The Party’s Over for Julia and David by Trevor Plumbly
The Political Guillotine Down Under
It’s all happening down under folks! Politically that is, because heads are rolling like drunken pool balls. Over in Australia the ignominy of having a ‘Sheila’ in charge of the country proved to be too much of a burden for the ‘Cobbers’ to bear. Whilst here in New Zealand we’ve got the decapitated body of the leader of the opposition as evidence of what happens to perfectly nice people if they fiddle with politics. In my youth, politicians were elderly, eloquent in a restrained manner, and generally polite. Rude or insulting behaviour certainly didn’t belong in a British-based parliamentary system and media statements were tools to inform the public rather than clubs to whack the opposition. Never in history has the old saw been more apparent that “you only get what you deserve”.
Australia’s First Woman Prime Minister
Julia Gillard became Australia’s first woman prime minister during a troubled time for the country, leading a party riddled with mangled egos and petty jealousies, against a background of falling mineral prices, international recession and, of course, global warming. She headed a minority government that existed on shaky ground, to say the least, and inherited a host of spiteful detractors in parliament and sadly, in the media. I say sadly because the media in this case simply failed to fulfil its function, which is to gather information and inform the public; instead it jumped on the wagon with the mob and echoed the carefully staged calls for blood. Julia Gillard was no Margaret Thatcher who was a street-fighting in-your-face bully, probably just the sort of woman politician Australia deserves. Gillard tended towards compromise rather than confrontation and that is not an endearing trait for your basic Aussie bloke.
She faced months of tightrope-walking to maintain power and provide some sort of stability for the country. She did this with considerable dignity, but Aussies are Aussies: she was just a ‘Sheila’ and it was felt that a few months of back-biting and ill-concealed insults by a duplicitous aspirant and a few toadies would sort her out, and of course it did. She left office, speaking calmly without any of the rancour she was surely entitled to feel. One comment is worth repeating: she said that she was the first woman Prime Minister, but felt sure she wouldn’t be the last. I hope she’s right.
New Zealand’s David Shearer Bites the Dust
Meanwhile, over here in New Zealand, we’ve just lost the leader of the opposition. Not lost in the funereal sense, but ‘conked it’ in political terms. David Shearer was a fundamentally decent man, not a great orator or a skilled political warrior, but principled and the sort of man who should engender respect. Sadly for David, he was elected to be the beacon of hope for a desperate Labour party. But David was never really able to cope with the demands of leadership. Unlike Helen Clarke he seemed to isolate himself and that left him vulnerable; his basic decency was soon interpreted as weakness by the opposing bench, the media and then by his own colleagues. Kiwis don’t do back-stabbing terribly well; they’ve got some sort of cut-out fuse that prevents them from carrying out Aussie style political assassination. Over here the members of the mob confront the victim and announce that they’re going to front-stab him unless he commits suicide. The net result is the same, but it does allow the mob to consider that it’s acted honourably. Following this rat pack display, humble speeches will be made by the victors, ever mindful that they live or die via the tabloid press and talk back radio. There’s a careful blend of praise for the departed and a hint of a brighter, stronger future. These days it seems a 2 minute sound bite is worth a thousand words, but I can’t help feeling that it’s not much of a way to bid farewell to two decent people who just didn’t possess the killer instinct.