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August 25th 2017 print

Paul Collits

Nostalgia, Irony and Mrs Woolcock

The contrast between Abbott and Turnbull, as with Peacock and Howard, is palpable. No matter how often an increasingly fatuous columnist asserts as much, the Liberals' woes aren't due to an ex-leader's alleged treachery. As in 1985, it is about character, spine and common sense

niki savageThe various manic scribblings of Ms Savva in The Australian are mostly beyond sensible retort.  But her latest piece, in which she seems finally to have realised that the jig is up for the Mal-churian candidate, all sounds just a little familiar to me. Here is why.

Ms Sava does indeed finally grasp that her Prime Minister is a political corpse awaiting the final rites and a decent burial.  But yes, you guessed it – it is all the fault of the dreadful Mr Rabbit, that white-anting ingrate who had his turn, was moved on through the internal democratic processes of the party, and now simply won’t shut up and stop making trouble for the government.

Where have I heard all this before?

Back in the Eighties, I saw up close the first “reign” as Liberal leader of Andrew Peacock, then ably attended by one Vince Woolcock, aka Mr Savva.  Peacock’s problem, first time around as leader and prior to his “soufflé that rose twice” resurrection in 1989, was that he was being constantly white-anted by his then deputy, one John Winston Howard — at least that was the narrative of the first generation bedwetters, the likes of Chris Puplick (who maintained a photo of Peacock on his office wall all the way through Howard’s period as leader of the Opposition), John Moore, Peter Shack (inexplicably both a dry and a Peacock supporter), Wilson “Ironbar” Tuckey and the late David Jull.

In truth there was very little – actually no white-anting – by John Howard.  He was indeed holed up on holidays with Janette and the children at the Coobar Motel in Berridale, near Cooma, when the substances hit the fan in Canberra. Peacock tried in vain to see Howard off.  You might say it was Peacock’s Godwin Grech moment, in terms of political smarts.

Instead, and totally unexpectedly, Howard ended up as leader in September, 1985, with the estimable Neil Brown as his deputy – and he remained leader until Peacock’s Gang of Five, aided and abetted by one Fred Chaney, did their later work in 1989.

Yet it wasn’t treachery on Howard’s part that landed him unexpectedly in the leadership. Howard’s office, led by the legendary Hendo, was indeed in virtual chaos on the night of his victory, when I briefly dropped by, such was the unexpected nature of Howard’s promotion.  No, Peacock was undermined by his own lack of performance, the perception – accurate, of course – that he stood for nothing except his own inalienable right to the leadership, and his utter failure to craft a unifying philosophy of sufficient appeal to the various tribes of the Liberal Party and the voting punters beyond.

In the House, Howard was brilliant on a daily basis. He developed a sound rapport with business. He developed policies. He hit the mark with the Deplorables of the day (aka the silent majority). And, above all, he talked plain common sense in waffle-free English.  Even Howard, though, was no match for Bob Hawke at the height of his own not inconsiderable powers,  let alone Joh when he decided to go rogue from north of the Tweed in 1987.

Fast forward to today. We have the latter day bedwetters, the political descendants of the Peacock wets – Pyne, Cormann, Brandis, Payne et al – making precisely the same case against Abbott.  The white-anter!  Won’t he just move on?  Working daily against the interests of the Liberal Party.  If only he would just shut up and give us a chance.  The traitor!  Clear air etc etc.  blah blah blah.

Er, no.  Abbott, the latter-day Howard, is merely talking plain sense, speaking English, making common cause with the common man, getting on with his job, talking about things that people understand, advocating sensible policies for the Liberals and sensible reforms to the party machine.  In effect, he is doing the leader’s job for him as Malcolm goes missing, bungles along, picking fights over matters of no consequence or great harm (who would have imagined the Liberal Party would pick a fight with Catholic parents?). His greatest achievement has been in making Bill Shorten, of all people, look electable.  Malcolm, the non-achieving “high achiever”.

The contrast between Abbott and Malcolm, like that between Peacock and Howard, is palpable.  It has nothing to do with treachery, just as betrayal played no part in the convulsions of 1985.  It has everything to do with character, spine and common sense, then and now.

Tony Abbott may not even want the leadership.  And who would blame him, given the state of the party and the visceral contempt his opponents have for him?  Why would he bother?

Ah, nostalgia!  Will the Woolcocks see the irony, I wonder?

Comments [16]

  1. Sully says:

    Yep, that’s about the size of it. But let’s say that Mal falls on his sword*, and let’s say that Tony thinks it is a poisoned chalice? What then, or who then? *Hardly likely.

  2. Warty says:

    As a bit of history, this is indeed interesting and worthwhile, albeit unfortunate that Niki Savva should be given even half a gulp of air space. She is a seriously ‘progressive’ woman, more comfortable with her ilk on the ABC Insiders (yes, I have watched it despite Rowan Dean’s efforts to relieve me of it).
    But contrasts between Abbot and Malcolm, Peacock and Howard, aside . . . who really gives two dingo’s droppings any more. Quite frankly I’d be more than happy to see the Liberal Party collectively thrown under a fast moving bus, to see it resurrected in another form (preferably conservative).
    With all too many visits to the vomitorium, I abandoned the rat-infested ship some three months before the double dissolution vowing never to return unless the Paynes and the Pines, the Sinodinoses and the Brandises, the Zimmermans and the Leesers and all the other bedwetters were unceremoniously trundled out to have their day with Madam Guillotteen. Instead Cory Bernardi gave me an even better option with his Australian Conservatives.

    • Salome says:

      As to your last sentence, Warty–I’m one, too. Altogether a better policy package, for starters.

      • necessityofchoice says:

        Ditto

        • necessityofchoice says:

          Further to the topic of Conservative alternatives, there are now at least ten registered parties to the right of Labor and the Greens. We really are spoit for choice. If you’re after a dash of protectionism with your big C, then Katters Australia Party is for you. For mine, it would be nice if that lonely soul in the Senate David Leyonhjelm had a bit of company.

  3. mags of Queensland says:

    The greatest disservice that John Howard ever did to the nation was to encourage Lord Wentworth to get back into politics – even if it meant shoving aside a good candidate that had the backing of his electorate. The Nikki Savvas of the world only see what they want to see and we all know how one eyed the lady is. If she didn’t have Tony Abbott to bash over the head every day I think she would go potty.

    • whitelaughter says:

      If Turnbull is turfed, and resigns in a tanty as seems likely, then the MP he replaced, Peter King, would be ideal for the resulting byelection. Seriously, how can you fail with a “Return of the King” campaign?

  4. Don A. Veitch says:

    Good article which highlights the moral wretchedness that runs the Liberal Party.

    I was on the ‘estimable’(sic!) Neil Brown’s Electorate Committee back in the 1980’s , I was berated by him, after an AGM, for demanding the right for members to discuss issues, policies, strategy. ‘Why don’t you go into the kitchen and use your energy productively’’, were his patronizing words. I battled on, resigning in 1990 and stood as independent for Gellibrand because the Mount Pelerin mob were taking over and shutting down debate (especially on economic policy) in the Western suburbs of Melbourne.
    We live in an age of non-issue politics.
    My point? The Liberal Party does not want and does not need ordinary members, – the Liberal party is the best that money can buy. The Liberal Party, therefore, will never develop economic policies relevant to forgotten people.

    • Warty says:

      What an excellent last paragraph of yours, Don A. Veitch, full of apparent contradictions, yet none at all (after careful reading). But let me take a slightly different tack.
      The Liberal Party behaves as though it doesn’t want or need ordinary members, relying on professional lobbyists and factional war lords instead, but these same war lords are contributing to its demise, meaning, in truth, there is a desperate need for the ordinary members. These are the same guys and gals that are tangoing, or is the quick step, in the direction of One Nation and the Australian Conservatives. But then, ‘the Liberal party is the best money can buy’ . . . possibly questionable, as CFMEU funds head in a different direction, but it is still money, albeit the palms are very greasy indeed.
      Your last sentence cannot be questioned at all.

  5. en passant says:

    As another ex-Liberal (who will NEVER return as the party is beyond saving as the Royal Swamp Elite are too entrenched), I too joined the ACM.

    I like the poilcies they posted and I have reviewed, but there are flashing red lights already.

    They do not vet their members on enlistment, so Sarah, Nikki, Karl (as in Marx) and every recycled swampie can join (e.g. Dennis Jensen, the first MP to say Abbott had to go is considering re-entering politics under the ACM banner). When I forthrightly questioned this the State organiser told me I was being negative and that his $25 was just as good as mine. True, but he would not get my vote. Follow the trail of the Democrat, PUP (which gifted us the brainpower of Jacquie).

    They are modelling themselves on the organisation of the (shudder) Liberal Party, because that is what they know. If I am right, the enough of the activist infil-traitors will join and subvert the ACM until it is indistinguishable from the current polliescum, mainstream, self-serving hacks.

    • whitelaughter says:

      That is a serious threat; what do you suggest should be done to prevent it?

    • Warty says:

      What party is the ACM? My memory is that there is no ‘movement’ (apart from first function in the morning) in the Australian Conservative moniker. Sorry, unimportant, I know.
      If you look at it from another perspective, what would it say about the Australian Conservatives were they to refuse admission of an individual (assuming he or she is not serving time)? What is important is that regional members will be able to individually elect their own candidates. So a Sarah Hanson Young would not be voted anything other than the opportunity to care for the party room pot plants (ambiguity regarding ‘pot’ intended). A Dennis Jensen will be offered a straight jacket were he to babble on about Cory having to go, and your $25 carries the same weight as Karl’s except nobody will be suggesting you take a shower at your Regional Support Group meeting, but, being on the nose, nobody would choose to sit next to Karl. His handwriting was apparently worse than my local GP’s.
      So it’s all totally democratic, though you will have your inevitable personality rubs as you will with any group of people gathered together in the name of anything unholy. But the fact that you, Salome and I have joined is excellent. Perhaps one day a few more Quadrant readers might join, unless Google shuts down the online part of Quadrant, then we’d never know.
      Please attribute the underlying corniness of this response to a bad night’s sleep.

      • Davidovich says:

        I disagree strongly with the assertion that the ACP, or any political party for that matter, should accept any person who stumps up the membership fee. If not, then anybody of any political persuasion could join the ACP and, before you know it, the Conservative party is infiltrated with those who would bring it down. Firm vetting of members is required if the ACP is to survive as a true Conservative party.

        • Warty says:

          I’m not quite sure where you are picking up the suggestion of ‘stumping up’. The Liberal Party man ban Ross Cameron for a period of time (as though he might care) but the Australian Conservatives simply require members to support the majority of their policies. That’s all.

  6. Don A. Veitch says:

    Infiltration by wreckers/agent provocateurs/spies is the biggest issue, bar none, in starting a new political movement.I speak with experience!

  7. en passant says:

    All,
    When Cory first defected I emailed him with an organisational ‘to-do’ list. Building, managing and recovering organisations is how I made an honest living for many years. Prominent among the points was:
    “xx. Everyone who applies to join should be welcomed as a provisional member until they are vetted (including Cory!). As soon as possible (but in no more than six months every applicant will be asked to complete a ‘weighted questionnaire’ (some views are more important than others) to determine if they are really conservatives or not. This process would be included in the application form , including tat if they fail, then their $25 would be returned and their application rejected without prejudice and without reasons being given to the applicant. Others would be allowed to join but would be deemed ineligible for some key roles, such as policy formulation or as a Candidate. Results would not be released and the files closely secured on a non-internet connected PC/laptop.
    If it is found that the answers to the questions differ from the truth then membership may be terminated.

    I could go on, but why bother as this sample of the suggested process was rejected. I know of two non-conservatives who have joined ‘to keep an eye on what is going on.’ Their $25 I would suggest is better than mine as one has taken an active role.