There are two bits of modern popular language which the blog finds particularly irritating. The first – whatever – has an alienated, contemptuous and anti-social air to it. A bit like the tone you get from a cyclist after they have nearly run you over while you are walking on the footpath they are riding on and you suggest they apologise. The second – move on – is different because sometimes it is harmless shorthand for getting over something but is more usually, in its political sense, irritating because of its hypocrisy.
The hypocrisy is most obvious when politicians are found out, embarrassed or cornered just as Tony Abbott was on the need to repay expenses he had wrongly claimed and, as a result, got an uncharacteristically tough grilling from the media. His defence seemed to be it was old news, it came from a Labor dirt unit, he had repaid the money and it was someone else in his office’s fault. As a result of all this we should put it behind us and move on. On the other hand Abbott and the Liberals have been very reluctant to move on when the slipper or the boot has been on the other foot. Peter Slipper is one example; Paul Keating and the pig farm is another; and, Julia Gillard and Slater and Gordon is the latest. But the most persistent was probably the Liberal attack on Mark Latham. You have to admit that Latham was his own worst enemy although you can’t deny the potency and originality of many of his ideas. But the Liberal attacks around Liverpool Council, the taxi driver’s arm, his first wife, alleged plagiarism and other things were relentless even when they were old news or wrong. Added to this were the false allegations about his personal life pushed out by his Labor colleagues and the notorious non-existent buck’s turn video. Much of this was pursued by the media and became subjects of Liberal negative advertising. A quick re-read of The Latham Diaries is a good reminder of how a brilliant but flawed man was hounded by media, the opposing party and his own colleagues who wouldn’t let him ‘move on’. If the incident, for instance, of his Perth interviewer accidentally handing over notes for questioning provided by a Liberal hatchet man, Ian Hanke, is true it is also a fascinating insight into how the media and political apparatchiks co-operate for nefarious ends. Although it should be said though that the blog is not entirely blameless in this sort of thing having once co-operated with a Canberra gallery member (when Federal Parliament wasn’t sitting) to have something about the Stumpy Gully land deal raised in a State Parliament adjournment debate so that the reporter could cover the words uttered under privilege.
The pattern for arguing that you shouldn’t be allowed to move on is very predictable. Shock and horror at how bad it all is; demands for a full inquiry and disclosure; demands for a full explanation (and if that comes) statements that there are still questions to be answered whether you can think of any specific questions to be asked or not. If none of that works you formulate statements such as: the guilty party has to decide whether they are a crook or just incompetent. Thus, if you were formulating an attack on Abbott over the expenses you would frame the issue as either he rorted his expenses or is such a poor manager that his office can’t keep track of them. And if he can’t get people to keep track of $9,000 how will he kept track of a national budget?
This won’t happen, of course, because the Government seems to be deliberately careful about not attacking in what Rudd calls ‘old politics’ style, preferring to attack him over issues of ‘substance’ carefully chosen to carry a dense sub-text. Tony Abbott has done brilliantly well in Opposition through a combination of strict self-control and obsessive control of events, activities and words by his office. But it becomes increasingly hard to do when the attacks and claims are seemingly positive statements around policy ‘substance’, however insubstantial policy is in modern politics.And that’s exactly what Rudd is trying to do by making positive statements with sub-texts while offering debate on issues such as debt and the carbon tax which Abbott has made his own.
Now if the blog had a hand in this, the next delightful subtle ‘attack’ on Abbott would be to come out in the next day or two welcoming the Pope’s comments on refugees and asking him to endorse them. Unfortunately even Rudd, a god-botherer like Abbott, might not have the chutzpah to carry that off given ALP policies on the subject.