For Pete’s Sake

I was going to blog something, what was it? Oh yes, some musings on Mr Costello. He gave an interview with Ray Martin on 60 minutes on Sunday, which didn’t really say anything new — Ray tried to make it sound like there was some chance this was all some devious plot and Costello was really leaving himself open to become leader of the Liberals for the next election — and it is politics, so who really knows — but for my money, it’s going to take a miracle for him to do anything but spend another half year or so on the backbenches, then leave parliamentary life for the private sector.

Probably the most telling exchange was concerning former Treasurer and PM, Paul Keating:

RAY MARTIN: We come back to the spineless, the gutless, that have been thrown at you – why didn’t you do a Keating?

PETER COSTELLO: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t want to be compared in anything with Paul Keating,

RAY MARTIN: He had a go.

PETER COSTELLO: Well, I think he also illustrates that someone can get consumed by bitterness.

RAY MARTIN: He got the job.

PETER COSTELLO: Keating, Keating was a very lucky man.

Apart from partisan differences, I don’t think there’s a criticism you could make of Costello’s electability that didn’t apply equally or moreso to Keating in ’92; yet Keating got the top job, and Costello never got the chance. And while Costello may never have had the numbers in the party room, well, Keating didn’t either, until he’d challenged, lost, and dropped off to the back benches for a while, letting the rest of the party stew in their own juices.

As far as I can see, had Costello done that (well) prior to last year’s election, the Liberal caucus would’ve been skittish enough to have pushed Howard into retiring, and whether we’d have Costello as PM would’ve just been a question of how much people liked Kevin ’07 compared to Fightback! in ’93.

But that’s not the way it went, and the only reason I can see is that Costello put loyalty (presumably to the party, rather than the PM) over personal ambition. Maybe that counts as gutless. Heck, it might even ultimately count as selfish — if you view what happened as meaning the party lost out (not to mention John Howard’s legacy), simply because Costello didn’t want people calling him disloyal. But either way, it seems counter-intuitive that we seem to end up rewarding personal ambition over loyalty.

It’s similar when you look at other PMs, as far as I can see: Howard doesn’t come off as spectacularly loyal (except to his wife), but was certainly ambitious; Hawke similarly seemed to break faith with Keating, and depending on your point of view, broke with Labor traditions somewhat in privatisation, co-operating with business, and reducing strikes.

And maybe that’s how you get disloyalty as a good thing for a politician — you’re not elected to represent your party, after all, but a whole bunch of Australians, and if being loyal to your party is one of your priorities, maybe that’s evidence enough that you’re going to stick to your party’s line even when it’d be better for the country to take a bold step. And on the other hand, if you’re not loyal to your party — which will have almost certainly done a lot for you by the time you’re running for Prime Minister in Australia, your loyalty in general is probably going to be pretty questionable.

Anyway, to finish off, some random links to an extract from Costello’s memoirs, and Paul Sheehan’s take on matters.

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