Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Piers Akerman, Peter Costello, and the man who will never be king or a politician remembered for his ticker

(Above: the kind of talisman needed for a successful life in politics, at least in Kafiristan).

While on the subject of Peter Costello's demise and mischief makers amongst the commentariat columnists, I just couldn't resist re-visiting Piers Akerman, our beloved fat owl of the remove and his column PM unwisely derides and revives Costello, penned as recently as February 4th 2009.

In it, Akerman looked confidently to the future:

Over the past year, Costello wrote his book, he attended to some non-parliamentary matters and he gave the impression of a man who was content to let others take up the Liberal fight.

That has now changed.

The revived Costello is being watched with keen interest by his colleagues, some of whom are keen to see him return to the front bench and lead the charge, in the Treasury portfolio for now, but in the leadership position should Malcolm Turnbull be seen as terminally unelectable when the Rudd Government goes to the polls.

Turnbull’s decision to stand up to Labor’s bid to ramrod its $42 billion debt bill through parliament this week permitted him to act resolutely and present a series of coherent alternatives to Labor’s scatter-gun economic approach.

Should he have Costello beside him in the trenches, and reach out to Senator Nick Minchin to organise the Coalition’s agenda, the Labor government will face a formidable and united Opposition.

Ah yes, in those days, why only five months ago, all a yearning Costello had to do was a bit of fellow-travelling and then reach out for the throne and it would fall into his lap. Instead he blinked, and went on blinking, though what the blinking meant in terms of morse code, no one could quite figure.

Which is why you should never trust members of the commentariat or their sage advice, since Costello has only ever been an irritation and a thorn in the side of Turnbull - perhaps reflecting the way the republican silvertail Turnbull has often been thought of as being 'too soft' and a real 'lower case l' Liberal for the hard nuts of the extreme right.

Now if they can only stuff Tony Abbott in a box, along with the other extremists left over from the Howard years like shop soiled stale goods, Turnbull has a fair shake at being able to shake down Chairman Rudd.

But that was Akerman of yesteryear, and it's fun now to drop in on him and get the new angle on Costello, in Hail Costello, the man who wouldn't be king.

And it seems there's still work for Costello to do:

On the backbench, Costello provided fodder for journalists lacking a theme and for those who hoped to ride his coat-tails should he succeed, but he was wasted.

He should have been making a bigger contribution to the Opposition from the front bench but he chose not to. Keating had done the same thing when Labor was in office and used his time in exile to plot against Bob Hawke, Costello attracted those who wished to plot against Turnbull.

His energies, and the energies of those who rallied around him, should have been devoted to highlighting the multitudinous flaws of the current Government.

There is still time, of course, and it is to be hoped he uses the remainder of his term to give the Opposition the benefit of his wisdom and experience and assists them in designing strategies to restore Australia’s prosperity to the level it reached when he was treasurer.

Don't you just love it. Fodder for journalists lacking a theme! Well I'm not sure I like that kind of modernist self-referentialism when Akerman could have more evocatively said that he's a columnist never lacking a self-contradictory theme, playing as underscore to the insistent main melody - damn you all you leftie socialist democrats, damn you all to hell.

Akerman spends the rest of his column praising Costello, from his Dollar Sweets days to his failure to take on Howard, which Akerman sees as the correct decision, despite what those who urged Costello on might have said.

But let's tiptoe away from the wounded Akerman, who even now can't bring himself to admit that his hero lacked ticker, lacked gumption, and was a slack treasurer who floated along on the boom mineral tide with nary a thought for a grimmer morrow. Let's just note how his followers also shed their tears at the passing:

Piers, Peter Costello was truly the best prime minister Australia never had. It’s a great pity that his loyalty to his party and leader is depicted by some as cowardice and lack of bottle. He sought the higher duty of unity and loyalty above personal gain. When we expect prospective PMs to have the ‘killer instinct’ we end up with people like ‘Dr Death’ - the economy killer from Queensland. Heaven preserve us from such ruthlessly ambitious egomaniacs!

But what's this?

Yes a formidable political opponent without the backbone to challenge for the leadership, but who rather expected to be handed the leadership of a nation on a platter. Good riddance to the coward.

Oh dear, even amongst the faithful, there's not a unified hailing for the man who would be king but never had the bottle or the nerve or the desire.

But it does remind me that if you want to check out one of the minor lost classics of cinema, have a look at John Huston's version of The Man Who Would Be King, with Sean Connery and Michael Caine in fine form in  a romp that gives life to Rudyard Kipling's fable about the dangers of power (reminiscent of H. G. Wells' The Country of the Blind, where the one eyed man is supposedly king).

Who knows, if Costello had in fact reached out for the crown, and despite the odds got himself into the top position, for however brief a time, whether he would have governed in the same vacillating uncertain self serving way as he aspired to the throne in the first place. 

Fortunately we will never know, and happily the game of 'what if' is played with much more fun because of it, as are the treasured moments looking back over the hapless commentariat as they too were teased and tortured by the vagaries of a petulant wannabe crown prince ...

(Below: Sean Connery gets to be king, before things take a turn for the worse).

No comments: