Saturday comment - Why Peter Costello must challenge for PM in the national interest
Topic: election Oz 2007
I get Peter Costello’s argument: Resisting personal ambition to sustain a stable team and thus keep the Coalition govt show on the road 'is the right thing to do for the country'. Even at his own expense, despite gibes, slings and arrow.
I get why this pause and reflection while he still has relative youth at 49 is cause for both
- Howard loyalists in the Nats or ultra right of the Libs to pander to his patience with gentle praise he will be PM, will be one day, the way nirvana never arrives, in fact piss in his pocket, and
- on the other hand the attack dogs of the ALP misinterpret the pause as cowardice and lack of ticker like Beazley, even as he keeps an eye on economic health of the country.
Well there has been logic to that approach for quite some time now. But the time has gone and a new reality has evolved slowly since I stood amongst the Canberra press gallery outside the Phillip St offices in Sydney in July 2006: Having a natter to the odd Cabinet Minister Minchin and Coonan and alternatively ingratiating myself and scolding the Riley’s, Middletons and even grand old man Oakes. The assembly was waiting on what we fully expected to be and was the Clayton's Costello challenge. [Claytons being a non alcoholic drink here.]
Costello eschews loyalty to his own career ambition for the national interest. I give him credit for that as defined according to his own lights.
But we are approaching a much greater moral reality for the national interest as follows:
- the biography of Howard reveals an emotionally secure and mildly successful intrinsically average man. We don’t say mediocre. We say determined, nurtured supported and inculcated with a iron clad value of hard work. Notice not enough to get top grades at school but strong enough to keep going industriously. Combine such endeavour with 45 years of practice at anything let alone politics and one does become good. Very good… from experience. One learns for instance to grab and co opt far greater intellects for one’s own exploitation.
- This is the place Costello like many unusually talented people finds himself in. Exploited by lesser mortals like Howard. Ensnared and harnessed (and paradoxically marginalised) to a player of some 19 years greater experience. Just think it – a man like Howard who has lived twice as many adult career lives virtually. And yet Costello conceding such a huge headstart is still seen as competitive to some degree. Incredible.
- Rudd similarly 19 years junior and seen as far more competitive, indeed triumphing in the polls … so far, even as Morgan late Friday shows a 4% point improve for the Coalition on the Haneef fracas trawling the simpleton One Nation vote.
Picture: The Sydney Daily Telegraph running interference today on the real news about a stupid legal farce in the Dr Haneef case that reflects quite badly on federal governance of law and order around terrorism issues. This "farce" seems to have been caused by the systemic break down in the rules of subjudice under the supervision of Howard loyalist Phillip Ruddock as Attorney General. As a result the whole case is being run in the pages of the Big Media instead in the courts.
- But Howard for all his 48 years experience or more in politics remains exactly what his brand signifies – average. An average intellect, an average ability, an average sensibility. Like his friend George Bush. The only really unusual thing about John is his enormous emotional security gifted from his mother, and career longevity. So we don’t say mediocre. We say a triumph of hard work and time and the power of a mother’s emotional nurturing generating a sublime self confidence, and a very helpful disdain for pretension and privilege in a time of disproportionate wealth appealing to voters. But also of course cunning/wisdom built up on the long long road, and school of hard knocks.
- These are fine qualities when everything is going pretty safely with the world. A Cold War is over. Economic reforms of the 80ies and 90ies have kicked in. The current PM Keating is suffering a political disjunction from the same average mob of voters he actually needed to take with him, however long it was going to take but didn't have the patience. A steady hand on the tiller indeed.
- But we don’t live in that world anymore. Greenhouse driven climate change is threatening the globe. It takes real intellect and foresight to get this and listen to the best and brightest and honest scientists, that an unprecedented situation is arising. Cleverness and tricks won't replace quality in such a situation - and a good marriage just won't do it either. Again, a new phase of decaying USA empire is making life tricky for a middle power wedged between China and Uncle Sam, not least loose cannon military industrial commercial agendas sucking the public revenue dry in the USA and here. And not just keeping us poor but feeding them into cataclysmic nuclear technologies. Planning for the inevitable down turn distinct from squandering a boom in mineral resources - if only because China is choking on its own hyper development and may hit domestic turbulence - takes real brightness.
- these are not times like 1996-2002 for average intellects who play the game of ‘leader’ by being just behind the bow wave, and following the real vanguard once it is safe to do so: Who run interference on the real news like The Sydney Daily Telegraph today above. No, we are going to need the best and brightest and talented Australia has to offer. Some guy who can master multi tonal Mandarin for instance (Rudd). Some guy who can against all expectation find legal rights in common law to beat the union in an ALP-ACTU federal milieu of the early 90ies (Costello). Our next PM in 4 months has to be a very smart and indeed brilliant person for the demanding times. With creativity to reorganise our carbon economy. Someone who is not easily led on the path of least resistance by bully boys in say the nuke industry, or USA/China geo politik or even geo capital markets when it comes to private equity and takeovers. Average guys are not okay in extraordinary times. Mechanics are no good as brain surgeons so don't expect them to be or give them the wrong job. The family car, yes. The health of your kid - no.
In summary this is why Costello should challenge lose, win or draw. In his heart of hearts he must know a Rudd prime ministership is better for this country than a Howard re-election, as would a Costello victory. Australia can’t afford another term of an average guy, the way Curtin replaced Menzies in WW2 because he was intrinsically smarter, indeed brilliant. It wasn't about helping the forgotten people, it was about bare survival, forging an inclusive alliance across the breadth of society left to right, rich to poor, and now today greenie and brownie.
There are some things that experience just don’t deliver. There are times when average is not enough. And that time is here. Yes, a challenge will fracture the Coalition and cause a lot of turmoil and could even result in a defeat. But then a Coalition Opposition would be in much better shape for the next 3 years to compete again. On the other hand the country would be better led, and there is no saying such a loss is inevitable. Hawke replaced Heydon late in the piece and won, colour and brilliance over steady and bland.
So we say win lose or draw Costello should run for PM. If Howard stays and wins we all lose. If he stays he will probably lose anyway against the quality of Kevin Rudd. In these terms it’s a no brainer Costello should run for PM for himself, sure, but far more importantly for the well being of the country, and in our own humble way, the well being of the world.
The only other patriotic option is to retire pre election. Because sometimes losing is also winning, and vice versa.
What say you Peter?
Postscript #1: early Monday 23rd July 07
Well the Sunday Telegraph yesterday 22nd July 07 following our column above was a doozy. Never seen such a harsh, indeed savage, attack on the Howard led Coalition from the ALP inspired focus group sledging of Howard via Costello supporter Glen Milne front page over to several pages, to ex Nat Senator Bill O'Chee banruptcy/life problems (keeping in mind its the Nats who prefer Howard for his agrarian socialism).
If yesterday's conservative Telegraph is not a proverbial tap on the Howard shoulder in his own city then what is?
Further, call us slow but we have realised there is a third option for the Treasurer Peter Costello turning 50 in the several months (distinct from challenging or retiring to cause Howard to be replaced as PM), namely to be drafted by the Coalition. As you can see from the Shanahan Weekend Australian headline above Costello is saying ostensibly "I won't challenge" presumably to keep Coalition Party unity fairly stable. This may well carry the sub text - you must draft me.
Posted by editor
at 12:52 PM NZT
Updated: Monday, 23 July 2007 9:11 AM NZT