It could have been even worse – remembering Tony Abbott

How will Tony Abbott be remembered? That might sound a tad premature particularly when the blog, along with Rod Cameron and a few others, declared authoritatively after Abbott was first elected leader that he was unelectable and could well be equally wrong again.

But, as the blog bitterly remembers from Victorian politics in the 1970s and 80s, once the leadership issue is out and about the media finds it much easier, and more fun, to write about leadership than other more complex subjects and the outcome is inevitable. So, much to the chagrin of Labor and others, it seems increasingly likely that he might actually be gone. Nevertheless, while the Liberals will be keen to ‘move on’, as everyone in politics says when trying to distract attention from train wrecks, his political impact has been significant even though that impact is more like that of Herostratus in Ephesus than that of builders of monuments or policy achievements.

However, unlike the fourth century BCE Herostratus and the temple of Artemis, there is something to be said for Abbott. He would have been unlikely to burn down the Library of Celsus or the one at Alexandria other than accidentally. Indeed, compared to some of his political heroes he seems positively civilised in the area of books and reading. Okay he used one of his captain’s picks to give an award to Hal Colebatch’s waterfront book forcing one of Australia’s most distinguished and experienced historians, Ann Moyal, to resign from the judging panel, but in contrast to his Canadian soulmate, Stephen Harper, Abbott is a positively fervent supporter of literature.

In an article on Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan (TLS 21 November 2014) Faye Hamill describes how McLuhan used to write to Pierre Trudeau about books, national identity and the arts. Trudeau wrote back. In contrast, in 2007 fifty Canadian authors “were invited to the House of Commons to mark the Canada Council’s half century, but only five minutes of parliamentary time was devoted to the tribute, and Harper did not speak or even look up.”

After the event Yann Martel (Life of Pi) “began writing to Harper fortnightly, each time enclosing a book and commenting on the potential of literature to help readers see the world from unfamiliar points of view.” The books sent included Austen, Woolf, Hemingway,  Achebe and “Frye’s The Educated Imagination, an especially appropriate choice since it explores the social and ethical value of reading. But Stephen Harper never wrote back.”

The blog’s not sure about how successful anyone would be in persuading Tony Abbott to explore unfamiliar points of view but one can’t help feeling that if it had been in Australia Martel would certainly have got a letter and perhaps even a phone call. In other words, whether we say farewell to Tony Abbott or not before the next election we should remember that it could have been worse and might still be if Scott Morrison happened to get the numbers.

Herostratus, of course, has another implication for the Liberals if they toss Abbott out. He destroyed the temple to Artemis in a bid to be remembered forever. Officials in Ephesus ordered that his name never be spoken again but it didn’t work – the record of their decision has survived for two and half millennia. And, unless a defeated Abbott resigns from Parliament what do they do with him to avoid the failure of the Ephesus officials? Foreign Minister, Health Minister, an ambassadorship in a country with good beaches (Cuba or the Caribbean perhaps) or does he remain as the ghost at the feast?

No doubt the Murdoch media will rally behind any successor and everyone will try to move on but then it could also be like that other famous Ephesus event when devotees of the goddess Artemis rioted in protest at the teachings of the apostle Paul. Sadly, for human history, they were as unsuccessful as they were with Herostratus.

By the way 1: the blog wrote a week or so ago (Manufacturing ignorance) about the North Carolina Senate passing a law to ensure that climate change effects on sea levels would be ‘legally’ erased whatever the scientific reality.  Sadly the blog didn’t know that Australia is now as bad. The outgoing Queensland Deputy Premier, Jeff Seeney, recently forced local authorities to remove all references to a predicted 0.8m sea level rises from the Moreton Bay regional plan.

By the way 2: One can formulate a new rule of politics – all debt incurred by Labor or Labour governments in Australia and the UK is a disaster which will ruin us all, while all debt incurred by Tories is not mentioned in polite company. To wit, according to Private Eye (Issue 1282, 28 December-January 8 2015) the average yearly rise in public sector debt under 13 years of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling’s chancellorships was 47 billion pounds. The average yearly rise in public sector debt under five years of George Osborne’s chancellorship is 107 billion pounds.

By the way 3:  An interesting, if slightly contrarian, perspective on the Abbott Government’s communication problems is an article by a very experienced practitioner, Anthony Tregoning, which can be found at The blog doesn’t agree that communication, and not policy, is the problem but Antony’s analysis is still very perceptive.