been awful for government in general, and Mr Abbott in particular. He was held up by and got in hock to cheer squads on Sky News and The Australian – and two of the more loathsome shock jocks. Many people felt that this was conduct desperately unbecoming a Prime Minister. The shock jocks live off the earnings of those who pander to the deprived and depraved just as surely as do pimps for tarts in white boots. They, however, see themselves as the tribunes of the people. If you want to know just how sanctimonious tribunes can be, have another look at Coriolanus.
If you want to see the teams that play these blood sports in action, tune into Sky News and watch them spit the dummy if their favourite takes a hit – as happened on Monday night. Or look at some of the vaporising in today’s Australian (that includes a verbal of Her Majesty). Most of these players in the press make no effort to hide their revulsion at the other side. If you want to come to grips with the word sordid, tune into a show called Richo + Jones.
It was, frankly, silly of the outgoing PM to lecture the press on their role in his fall, or to disclaim ever having played the game himself. But it was not at all surprising that a member of ‘the team’ should have advised Mr Turnbull to make peace with a shock jock.
That is the last thing we want of our PM. Any leader has to be aloof at times. If you look up that word, which has now sadly got a bad feel to it, you will see that it had a nautical origin, of the order to keep the ship’s head to the wind. It came to mean generally standing at or keeping to a distance. Any captain or coach of a footy team, much less the captain of a ship, will tell you that a lot of the time, you have to do just that.
One of the reasons that I think that Mr Turnbull is up to the job is that some time ago, he shirtfronted – yes, shirtfronted is the word – that awful twerp they call the Parrot. If I could offer our new PM some advice, it would be to tell the Parrot and all his ilk to stand behind him, and to banish themselves to that wilderness that overlooks the old town of Jericho. There is a good precedent for this.
And do not be surprised if there is an election before year’s end, and some surgery at the top of the other party shortly before or after that election. The roundabout may have one more turn to come, but then I think things will settle down, and then we can all go back to sleep.