Life After John


If those nasty Left-wing, union-dominated, politically correct, Socialist-Communist-Marxist-Leninist-Maoist-Castroist cadres at the Newspoll politburo are correct, Kevin 07 will narrowly defeat John&Janette96-07. Which raises the question: what will happen to those on the conservative side of politics?

Sheik Rupert bin Murdoch might think there’s more money in being a bleeding-heart liberal, which could lead to a shake-up in the allegedly conservative commentariat.

Here are my predictions:

Piers Akerman will simultaneously explode and implode in a fit of pompous rage.

Frank Devine (and daughter Miranda) will return to New Zealand where at least Helen Clark’s comrades know how to spell the name of their Party correctly.

David Marr will replace Tom Switzer as opinion editor and editorial writer at The Australian. John Hyde-Page and I will then be appointed token conservative columnists.

Caroline Overington will convert to Judaism, only to be rebuffed by the new Federal Member for Wentworth.

Janet Albrechtsen will suddenly realise Howard’s defeat was caused by his lack of genuine conservatism. She’ll convert to conservative Islam, change her name to Benazir Megawati, don a burqa and apply to become the second wife of Sheik Tajeddine Hilaly, but turned away (Sheik Hilaly is opposed to both polygamy and burqas in Australia).

Andrew Bolt will become The Herald-Sun‘s in-house reviewer of Turkish novels.

Margo Kingston will become editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph, with Tim Blair appointed moderator of the Tele‘s new Webdiary blog.

Paul Kelly will try to convince readers he has always been a fan of the ALP. will become the official organ of the Sydney Institute.

Greg Sheridan will become foreign affairs writer for the Myanmar Times.

Paul Sheehan will leave journalism altogether and start a business selling magic water.

Alan Jones will coach the Wallabies while working part-time for ACMA.

Perhaps of greater interest would be what would happen to the Liberal Party itself. Now we all know that the Libs are rather hopeless at dealing with leadership change. Some readers here will be geriatric enough to recall the great stoushes between Andrew Peacock and John Howard during the 1980s. Others will recall the Joh-for-PM campaign that deprived John and Janette of an earlier sojourn at Kirribilli House.

Joe Hockey cupcakes baked by parents from Lane Cove Public School, located in his seat of North Sydney

When I first joined the Party in September 1993, Dr John Hewson had just finished losing the unlosable election. Echoes of Paul Keating’s ‘True Believers’ speech still haunted the Party faithful. In Howard’s home State, John Fahey was Premier. Hewson had received a makeover, converting overnight from economic dry to socially progressive wet, and was just holding on as Opposition Leader.

Within the Party organisation, a vicious civil war was taking place between the dominant small-l liberal faction known as the ‘Group’ and what seemed to be the rest of the world. Fahey lost the 1995 State election despite gaining more than 50 per cent of the primary vote across the State. Suddenly a whole host of staffers from the Group were out of jobs and left without resources to fight factional warfare.

It was around this time that some friends of mine from Fairfield/Cabramatta Young Liberals organised a harbour cruise. I couldn’t turn up, but I read all about it two days later in The Australian. It turns out that Hewson had allegedly suggested in a private conversation that unless the Party adopted his newly-found social liberalism (which, for many conservatives was just another name for socialism), he might have to resign and form a new Party.

Hewson at first denied making any such suggestion. No one, inside or outside the Party, believed him. It was the beginning of the end of Hewson’s leadership. He was replaced by Alexander Downer, who soon showed his political maturity by poking fun at domestic violence victims. Downer’s new values-based policy was entitled ‘The Things That Matter.’ Before a crowd of appalled journos, he referred to the Party’s domestic violence policy as ‘The Things That Batter.’

Howard then took charge, and no one has looked back since. But depending on how bad the defeat could be this weekend, Howard could suddenly find himself without a seat.

And not just Howard. Malcolm Turnbull could lose Wentworth. Gary Nairn might lose Eden-Monaro. Perhaps even Joe Hockey might lose North Sydney. Now that would be a tragedy. Like him or not, Joe Hockey is exactly the type of MP the conservative side needs more of. He is young, smart and quite progressive for a Liberal. And having a part-Palestinian-Armenian heritage, Hockey doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.

Yet Hockey will face a big battle in a NSW Division stacked with hard-line ultra-conservative religious fanatics. Actually, it’s probably an insult to genuine religion to describe them as religious. Unless, of course, you think religion is just about banning abortion, removing homosexual rights and enforcing a moratorium of the migration of nasty people who just might be tempted to tick the ‘Muslim’ box on their census forms.

One of Hockey’s closest allies is Senator Marise Payne. Both come from the Group. Both are former Presidents of the NSW Young Liberals.

When I was in the non-Group side of the Party, there was no one we were encouraged to hate more than Marise. We tried everything in our power to stop her from winning her Senate pre-selection. We spread all kinds of false innuendo and rumours about her that she was a supporter of paedophilia, that she lobbied to reduce the age of consent for homosexual males (it varied from 14 to 4 months depending on how gullible the listener was), and so on.

Payne narrowly escaped a pre-selection challenge after Howard directly intervened. But with Howard gone, who will keep the ascendancy of the religious Right in check? Would an effective religious takeover of the Party render it unelectable?

Anyway, Howard has predicted for us how his Party room will decide on a new leadership once he retires.

I will go into the Party meeting and say I hereby resign as leader of the Liberal Party, and everybody will sort of say ‘right-o,’ they’ll know it’s coming, then I’ll sit down and say ‘does anybody want to nominate.’ In our Party you nominate by standing and Peter will stand and in my view nobody else will stand, and he will be elected unopposed.

That’s all fair enough. But for some reason Howard doesn’t explain how Costello’s deputy will be decided and who the possible front runners are.

And what if Howard loses his seat and/or, what if the Coalition is turfed out of office? Will leadership stoushes merely consist of everyone saying ‘right-o’? Or will there be more people standing than seated?

We aren’t talking about just two candidates jostling with each other, as during the 1980s Howard-Peacock fracas. What we have here is a veritable Melbourne Cup field. There’s Brendan Nelson, Peter Costello, Tony Abbott, probably Joe Hockey and possibly Malcolm Turnbull. All are ambitious and all have ministe
rial runs on the board. And with no real presence in State or Territory government, the Coalition could find itself in the political wilderness for decades.

Let’s say any one of these contenders is able to puncture the egos of his equally ambitious colleagues. Will we see the ghost of Joh return to haunt the Prime Ministerial contender again? Will the Queensland Nats produce another loose cannon? Will we see a Barnaby-for-PM campaign?

Who knows? Who cares? I certainly don’t. I’d be happy to explain why at‘s post-election piss-up on Saturday night at the Bat And Ball Hotel on South Dowling Street. See you all there.

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