31 July 2006

The love song of J. Hyde Page

I had been a Young Liberal for over a decade when John Hyde Page joined a neighbouring branch. He was even more dull than the prose in his tome, Servicing Me, Servicing You: The Edification of a Piss Boy. I had no idea why he joined the Liberal Party, and after reading him spit out all the butt-ends of his days and ways I still don't. He uses some real names and applies pseudonyms to others; he claims to have witnessed events that he didn't and couldn't; and he leaves out examples of his own behaviour that would leave a reader feeling robbed of any time spent with him in his book. As with this song, what's puzzling me, then as now, is the nature of his game.

Hyde Page's is basically a love story. Here was a young man who was not that bright, nor distinguished in any other way. The branch he joined was run by a character not dissimilar to Fagin from Dickens' Oliver Twist (mind you, this could be pretty much the factional warrior's anthem). Fagin convinced Hyde Page that talent, ability to contribute to the common weal and hard work counted for nothing in politics; that self-abasement was the way to success, that you could suck your way upwards by some sort of capillary action. Hyde Page was in love with the idea that someone so unremarkable as himself could get anywhere at anything; and he fell in love with Fagin. He became an easy tool for Fagin: deferential, glad to be of use, and on that basis prepared a face to meet the faces that he met. He clearly bamboozled his publisher as well, but spivs sell and Australian publishers who understand the Liberal Party would be few enough for someone like him to try it on.

The book, like its author, has none of the ideology that is claimed on the wrapper: it was all about him and Fagin. As an activist Hyde Page targetted mostly well-functioning moderate branches and promising moderate liberals than yer standard wood-duck Howard-lovin' conservatives, and almost never did he take on the true enemies of moderate liberals (and humanity generally) the mad, bad Dave Clarke Taliban. You're not a moderate liberal because you say so, or because Fagin considers you part of his furniture. You're a moderate if you believe that the far right and the far left should just go at each other while moderates get on with the business of good and sensible government. You're a moderate if you stand up for refugees and other aspects of human rights without buggering the economy through red tape and bullying like the far left do - Phillip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone used to be moderates before they got ambitious and impatient, believe it or not.

Hyde Page believed nothing more than that he would make an effective and eminent Liberal, that attaining a title might substitute for an achievement. He believed that doing Fagin's bidding was the way to that attainment. There, then as now, endeth his beliefs.

There is no "moderate liberal" justification, for example, for his attack upon my old branch of Paddington Young Liberals. You can read this at pp. 125-128 of the book: no need to buy it, just skim it in the bookshop before one of the staff asks you to buy. Hyde Page tries to demonise his victims, but his description of the people in that branch reveal a fundamental failure to understand human nature: an understanding essential for all leaders and manipulators, and give insight into his political and personal failure:

  • The person he calls 'Lachlan' is actually named Paul - the mistake is understandable once you appreciate how dull-witted Hyde Page is. He has a genuine sense of humour while Hyde Page's lack of sense in this area reveals him as far more "gruesome" than the person he so labels - especially once you realise he made up the incident that apparently galvanised him to act. If you ever wonder why politicians are so same-same, look at 'Lachlan' and realise that he was the second-highest ranking moderate in the Young Liberals. Hyde Page invested all the works and days of hands in forcing out a branch President who was standing down: this proves him to be not only capricious but stupid. It is this combination that helps make both his book and the Liberal Party what they are today: not worth your while.

  • His description of two female members of that branch, Sarah and Nicole, shows that Hyde Page is baffled by women and not in some harmless, gentlemanly way. He accuses one of them of not wearing a miniskirt - now Sarah could sure wear a miniskirt(!), but I suppose that Hyde Page learnt miniskirt deployment at Cranbrook. He says that Chris McDiven's vapid offspring were part of his moderate-anti-moderate stack. Hyde Page's descriptions go beyond misogyny - this is someone who doesn't even like women in general and couldn't be bothered understanding them, another failure in interpersonal relations generally let alone Liberal politics in particular.

If the book was more important, I'd give further examples: chapters that follow like a tedious argument of insidious intent to lead you to an overwhelming question … why? well, that question would overwhelm him. Factional hacks like Hyde Page (or, for that matter, Morris Iemma or Steve Bracks) are not used to answering questions and as such they make appalling politicians, furtive and exclusionary and frightened of scrutiny. It is tiresome watching such people pay hide-and-seek with journalists who are both gullible and lazy. Hyde Page's book lays out the landscape of his mind like a patient etherised upon a table, but offers no reason why you should care about him or his little world.

Read the section on John Howard's contempt for him; a position he developed after the first few minutes and one position of his well worth your emulation. He is not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be. As an author he is not a truth-teller, nor is he imaginative or clear in his writing, full of high sentence and a lot obtuse, certainly not worthy of emulation however briefly.

You have now spent all the time on this book that is necessary, and more than is wise.

30 July 2006

For Israel

I support Israel in its war against fake militant "Islam" (hereafter: FMI), represented by Hezbollah and Hamas, for three main reasons. First, Israel had done everything right before hostilities broke out - withdrawn from Gaza and Lebanon, and cracked down on suicide bombers, while Iran was organising gabfests on wiping Israel off the face off the earth. Second, it has a proper government: responsible for health and education and other actual public services which is accountable to voters without the gangsterism and tribalism found elsewhere in the Middle East. Third, I'm an unabashed admirer of the plucky little Israel of Entebbe and the Six Day War, Dayan and Rabin, Meir and Barak, and I trust that mighty spirit lives on.

Not that you have to be such a fan to think Mel Gibson is a toerag.

Hamas came to government last year without the epiphany experienced by South Africa's ANC, another nationalist movement with militant tendencies, that throwing off the oppressor is only the prelude to the grind of responsible government. Had Mahmoud Abbas embraced this vision he would have had some claim on Israel to keep open the financial spigots, some leverage with the West; instead, he played a double game against interests incompatible since 11 September 2001, which drove him down the dead-end of FMI. Palestine has lost support from Christians, Muslims and other non-FMI groups; they've been forced out by the maddies. If the EU was a proper government they would be re-examining what exactly they are funding (social programs? I don't think so) and how much of the sentimental nonsense of the soixante-huitards actually applies to the situation in the ground.

The Bush doctrine of democracy over stability depends heavily upon sensible democratic leadership. Abbas and the other Arafat relics have not only botched it, they have left FMI with a monopoly of competent leadership in those parts. In Egypt, Libya and Syria, amongst others, the only alternative to the incumbents with money and organisational skills are the FMI parties, to the point where traditional tribalist parties or neo-Western ideological groupings would be left for dead, literally.

The Israelis have not been sufficiently clever in their selections of targets which suggests these have been selected by politicians, rather than military leaders acting on reliable intelligence. It has worked as a show of strength, and as a lesson to the Lebanese about the need to excrete Hezbollah from their body politic. Hopefully, Israel will go after Hezbollah where it really is: now a hotel in Damascus, now a cafe in Amman, now a hadassah in Qom, now a mosque in Paris. The Israelis are masters of asymmetric warfare, and hopefully they have not become so reliant on US hardware that these skills have been blunted.

Any Iranian Revolutionary Guard members found in the war against Israel should be eaten by pigs, or humiliated in some grotesque way in death as we have seen in recent years on FMI webcasts. Peace in the Middle East tends to follow the obliteration of some large-scale piece of Arab military hardware, and the US ought not be backward in supplying the equipment that might help Iranians see another side of what it means to develop nuclear power.

12 July 2006

The weasel vs the chicken

For ten years the Australian media have speculated about when Howard will retire and hand the Prime Ministership to Peter Costello. Acres of newspaper and blogspace, days of airtime have been lavished on this. It separates politics nerds from those who aren't: the Howard-Costello thing is fascinating to those who are insider-wannabes, terribly dull stuff to those who aren't. We all have to work with people we don't like, and the ambitious find their way blocked by time-servers. When I think what other public policy issues could have been investigated instead of Parliament House scuttlebutt, I could weep.

Only now that it has come to a head is it an interesting topic of conversation. Costello can't back down without crippling himself as a man of principle and resolve. Howard has shown himself to be the opposite. He will only hand over to Costello (or someone else) if he thinks he'll lose.

There is only one way forward for Costello: to the backbench; read some fat books and pen some thoughtful articles, get to know his family, smirk at the unfolding disaster.

There is only one way forward for Howard: a different Treasurer, and a clear demonstration of how shallow the talent pool really is. The economy will start to sputter over coming months, a bit of inflation here and a few job cuts there - a Costello resignation/dumping could be one of the great hospital passes in Australian history. Abbott, Downer or Nelson are the obvious choices as Treasurer: each would do the bidding of Howard's office and none would achieve anything independent of that. Downer would make some silly remark that sent the markets into a tailspin (he, Howard and Vaile are also vulnerable to new revelations over AWB, in a way that Costello mightn't be); Abbott would make a sincere statement of belief that sent the markets into a tailspin, and would show his colleagues that he is not really a tough guy but just a prick; Nelson would have the entire staff of the economic policy organs of government engaged in inquiries so that no one did any work, sending the markets into a tailspin. Each of them would feel Costello's smirk burn into the backs of their necks like a brand, as did Kerin and Willis in 1991.

Oh, and Vaile needs a domestic portfolio after the end of the month if Cole doesn't sink him. Treasury would be way too hard for him, the markets would see through this small-town pollie and the Libs would undermine him.

Costello may play no role in the coming election campaign, but that may be no bad thing if it is a disaster for the Coalition (a narrow victory is the most likely outcome). His most likely fate is to end up like Michael Heseltine, the man who coulda-but-didn't. After a long-term Prime Ministership the heir is likely to be someone who wasn't even on the scene at the start: Holt was not the heir-apparent to Menzies in 1949, or even 1959. Truman was not FDR's heir apparent in 1933 or '43. While Costello is unencumbered by milk-of-human-kindness issues, someone who would wield the knife and wear the crown needs patience that Costello lacks.

This is only a win for Labor if you believe in zero-sum politics. The wounds will heal quickly if temporarily, and an early election ought not be ruled out after a few housekeeping issues. A narrow loss next election would be Labor's worst-case scenario: not in government but Beazley vindicated and unwilling to make any changes.

Did you see Liberal activist and Senate reject John Ruddick with that silly banner outside Kirribilli House - the one with love-hearts over the "O"s in "John Howard"? What a dipstick.

09 July 2006

WorkChoices as a vote-winner for Labor

It's true that Beazley's vague and ultimately unsustainable plan to restore the unions to some degree of power is his one big chance at winning government. It is commendable that he is investing so heavily in an issue, a contrast to the empty bombast or mealy-mouthed hedging he usually contributes to national debates.

At a NSW Young Liberal dinner in 1996, Amanda Vanstone said that it was disgraceful that people could be removed from the unemployment lists for working 20 hours a week - she oversaw the redefinition of employment to one hour a week. However you define the unemployment rate, it is irrelevant outside the major cities. Jobs are scarce and so are skilled people in rural Australia. The labour market is bigger, more complex and more fluid in the cities than in rural/regional communities. The abattoir workers in Cowra, the retail worker in Coffs and the machine operator from the Hunter, all demonstrate the power of this message beyond the major cities.

For the first time since World War II it is possible for Labor to win government without winning a single seat from the suburbs of the major cities. Labor needs 12 seats to deny the Coalition a majority, 16 to win - here are 18 eminently winnable regional seats for Labor:

  • La Trobe (Vic)

  • Corangamite (Vic)

  • Hinkler (Qld)

  • Page (NSW)

  • Bass (Tas)

  • Braddon (Tas)

  • Wide Bay (Qld)

  • Gippsland (Vic)

  • Kalgoorlie (WA)

  • Cowper (NSW)

  • McEwen (Vic)

  • Paterson (NSW)

  • Leichhardt (Qld)

  • Gilmore (NSW)

  • Fairfax (Qld)

  • Maranoa (Qld)

  • Mayo (SA) - Alexander Downer's seat

  • Lyne (NSW) - Mark Vaile's seat

Some of these are on 10+% majorities for the Coalition, but Latham isn't here to fight off the swinging vote - and if any issue is going to get that sort of swing, WorkChoices is it. Beazley should be able to win back the three suburban Perth seats Latham lost in '04: Canning, Hasluck and Stirling.

There you go, that's a Labor majority of five. I'm assuming that Qld Labor's apparently unpopular dams won't affect Federal Labor. I could have counted Macquarie and Robertson (NSW) as regional, and of course there'll be a bandwagon effect with suburban marginals if the swing is on. A Labor regional strategy could be awesomely effective. Now, here's why it won't happen.

Howard will target the bits of WorkChoices that focus groups really hate and cut the worst of them out, just like he did with the GST. This will leave Beazley then as now pretty much buggered, with all ammunition spent and nothing else to differentiate Labor from and above the Coalition. Beazley will pull off one of those great concession speeches and then, hopefully, get out of Federal Parliament altogether. People will vote for safe, moderate Labor but they just won't vote for someone who won't fight like Howard fights; Beazley has no fight in him.

The Nationals are the soft underbelly of the government and the ALP would be smart to hunt them down like dogs. They will do so half-heartedly this time, and will win a few seats. Labor will reap the disappointment that comes from a winning strategy not being pursued.

03 July 2006

Canberra centralism

Oh no, Peter Costello is pitching to sharpen again.

The reason why centralism is such a dopey idea is because Canberra does not have a monopoly on all good ideas and all capable management. The different states act as a laboratory for different policy possibilities without being so freakishly different as you'd get under a two-tier system. Interstate ministerial meetings (which often include NZ officials) should be knowledge-sharing forums. This would avoid the cant around stem cell research in the above article, not to mention that about Aborigines (as if things would be different under a Costello government. As if they'd be better). It is no bad thing that the Federal Government is limited in its scope for action.

It's significant that Kim Beazley is being very quiet about this - he'd do the same thing if he could, but a) he won't and b) the entrenched Premiers would have him as surely as Bolte and Askin had Gorton.