The 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?