Just before the Joyce affair broke and occupied all the media space, Guy Rundle at Crikey wrote an excoriating piece in which he stated that Turnbull is the most contemptible modern prime minister we’ve had. At least in the last 15 years.
The focus was Turnbull’s “pathetic handling of the Jim Molan mini-scandal, the new senator posting anti-Muslim dreck from a British far-right/neo-Nazi website.” Rundle could not see the point of pandering to emerging neo-Nazi sentiments on the right. He sees Turnbull as entirely vacuous, living an imaginary life of his choosing. Abbott by contrast, has some content, although ridiculous.
It was on 7 February when Rundle wrote:
- Virtually the entire crop of leading mainstream party politicians — after the cresting of John Howard and the demise of the Beazley-Crean Laurel and Hardy act — arouse in us rich and complex blends of pity, loathing, and disgust; each as distinct as the different notes and flavours in a variety of single malts.
Of our leaders of the last 15 years, only Julia Gillard escapes such judgement, due to her basic competence, rationality and having some consistent beliefs; ironic, in that she had to suffer the worst barrage of simple hatred while in office. What a goddamn golden age.
Rundle is merciless on Rudd:
- Kevin Rudd floats across the political landscape like an escaped hot-air balloon with a face painted on. The practice of government that once tethered him to the ground awhile; now, bereft of that, the fantasy side of his nature has taken over, reconstructing the memory and account of his inspiring but shambolic time in office. The cocktail? A degree of remnant regard, contempt, a dash of pity, a garnish of schadenfreude.
- The boy wonder, feted to be either pope or prime minister, the right-wing rugger bugger, turned Santamaria student politics falangist, journalist, would-be priest, thinker, the leading conservative of his generation — and he turned out to be the most ridiculous figure of them all.
Even though ridiculous, he finds some content in Abbott, which is lacking in Turnbull. On the latter:
- Sartre spoke of the nausea, the actual physical sickness one feels at the contingency of things, how everything could just as well be otherwise. Turnbull goes one better; he channels a sort of existential dry retching, a product of the vast disappointment with the politician, combined with a rich contempt for the man he has decided to be, or always was.
In this case Rundle sees Turnbull as pandering to a creep towards neo-Nazism which “is moral and political poison for any centre-right force that wants a long-term future.”
He says you might compare Turnbull to boss in TV program The Office, but not the UK version, where you see:
- a clumsy, excruciating man, but with some capacity for real feeling and need, beneath the bluster. Turnbull is Steve Carell’s Michael Scott from the US version: the smirking, giggling, twitching cartoon figure, who never misses a chance to advance his own interests, usually blunderingly, a man whose presence lingers, when he is gone, by the sour taste in one’s mouth.
Turnbull cannot shift the Coalition out of the 47/48-53/52 two-party-preferred zone, I suspect, because disgust is immovable, and disgust is what he provokes in a number of people. Cowardice, poor judgement, delusion, petty ambitions: Malcolm Turnbull manages to discredit not merely the life of politics, but human striving in general. Even at the end of this bum cycle of Australian politics, that is quite an anti-achievement.
Should you think that Rundle is a shill for the left in Australian politics, you would be sadly mistaken. He has done a series of six articles Red Brotherhood at War: Inside Labbor’s impending Factional Collapse looking at the factionalism in Victoria which he says killing the Labor Party and asks whether it can be reversed.
Where we are in Australian politics is not pretty in Rundle’s view. Labor under Hawke/Keating was “forceful, dynamic, sexy, technocratic and elitist, and media-oriented.” However, the next generation are media-friendly narcissists, rather than builders of a mass party.
Selected early for their media-friendly style and demeanour, mentored, proteged and duchessed, they have had no defence against the disease of a media era, corrosive narcissism.
Forming networks, they have mirrored each other’s self-regard, and drawn less self-obsessed people along with them. The party’s internal defences and processes have become so weak as to lack all immunity to such. The parasite takes over the host and works its limbs, and that is something of what one is seeing now.
Inevitably they burn out, and are left running off the energy of bitterness, which is all that remains.
Rundle thinks this could cost Labor the next election.
But if it can somehow conspire to lose to Malcolm Turnbull, or whoever, then we’re screwed. Somehow, eventually the pet-shop puppy-basket clusterfuck that is the Coalition will hit on a winning formula of centre-right social progressivism, and corporate-favouring capitalism, and at that point it will wipe away what remains of a social-democratic industrial framework.
It will preside over a nation creating a new type of Australian: with the same expectations of atomised, individual work existence as many Americans have, with little notion of an enabling state, dominated by the classical liberal conception that the state is inherently parasitic. Perhaps such a disaster would produce a revival of real left politics. But perhaps it would be the end of an Australia many of us hold dear.
So, he says:
- Labor is hoping to eke out a 2019 (or 2018) win despite the roiling chaos going on beneath the leadership. Those who grit their teeth and work for it will do so in the rueful knowledge that one must fight for victory, even if the only thing that would make genuine renewal possible would be another defeat. We can’t go on, we go on, and so it goes and so it goes.
This may be a Victoria-centric view of the Labor Party. In 2016 Labor ran on a stack of detailed policies and factions have always been a feature of Victorian Labor. Looking at last election results Turnbull’s biggest task will be to hold onto the Coalition’s 21 out of 30 seats in Queensland. According to Newspoll, if an election were held today the LNP would win 63 seats to Labor’s 82. On personal performance, 54 per cent of voters are dissatisfied with both Turnbull and Shorten and only 34 per cent satisfied – a dead heat.
Now Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce may have gifted Labor the next election if the pundits are to be believed. Greg Sheridan in the Oz thinks that the Joyce scandal may be the pivotal moment that marks the Trumpification of Australian conservative politics where tribal ties prove more important than principles and morals. According to him, the left are already there.
For what it’s worth, I think Joyce will hang on. He needs the money, and no-one within the National Party has enough heft to unseat him. Turnbull in the end has no say in the matter. How this plays out over the next weeks and months in quite unpredictable, but democracy based on rational consideration of policy will struggle for attention and more dry retching in store for Rundle.