Harold Macmillan, British Tory prime minister, asked by a journalist what had caused the downfall of his government reputedly responded, “Events, dear boy, events”.
And events, did, surely, push Malcolm Turnbull’s stand-alone Q&A session from the collective consciousness, as media and the public turned to the far more riveting revelation that a state Labor leader had, allegedly, put his hand down the dress of an ABC reporter.
That was followed by the Bourke Street terrorism incident in which a much-loved Melburnian was murdered and a homeless ‘Trolleyman’ became an Australian hero, followed by the Armistice commemoration of the centenary of the end of the war to end all wars.
The unpredictability of events gave a special piquancy to Malcolm’s Q&A – bookended, as it was by two big news stories. Malcolm, appeared, he answered questions, seemed to take special pleasure in naming those he considered had turfed him from office, nonchalantly asserting that he was through with politics and was now looking for another job – any offers?
And there was another political show that, well, didn’t show.
Mark Latham, One Nation’s newest recruit, was supposed to show up to a media conference alongside his leader Pauline Hanson. He didn’t, apparently sidetracked somewhere else, to speak to other reporters, and Pauline was left to struggle on by herself.
So – the Malcolm Show and the Mark No-Show – two former leaders of the two major political parties in Australia, men who started off with many plaudits and much promise, who both, like the boy who flew too close to the sun, fell to earth in flames.
Unlike Turnbull, Latham never got to be prime minister but he came very close, until some odd, erratic actions – a taxi driver assaulted, a bone-crushing handshake for his much older political rival John Howard, a grip when Howard’s wince was plainly picked up by the camera, made people stop and think about the character and worthiness to lead.
Turnbull’s decision, after wresting the leadership from Tony Abbott, to not offer him a cabinet post, as Abbott had earlier done for Turnbull, when their positions were reversed, was seen by many as petty and vindictive. As was Turnbull’s decision to withhold support to Dave Sharma, fighting the Wentworth by-election, airily explained away on Q&A as the fault of the Party itself, in the last week of the election.
Two charismatic, able, but flawed politicians whose supporters turned away from them.
How else are we to judge those we have elected to govern us except by their words and deeds, especially those unscripted words and actions, spoken when it is believed the microphone is turned off and the cameras have stopped rolling. It’s the small, sometimes virtually unnoticed things that hand us clues as to the characters of the men and women to who we have given power.
Australians believe in the fair go, the pub test, the amount of fight in the dog, and we still, mostly, believe, that it is the man or woman who leads who takes the blame when things go wrong, the captain who goes down with the ship, not hops on a plane to New York.
In the 24/7 news cycle can we hope the Mark & Malcolm Show doesn’t get re-runs?
Illustration: Malcolm Turnbull/Twitter.
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