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Prime Minister Tony Abbott. The Abbott Government. “And in news just to hand, today Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that…”
It’s a hideous prospect for anyone to the left of Gerard Henderson. Cory Bernardi could actually become the minister for something. But unless you’re a member of the Canberra bubble and can get an article published in The Australian or leak to Laurie Oakes, getting hysterical about the prospect won’t change anything. Far better for your general well being to get some perspective and try to keep the speculation at least a bit rational.
We know the Stop the Everything mantra, we’ve heard about the parental leave scheme, tree planting, cutting red and green tape, downsizing the public service, fibre to anything but the premises, and we’ve been told we’ll get detailed policies and costings sometime around September 13. We also know from every other change of government that maybe two weeks in we’ll be told that the budget is in much worse shape than previously believed, which changes everything, so it’s reasonable to expect something along the lines of core and non-core policy.
Some of what we end up with will contribute to the overall vibe of the country, along the lines of Keating’s ‘When you change the government, you change the country’. It’s a difficult notion to pin down, especially in a multicultural, demographically and geographically diverse place like Australia.
Don Arthur has a post over at Club Troppo discussing the narrative theme where he raises the notion of ethos:
People are more likely to trust a leader when they believe that the government’s policies flow from their deeply held beliefs and values. They may even forgive a government for unpopular policies if they trust that the leader’s motivations are good.
Ethos is about coherence. A strong set of values underpinning goals, policies consistent with those, and a leader who can personify the package. That package provides certainty. Whether or not you like what you’re certain of, at least you know what’s going on. September is a long way away yet, but there’s no sense of an Abbott ethos. There’s a lot of personal symbolism in the Speedos, fireman costumes, masculine swagger and so on, but nothing that ties him to a sense of either a Liberal Party or what we might look like with Prime Minister Tony Abbott running things.
From Keating to Howard, we changed from being exhausted by economic and cultural shifts to being relaxed and comfortable, alert but not alarmed nationalists. From Howard to Rudd we changed from being bored to being enthusiastic. Hokey and mostly harmless, but quite enthusiastic about the climate and the internet. The GFC came along and we got school halls and pink batts, which kind of fit with the climate change and future-focused internet enthusiasm thing. Then we got totally confused about climate change for a short time before we woke up and found someone else was running the country. Since then we’ve been confused, annoyed and uncertain.
I can’t see an Abbott Government, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, changing that sense of confusion.
We know that Tony Abbott has a tendency to change his mind, and to send different messages to different audiences. Waleed Aly’s weekend article on narrative pointed to a few inconsistencies from Julia Gillard, which is a problem Abbott shares. Then there’s the policy versus personality thing with a bit of values thrown in on her position on marriage equality for example, and putting single mums on Newstart while delivering her brilliant speech on misogyny.
For his part, Tony Abbott wants to be John Howard so he gets shouty about stopping the boats, but unlike Howard, it’s oddly race-neutral. He has infinity positions on climate change. Apart from wanting to send the public service to a new land in the north to build dams and food bowls, what is his economic vision for our future? Does he even have one? He’s a misogynist, yet his every move is directed by Peta Credlin. He’s anti-abortion in a Catholic kind of way, but says he won’t do anything to stop it. There’s no ethos on offer, but plenty of confusion.
Journalists are beginning to turn their attention to the opposition, so hopefully some of the inconsistencies will start to get a more public airing. The ALP and LNP have similar internal problems. Abbott won the leadership by a single vote, antsy backbenchers are antsy backbenchers on both sides of the chamber, the LNP has its own faceless men, and the Ashby thing could yet turn up Craig Thomson-type problems. Julia Gillard has had Kevin Rudd breathing down her neck, and Abbott would have Joe Hockey and Malcolm Turnbull.
The ALP notoriously do their warring in public. It’s ugly, but at least it’s a type of transparency. The Liberal Party tends to keep the squabbling under the table, but it’s going on regardless and for similar reasons. I suspect that Prime Minister Tony Abbott would see that internal messiness gain some prominence, partly because there’s no ethos to hold an Abbott government together and partly because, like Gillard, he is where he is because the outer realms of the right of his party put him there.
If it’s true that the Liberals have outsourced their thinking to the IPA, they’d be taking instructions from an outfit with values diametrically opposed to those of the majority of voters and further destabilising the party itself. If Tony Abbott doesn’t get the senate he wants and sticks with the double dissolution idea, anything resembling coherence, stability or certainty will go right down the drain. That’s a lot of ifs and maybes chipping away at coherence. In the absence of ethos Abbott’s Australia would be as confused and uncertain as Gillard’s Australia has been, which is less of a vibe and more of an annoyance.
Anyone who paid attention to politics had a fair idea of what Howard’s Australia would look like before it eventuated. The same can’t be said of Abbott’s Australia, because regardless of his wishing otherwise, Tony Abbott is just not John Howard.
Lyn Calcutt doesn’t have a blog and didn’t quite finish her PhD. Politically, she knee jerks to the left but usually ends up in the centre once she calms down. She can usually been found dithering or on Twitter at @hobjobblesmum.