It’s about the horse race, stupid!
I recently suggested to The Currency Lad that he visit the wonderful Lifeline Bookfest in order to pick up a copy of that classic 1930s Australian novel The Currency Lass. I’ve been over the weekend (for non Brisvegans, it happens twice a year – on the Queen’s birthday and Australia Day long weekends – and this year it’s on from last Saturday til the Wednesday public holiday – a whole exhibition room in the Convention Centre full of cheap books). The fruits of my labours at the booksale included, aside from a stack of useful tomes on the dialectic, the philosophy of history and such like matters for my thesis, a lot of novels. Unfortunately, my partner beat me to Winnie the Pooh in Latin and her claim of “first in” was respected. I also bought Paul Kelly’s The End of Certainty, which astonishingly I’ve never read before, and which I’ve been dipping into in my leisure hours.
Kelly’s argument about the dissolution of the Australian Settlement is well known. Justice Higgins is no doubt turning in his grave, if he wasn’t already about the sort of Liberal who holds his eponymous seat. It’s also interesting to remember the extreme panic over the current account, which, though now consigned to the dustbin of economic problems past, may yet come back to bite us, as Homer Paxton has pointed out. But of greater interest than the question of why the economic rationalists in the press gave up their purity for a dose of neo-conservatism under the Howard ascendancy, is the poverty of political insight that Kelly often displays. I suppose it would be unfair to reflect on the predictions Kelly made about Downer’s great virtues as Leader (although Hendo seems to have made it a recurrent mission to remind journos of their past efforts at seers – glad to see the Sydney Institute is usefully occupied). Reading about the madness of Joh for PM (and Elliott for PM and Peacock for PM) is immense fun, and Kelly weaves a tight and compelling narrative.
But two things probably mark Kelly as a typical (if more distinguished) member of the Canberra Press Gallery. He concentrates very heavily on the horse race aspect of politics (while backhanding his media colleagues for so doing), and he seems overly influenced by the last mob that he spoke to. The chapters on the Libs seem Lib-friendly and the chapters on the ALP seem Laborite. Admittedly, with Billy Hughes, he rarely has a good word to say about the Nats. Kelly’s one of the best of a bad bunch, and at least he does have some concern for policy and for the big picture and the national interest, and I’m not saying op/ed commentary should be the same as academic history or political science, but don’t we all – particularly in light of the feeding frenzy around Latho – deserve better from journalists? Maybe it’s significant in this context that he casually implies (in passing, with no commentary, and referring to Murdoch’s being informed of the Peacock challenge) on p. 476 of the 1994 edition that Murdoch has the power to instantly alter the attitude of “his papers” towards particular pollies, policies and parties.