THE WEST IS IN STRIFE — AND LOOKING FOR LEADERS
There is no one even on the horizon to offer us, the US or Britain much hope
For a full decade Australia has lacked real leadership. Four prime ministers in a row — Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull — have all failed to live up to the expectations Australians had of them.
With Rudd we had the pink batts scandal, and no one can forget Gillard’s famous declaration that “there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead”.
Abbott knighted Prince Philip and saw nothing wrong with giving wealthy women $150,000 a year in parental leave payments. Turnbull whipped options for tax reform on and off the table with bewildering speed for a full six months and blew an early ratings lead.
Time and time again Australians were left empty-handed and disappointed.
We are all wondering why there are no Bob Hawkes or Paul Keatings or John Howards or Peter Costellos around any more — or even on the horizon.
In a nation such as ours that can produce Olympic gold medallists on the one hand and Nobel prize-winners on the other, why don’t the very best of us run for parliament any more?
There are many reasons for this and among them media intrusion is high on the list.
There is no privacy protection any more for the politician or for their family.
Former Victorian premier Steve Bracks was a popular man but he resigned promptly once he realised the paparazzi were chasing photographs of his son and his girlfriend, who were just out having a drink.
Many prospective parliamentarians simply won’t accept that degree of interference to their private lives. While many will cite pay as a reason, people such as Attorney-General George Brandis and Labor legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus have both taken silk and never would have been short of a brief were they still at the bar. They now earn considerably less than they could. No one can doubt their commitment to public service.
While politicians’ salaries have been heading north in recent years, side benefits such as a generous superannuation scheme have been scaled back. Money is still an issue but, in my view, it is not the whole ball game. Being rated behind used-car salesmen on trustworthiness doesn’t help either. Politicians today are held in low regard by most Australians.
Disregard for the political class is by no means confined within Australia’s borders.
Indeed, Donald Trump won the US presidency by campaigning against the political elites of both sides of the divide.
He savaged Hillary Clinton but was just as critical of the establishment running the Republican Party. Just how a billionaire celebrity who refused to reveal his tax returns could convince poor white Americans to vote for him in droves is beyond my intelligence.
Since Trump’s elevation to the most powerful position in the world, his supporters are finding it difficult to point out his achievements.
Obamacare had to go, he declared, yet every time he has sought its repeal in congress he has been unable to garner enough votes. Republicans who consider his reforms too weak have been joined by those he thought were going too far. Now he has turned his attention to his tax reform plans, which look to me like lunacy on a hitherto unprecedented scale.
One of the few successes he has had is cobbling together enough votes to extend America’s debt ceiling, but if these tax cuts go through government revenue will be in such dire straits that he will be forced to keep the debt ceiling going up for a long and disastrous period.
So many people in the inner circle around him have come and gone in the period since he took office (and remember that this is less than 12 months) that it is difficult to keep up with.
I felt particularly sorry for Sean Spicer, the original press secretary, who was forced to face the media every day to explain how the President had not quite meant what he had actually said the day before. The sacking of FBI chief James Comey was probably Trump’s biggest gaffe because it looked as if he was trying to interfere in the course of justice, which of course was exactly what he was doing.
Across the Atlantic, the leadership of British Prime Minister Theresa May is under serious question. Having called an unwanted and unnecessary early general election, May was forced to watch a swathe of her conservative colleagues lose their seats.
Having scraped back into office, she now sees her leadership hanging by a thread. She will probably survive in the short term but any leader whose authority has been shaken to its core rarely lasts. The whispers and the leaks have begun, and once let loose, they never return to silence.
It may seem hard to believe but I am horrified at the thought of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn becoming Britain’s prime minister.
His brand of magic pudding economics will send the country broke, yet his appeal to younger voters is growing rather than diminishing. His vows to end aus- terity and start spending have a ready-made audience as many Brits consider they have been squeezed too often and for too long. Brexit will be difficult to negotiate and the power vacuum at the top in Britain is a real worry.
The row between Spain and Catalonia seems to worsen by the minute. Where is the leadership in Spain?
The government in Madrid used the police with batons and rubber bullets. The Prime Minister proffered an apology for that excess but is still threatening to send in the army and the Catalan leader has signed a declaration of autonomy.
Australians are not alone in having little confidence in their political leadership.
In the countries mentioned above, viable alternative leaders are as prevalent as hens’ teeth. Whatever the reason may be, right around the Western world the best and the brightest are not lining up to enter politics.
I fear it may well be another decade before a true leader can emerge.
There is no privacy protection any more for the politician or for their family