Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The balloon theory of politics

Watching a political leader on the skids is a lot like watching a balloon deflate.

Sometimes the political authority slowly leaks from them, inch by inch, day by day, until there’s nothing left but a withered piece of plastic you can use to annoy the cat – much like Howard over the course of 2007.

Sometimes, it’s much more sudden, like popping a balloon with a pin – a short, sharp bang and bits of plastic flying everywhere.

Which brings us to Malcolm Turnbull.

For Malcolm that moment came on the evening of Monday, 22 June 2009 when the email he was using against Kruddy was exposed as a fake.

Whatever authority, whatever clout he had is gone.

The Labor Party knows it, the gallery knows it and judging by his performance in Parliament over the past couple of days, Turnbull knows it too.

He’s in the situation every spin-doctor dreads; where everyday you know there’s something new and unexpected looming up to whack you and you don’t know what it will be or where it will come from but you just know it’s going to be bad.

Very bad.

He’ll probably limp on until the next election as you would have to be stone-cold crazy* to take over this pack of shysters at this stage, but that’s about it.

But beyond the immediate issues is the damage done to the Turnbull brand.

There’s an internal whispering in the hearts of the punters about a leader who’s on the nose, something that always rankles whenever they see them on the tellie or hear them on the radio.

For Howard, towards the end, it was “children overboard”. For Turnbull, from now until he shuffles of this melancholy scene, it will be “utegate”.

*Or Tony Abbott.


Perseus said...

In Turnbull's defence (I can't believe I just started a sentence with those three words), when a Treasury official says something in an official hearing, one would assume it is truth. Yes, Turnbull should've waited to see the email, but the initial attack was, after all, just what politicians do. I don't think what he did was any worse than the things Senator Fielding says and does every single fucking day.

I am very hungover though, so my judgement is clouded (went to bed at 10.30. At 11.30, Mermaid rocked up. Wine bottle opened. Then Canadian Chef heard the noise and joined in. More wine. Drank til 3am. Hangover plus work is not good.)

Boogeyman said...

Except, Perseus, that a) that Treasury official was rather vague when referring to that email, only saying that he 'thought there may have been an email, but he wasn't sure', b) Manbull seemed to express a lot of confidence in an email that he hadn't even seen, so couldn't be certain how damning it would be, and c) He showed poor judgement in jumping up so soon and asking for the Prime Minister and Treasurer to both resign. As one of the media commentators pointed out (I can't recall who now) usually an Opposition leader doesn't call for the PM's resignation until after a couple of weeks of embarrassing revelations in Parliament.

And I think saying 'he's no worse than Stephen Fielding' is a bit of a back-handed compliment - people won't vote for a PM that is 'at least better than Stephen Fielding'

Perseus said...

I agree Boogeyman (may be another week where we agree). It's one thing for me to say that that's just what politicians do all the time (so much so it doesn't bother me anymore), but yes, as leader of his party, he needs to display more considered and cautious behaviour.

Boogeyman said...

Meanwhile, I got many laughs from this write-up by Annabel Crabb, comparing the whole situation to a Harry Potter book.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Annabel Crabb usually gives me the shits, but that wasn't bad.

Regardless of who wrote what the issue is that everytime Turnbull pops up, people are going to think "nutcase".

Not a thing any political leader wants to happen.

Unless you're Tony Abbott.

Boogeyman said...

Annabel Crabb usually gives me the shits, but that wasn't bad.

I dunno, I find her quite funny. She usually manages to find an amusing spin on the colourless tedium of Question Time.

wari lasi said...

Guy Rundle summed it up quite nicely too.

He succinctly dissected every other potential leader, the libs are completely fucked. And they have no one to blame but themselves.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

This warms my black, black heart.

wari lasi said...

I'm sure it does Ramon. But even you must acknowledge that an effective opposition is fundamental to good governance.

God knows you can't trust the senate to keep the pricks honest. The upper house these days is a who's who of fucknuckles.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

But even you must acknowledge that an effective opposition is fundamental to good governance.

Grudging, yes.

Melba said...

Do we have any low-down other than what's been reported on why Costello chose last week to fuck off properly? Has he fucked off properly? Will he come back? Has he been asked back? Or will it be a shoo-in for Abbott?

My black, black heart is being warmed as well, as are my hands which are being rubbed together gleefully. I agree with you Wari, but the operative word there is "effective" and I have questions about how that might be defined.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

My understanding Melba is that the deadline for pre-selections for Liberal seats was last week and all sitting MPs had to announce whether they were going or staying.

There is no way Costello can come back.

Melba said...

Is he kicking himself?

Ah, Sliding Doors.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Sliding Doors, Melba?

What, you mean him having sex with John Hannah - that sort of thing?


Melba said...

No! I meant do you think Costello would have gone for it - leadership - had he not been forced to declare himself just last week? Had this whole fake email thing blown up say during that week, or a bit before, would he have tried to take Turnbull down?

Sliding Doors is a silly Gwynneth Paltrow movie about "what ifs" and fate and stuff. I don't expect you to have seen it.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Interesting question.

I think Costello would have still pulled the pin.

If he took over, Costello would still be facing at least another four years in opposition.

At least.

Not an attractive prospect for anybody.

wari lasi said...

Melba - I used the word "effective" deliberately, because they sure as hell aren't now.

Ramon knows this game a lot better than I do, but I think Costello would only have been effective as a leader if he took it straight after the election. But it's all academic now.

And Abbott? Does he even take himself seriously? Jesus wept. He's more of a douche bag than Manbull. (thanks Boogey)

wari lasi said...

Guy Rundle's opening line in his Crikey article yesterday sums it up for the libs:

Wow, when it all goes to crap, it all goes to crap, dunnit?

Melba said...

Yes I realise that Wari. I'm interested in your definition of what effective is, not what it isn't?

How's the weather?

I do crave an expat life sometimes. But it's pretty fine here as well. Today the weather is mild, there is sun, and it puts a spring in my step and a flutter in my heart.

wari lasi said...

What a happy lady you sound like today! What a breath of fresh air.

I'm too scared to talk about the weather here (sunny, 30). And the expat life certainly has its advantages. If you've got kids (which I do) having house staff wins the prize for biggest single advantage, which I'm sure FAD would agree with.

Effective? This could turn into a really long answer. But say for example exposing legislation that has an ulterior motive, or perhaps more innocently an unexpected side effect. The average punter would have a real problem getting their head around "legi-speak". Ever read a government gazette? Mostly I mean (thanks Don) "keeping the bastards honest". Exposing rorts and abuses of power, public service fuck ups, that sort of stuff.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

a flutter in my heart.

That can be controlled with appropriate medication, Melba.

Melba said...

Yes, Ramon, I do need to watch that. It can be a problem.

Wari, that all is based on the presumption that each and every government requires scrutiny and being held to account. Are they all bastards? Do they all become bastards upon attaining power, if they weren't beforehand? If politicians were decent while in power, then opposition could use their energies to work with, cooperatively, together.

Never happen will it?

I know.

Fad MD said...

If you've got kids (which I do) having house staff wins the prize for biggest single advantage, which I'm sure FAD would agree with.

Yes, and we only have 15 more weeks to go. Being sent back to the First(ish) world does not seem too enticing at times.Others it looks fantastic.

Boogeyman said...

Why do people constantly suggest Peter Costello must be kicking himself for quitting so early?

The Liberal leadership was always there for his asking. He didn't want it. He said as much on many occasions.

More like it is, he's looking at this week's debacle and thinking, "Thank fuck I'm getting out now."

Melba said...

This person suggested it, Boogeyman, because he kept on whimpering and whining and pontificating and didn't go away. He wasn't shutting up and being dignified - he kept getting his mug in the paper and foisting his "commentary" on the country.

Also, because he wanted the job, and we know he wanted the job.

Him saying something doesn't mean it's true, either. And how do you know what he might be thinking? The flip side is he might also be thinking "if I'd been in the position, everything would be ok now."

Boogeyman said...

Melba, he wanted the PM's job, not the job of opposition leader.

Like I said, it was always there for his taking. He didn't need to fight for it. Any time he wanted it, he just had to put his hand up and say, "yes please"

So why would you imagine that he's disappointed he didn't wait a little longer for Manbull to implode before claiming the opposition leader's job? If he wanted it, there was no game to play, no waiting to be done, it was his for the taking.

If, on the other hand, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard were all imploding, and Labor was on the nose with the electorate and tanking in the ratings, only then could you imagine that Costello might feel some regret.

And just because nominations for pre-selection have closed doesn't been he couldn't change his mind late in the game if he wanted. The party might have to bend some rules, but it's not unheard of.

Louche said...

I think it was pretty clear this week with the economic turnaround and the Utegate farce, that the Libs are very much on the back foot for the next election.

Maybe that's why Costello decided to cut his losses and bail out to earn squillions in the private sector.

I hope Manbull is forced to give testimony in court, if investigations proceed that far.

And I love Annabel Crabb. She brings some much needed levity to political journalism.