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September 06th 2018 print

Christopher Carr

Lord Save Us from ‘Clever’ Leaders

Not being a particular bright lot themselves, Canberra's press corps will inevitably tout the aspiring leader who can be praised for piercing intellect and smartest-in-the-room insight. That's a big part of how we came to be cursed with Whitlam, later Rudd and, most recently, the unlamented Malcolm Turnbull

brain drain III“Clever but not wise” is a description applicable to all too many leaders both past and present, and the just-departed Malcolm Turnbull is a prime example. In so many ways he was outstanding. He was a Rhodes scholar. Yes, he was, sometimes, the brightest person in the room. Yet he lacked ordinary common sense. As Richard Alston observed in a recent article, he seemed impervious to sound advice. He was a political misfit, incompatible with Liberal Party culture or, indeed, more broadly, with the centre-right. Many have suggested that he was no better than Labor-lite and was in the wrong party, the ALP being his natural home. But when he sought a position on the ALP Senate ticket for New South Wales just after the defeat of the Republic referendum, as we now know, Graham Richardson saw through his pretensions and sent him packing in double-quick time.

Ideologically, I would describe him as a progressivist, addicted to a greater or lesser degree to the current leftist fads and fashions. Alston described him as having few convictions. I think that he is beings unfair and somewhat contradictory in his own assessment. The great standout in Malcolm Turnbull’s depositions from the Liberal Party leadership, both in 2009 and 2018, was a total absence of pragmatic flexibility in relation to so-called climate change. The reduction of CO2 emissions was a central article of his faith. Nobody but a warmist fanatic, determined by hook or by crook, to hold on to the leadership of his party at the same time, could have sought to impose on his reluctant colleagues the self-contradictory mishmash called the National Energy Guarantee, or, NEG. A truly pragmatic Turnbull may well have survived, but curiously, pragmatism on this central issue of recent times was foreign to himl. He was far too smart in his own eyes.

If Turnbull was a prime exhibit of cleverness, we would well do with less. Of course, cleverness combined with wisdom would be ideal, but, unfortunately, popular commentary has tended to exalt cleverness and scorn wisdom. Prime examples of cleverness without wisdom include the late Gough Whitlam and Kevin Rudd. Both possessed many laudable attributes but their lack of appreciation of the efficacy of government action were all too typical of the vanity and pretensions of the Left. Indeed, Rudd’s “cleverness”, (e.g. pink bats and the NBN), has had negative consequences. Oh yes, we need clever scientists, but did we need the recent conga line of clever egotistical politicians?

I am old enough to remember the rather hapless, half-forgotten Billy Snedden as leader of the Liberal Party opposition after the 1972 election. At the time, he was seen to compare poorly with the towering, brilliant and articulate Whitlam. The cartoonist, Larry Pickering, styled him, “mediocre man”, and the cruel, but in many ways accurate label stuck. During the May 1974 double dissolution elections, which Whitlam won, albeit narrowly, Snedden appeared out of his depth when questioned by journalists on the Coalition’s economic policy. I remember an ALP election ad featuring Whitlam and the words, “He’s so much better”. Oh yes, that was for sure. Snedden was described by Paul Hasluck as academically second-rate. Nevertheless, his political success, to the extent he achieved as much, owed much to an earthy shrewdness. Annoyingly to many, Snedden was prone to promising  reviews of policies rather than providing decisive policy leadership. However his promise of, “sound and cautious administration” compares more than favourably with the Whitlam alternative in retrospect.

We may be glad that “mediocre man” never became Prime Minister, but he would have done far less harm than some of the best and brightest from the Left who have occupied the top office.

As for the latest mental giant to be shown the door, what is there to show for his bloodily obtained turn in office than the chaos, recrimination, bitterness and lost voters that, taken together, constitutes his legacy.

Comments [13]

  1. Trevor Bailey says:

    That prince of “earthy shrewdness”, Sir Jack Falstaff, celebrated the same quality in others when he said, “Give me the spare men, and spare me the great men.” (And sure enough, his love for Prince Hal never found reciprocation across royal boundaries.) As a guide to new friendships in late middle-age, it’s become for me something of a motto.

  2. ianl says:

    > ” … the NBN), has had negative consequences …”

    Although the NBN in its’ current form is not the service that Rudd/Conroy pushed (ie. fibre to 98% of homes and businesses), the advent of fibre-to-the-node as finally pushed through by Waffle, in my view is actually Waffle’s most useful achievement in his parliamentary time. One could well argue it is his only real achievement. I certainly do.

    But then, I live in a regional area where for over 20 years, ADSL2 at less than 0.3Mbps was the only service on offer at anything like an affordable monthly price. ADSL2+ was available with a quite modest data cap for about $350/month – way out of bounds. City inhabitants may not be sympathetic to this but now we have a 45Mbps service, reliable, affordable and with a huge (to us) data cap.

    Rudd promised a regional NBN service. I was sceptical of this, considering the deliberate market neglect for 20 years, the relatively small population groups and the economically unlikely fibre-to-the-house pipe dream but the now delivered FTTN is a genuine, affordable improvement to quality of life. The NBN has also worked hard and quite successfully over the last 6 months at removing or limiting dropouts. The landline service is now reliable at modest cost except during power losses (no windmills thank you) and free of Telstra’s continuous gouging.

    The battle now for regional populations (modest in number as they are, they are *not* 2nd class citizens) is to keep this great new service as is (quality and price) against all sorts of city-based attacks. 5G wireless in my region is an Alice in Wonderland fantasy – 4G is completely unavailable, 3G is patchy and intermittent, even a useful 2G signal can be a struggle.

    • LBLoveday says:

      I have computers in an Australian house that I remote control. ADSL2+ worked fine for 5 years, but I was forced to have it replaced with NBN – same monthly payment, higher claimed speed, inferior actual speed. But worse than that, woeful unreliability – it’s been off since 9:31am Monday, and talking to them is akin to trying to make oneself insane.
      I’ve bought a Telstra mobile modem, which costs a proverbial arm and leg for volume usage, but at least it works 24/7.

      So, you are right ianl, this city customer, if not inhabitant, is not sympathetic – those in your situation could have been provided with reliable 4G at a fraction of the cost of NBN, and I find myself having to use 4G to get reliability (oh, and it’s faster than the actual NBN speed). And what about my 84 year old mate and 97yo aunt, both country dwellers, who had to stump up $300 odd to keep their Telstra phone service? Zero benefit, $300 out of pocket personally, taxpayers $2000 or whatever out of pocket for each. For them and, especially, me, FTTN is a genuine impairment to quality of life.

      Rudd’s FFFH involved the front gardens of many of those “lucky” recipients being dug up; joy!

  3. Jody says:

    Clever people don’t necessarily make good leaders. You can carve that in stone, as it’s not a recent phenomenon. And what’s the definition of ‘clever’ anyway? You can compose a string quartet but can’t find your matching sock? I’d like Dr. Jordan Peterson’s views on that.

  4. Bran Dee says:

    Clever person Robert Menzies did make a very good leader. He was steady, composed, wise – qualities not attributed to Whitlam, Rudd or the latest grievous avatar, Turnbull.

    Menzies left such a record of warmth and good sense in the letters he sent to his daughter. When will we see his like again?

    Are lawyers now all ‘lefty lawyers’ mislead by the post-modern university ethos. Exhibit George Brandis! Let’s determine never to allow Labor’s Bill Shorten to establish a Federal ICAC as he has proposed.

    • Jody says:

      “I did but see her walking by and I will love her till I die”. Silly comment from Menzies which embarrassed Australia. Hardly steady, composed or wise. More gushing and sycophantic.

      • Doubting Thomas says:

        Oh, please, Jody. He was a man of his era, and a product of his times and the then prevailing culture. The speech was made on a social occasion. You might have been embarrassed, although I doubt you were paying much attention when the speech was made in 1954 when, if my arithmetic is coreect, you’d have been about two. Nobody I knew was embarrassed and in a family of Irish Catholics one might reasonably imagine that some if not most would have been. But republicanism was a virtually invisible force back then.

        There has been no Australian politician of anything close to Menzies stature, and the reason he was so popular was his ability to reflect the popular mood, something only Bob Hawke has come closest to emulating. Whitlam? Oh, how he did piously pray.

        • LBLoveday says:

          Quite so, DT. Sir Bob was quoting, with attribution, from There Is A Lady Sweet And Kind, a poem by Thomas Ford.

          The speech can be seen & heard here. He correctly quotes “passing”, not “walking” and is, in my case at least, correct when in his own words he said that those who saw her “will remember it with joy” – I was one of the kids waving a flag along the route, and it’s still one of my strongest memories from early school days, and the only one from that year.

          Years later, in a tutorial conducted by Prof Alex Castles, the monarchy was raised when discussing the Privy Council, and Prof asked one girl (they were not adults until 18 back then) why she was in favour, she said “I just like it” to sniggers from others, but Prof cut them down asking what is wrong with something that brings joy to so many (and still does, look at Harry’s marriage, William’s visit).

  5. sabena says:

    Bran,
    I agree.
    But consider this-had Menzies political career ended in 1944(as it may have done if he had been offered the post of Chief Justice of Victoria),he may well have fitted in to Christopher Carr’s category,although,as Anne Henderson’s book demonstrates his conduct of government policy was quite good.His problem was that his cleverness detracted from one essential issue-managing the members of his party, with active dissenters like McCall and Marr whiteanting him.Time may have assisted him to deal with this, but the air crash of 1940 in which Gullet,Street and Fairbairn were killed, dealt him a mortal blow.It was only after the UAP’s defeat in 1943 that he was able to take the reigns again,because there was no one else suitable.But in Government for the second time he was more mature politically.

  6. Maic says:

    Clever? Wise? How about a person of integrity who will say what he or she actually thinks and what he or she will actually prioritize on their political journey?
    I suggest that many voters are totally disillusioned with the whole political process even if other proposed political processes would be no better.
    One exception – the Direct Democracy powers held by Swiss citizens. Now I’m not saying they get it right every time but the system does put a break on self serving politicians and active and vocal minorities.
    Real people power! Could Australian citizens handle that and do they want it?

    • whitelaughter says:

      Switzerland and Iceland – the only republics that OZ has anything to learn from!

      Direct Democracy:
      Do Australians want it?

      The Senator Online/Online Direct Democracy party only got 0.06% of the vote, Flux 0.15%, so – no, not yet. But the idea appears to be gaining momentum.

      Could Australians handle it?

      Direct democracy historically has worked best in place with universal military service – Switzerland, the buccaneer fleets, the early viking colonies. So *if* OZ had implemented this after either world war, then yes, I think it could have worked here. Currently? No. But after the next worldwide fubar, who knows?