Features Australia

Through thick and spin

27 July 2019

9:00 AM

27 July 2019

9:00 AM

Once upon a time, Britain sent Australia its excess convicts.  These days we get Tony Blair’s old spin doctors, a case of plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Six years and four PMs ago, Julia Gillard, employed Blair’s spin-meister, John McTiernan, who energetically played his part in her downfall.

This week we had the dubious honour of a visit from Alastair Campbell, which raised a few questions, like how many more of these spinners must we endure and how was Blair successful for so long with confidants of this calibre? It brought to mind Malcolm Tucker, star of the political satire The Thick of It, who was based on Campbell and famously said to his minister ‘When I want your advice, I’ll give you the special signal. Which is me being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.’ Judging by Campbell’s comments, maybe it was the other way around.

Blair told Campbell he was ‘going over the top’ comparing Trump to Hitler and, not for the first time, Australians agreed with Blair. Even in the antipodes, argumentum ad hitlerum applies; the first one to play the Nazi card loses the argument.

Campbell’s intellectual groundwork for his assertions is that he is ‘about a sixth of the way through’ The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer, presumably the bit where Hitler hosts a popular TV program and buys a beauty pageant. If Campbell reads on, he will discover that Hitler never won an election, was merely appointed Chancellor, used the burning down of the German parliament to convince the president to suspend all civil rights and constitutional protections, then eliminated all political parties except his own, started burning books, censoring the media, murdering everyone he deemed an enemy of the state, invaded his neighbours, waged a total war and systematically murdered six million Jews.

For those struggling to see the parallels, Campbell explained, ‘That thing (Trump) did the other day with the four congresswomen of colour. Hitler was doing that stuff.’

Actually, it was Democrat Nancy Pelosi ‘doing that stuff’. She dismissed the influence of the four loopy lefties in the House known as ‘the squad’, which inspired Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to accuse Pelosi of ‘explicitly singling out newly-elected women of colour,’ and prompted Democrat Lacy Clay, also a ‘person of colour’, to accuse AOC of playing the ‘race card.’

The squad are also not shy of anti-Semitic tropes. Omar tweeted in 2012 that, ‘Israel has hypnotised the world’ and hoped Allah would awaken the people and help them see its ‘evil doings.’   This year she tweeted that US support for Israel is ‘all about the Benjamins, baby,’ slang for $100 bills which bear the portrait of Ben Franklin, conjuring up the slur of rich Jews secretly pulling the strings. Rashida Tlaib compared Israel to  the Third Reich saying the BDS campaign against the Jewish State was like the US boycott of Nazi Germany.

Campbell also took aim at Boris Johnson, who he sees as a British Trump, saying, ‘Inside (Johnson’s) head he’s Winston Churchill. In reality, …he’s a funny hack.’ Of course, if fascism really is on the march, a latter-day Churchill is precisely who we need and in Australia, a sense of humour is a plus. Our longest-serving prime minister, Robert Menzies, a close friend of Churchill, was greatly admired for his quick-witted repartee.

If Campbell wants to understand Johnson, he should listen to Australians rather than rant at them. With temperatures in the high 30s and its third prime minister in just over three years, Britain is starting to look a little more like ‘the Lucky Country,’ but the political parallels  with Down Under don’t end there.

The division in the Tory party over Brexit is mirrored by the split in Australia’s governing centre-right Coalition, which pitted those Liberals who appeal to the educated elites against those who seek the support of ‘aspirational’ voters and ‘deplorables.’ The division was personified in the political duel to the death of our two most recent prime ministers and the people they represented — Malcolm Turnbull for the merchant bankers and Tony Abbott for the tradies.

In Britain, Johnson, an old Etonian, may seem like part of the elite; in fact, it is the Beeb-ocrats who rule the roost, while Johnson, is the darling of the great unwashed. In this, the politician he most resembles is not Trump but Benjamin Disraeli, the brilliant conservative prime minister who gloried in the grandeur of the British Empire, was a great wit and a novelist to boot.

In Australia, a resource superpower, the battleground between these warring tribes was energy policy and climate change. When Scott Morrison became Prime Minister last year, his job was to unite the party and the country, but he immediately faced a slew of resignations from Turnbull supporters convinced that he would lose the upcoming election.  Yet, his support for cheap energy and mining over ruinous green subsidies was a winner.

In Britain, a great trading nation, the battleground is Brexit. Johnson’s mantra is to ‘Deliver Brexit, Unite the country and Defeat Jeremy Corbyn, which, a wag observed, added up to a DUD of an acronym. Yet, Johnson had the wit to add on ‘Energise the Country’ and turn dud into dude. It was hilarious, even if it didn’t win points with the miserabilist Eeyores in his party, one of whom complained, ‘the circus has come to town.’

Johnson, like Morrison, has been dealt a tough hand. Theoretically, it should be easy — simply leave all the current arrangements in place under a free trade deal — but that doesn’t suit the EU, which wants to punish Britain to discourage other countries from leaving and has turned the customs union into an Iron Curtain.

Johnson’s trump card, so to speak, is that he will not pay Britain’s Brexit bill unless the EU agrees to better terms. It was the utmost folly that Theresa May gave away her biggest negotiating chip in return for nothing. The idea that the EU can force Britain to pay is absurd. How?  With their non-existent armies? In reality, Germany needs access to the UK, its single largest car market, and will force even France to see that a deal has to be done.

The prize for Britain is that it will be able to take control of its country again, unencumbered by the sclerotic, lumbering EU. If Pommy pessimism can be leavened with a little unfashionable Australian optimism, we look forward to inking a free trade agreement next year, on one condition — no more of those spinners, please.

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