STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Saving Howard's bacon / What Arabs and Jews need most / Tony Blair's legacy
, July 7, 2007
Saving Howard's bacon
The tactical skills of the federal Liberals are, at least for the moment, quite impressive. The Aboriginal issue, which has been the intellectual and political property of the Left, is theirs no more. The conservatives, starting with Mal Brough - and now followed, with perfect timing, by John Howard - have almost literally made off with this issue.
In the process, the calcified ideological party-political labels are dissolving. Kevin Rudd has seen the dangers of Labor's complete isolation on this, as on an increasing number of issues, so is keeping up with Howard - even if it means disagreeing with Labor premiers, the old ATSIC "say sorry" gang, and militant unions.
The states are chary yet again. Their utter cynicism is even starting to produce another issue for the election which is this: on the states' current performances, who would want wall-to-wall Labor governments throughout Australia?
The federal Liberals nevertheless have to move fast over the next few months, for, even if they were to win the coming election - and this seems more likely than it did a few months ago - it would be extraordinary if they were to retain control of the Senate.
The reason why Howard has only moved now, is that he had to wait for a report which would be utterly damning. He now has such a one, so must move in haste.
The second example of extraordinary Government agility is their ability to turn the industrial relations issue - bad for them - into an anti-union matter - good
for them. They are being greatly assisted by the continuing truculence of the Labor Left and some big delinquent unions who seem almost anxious to prove the Government right.
Rudd is obviously relieved at the Government's clipping the wings of the bully-unions - for he lacked the power to do this. But the confrontation comes at an inauspicious time for him. The replacement of Kevin Andrews by Joe Hockey is bearing fruit, for not only is Hockey obviously more knowledgeable about unions, but he doesn't bear the stigma of one seemingly prepared to grind the faces of the poor.
I'm afraid many union leaders are unlikely to change their behaviour and their language, for they have enjoyed the role of the schoolyard tyrant far too long to give it up.
The fact is, the continuing obstructions and caballing of some of the state premiers on water, on energy, on economic and industrial policy, and now on Aborigines, is undermining Rudd's campaign to appear fair-minded, mindful of the national interest and possessed of a willingness to be bipartisan wherever possible; for that is what the voters want
. So that even quite reasonable caveats about, for example, industrial laws may soon be successfully interpreted as wishing to spoil the boom and therefore endangering people's jobs.
Labor's old Achilles Heel, namely the tyranny of pressure-group selfishness and implicit defiance of the Labor parliamentary leader, whoever he is, is still in evidence. These oafs are saving John Howard's bacon.
As to the media - they are shell-shocked, for Howard has torn up their script. Political commentary has collapsed, and sport and silly things have taken over.
Now corporate takeovers are producing in their turn policy changes across the media which are leading to the clearing out of many a hack, along with some good people.
But the fact is, the present radio and free-to-air television services seem to be slowly self-destructing. The dustman cometh.
;What Arabs and Jews need most
The unfolding of events in Gaza and the Lebanon - and quite possibly soon the West Bank - underscores what appears to be a compulsive, long-standing and self-destructive political culture among Middle Eastern and north African Muslims - in particular, in those places where the Arabs are predominant.
For Muslim countries and societies elsewhere do not appear to suffer such fissiparous tendencies. The prospects now for a second state next to Israel seem very dim indeed. And the Arabs have done it all themselves. Whenever Israel intervenes for whatever reason, the disputing local Arab groups start to unify with the common goal of a jihad against Israel.
As soon as Israelis withdraw, the internal struggles for power and money resume. It used to be said that the Israelis needed the Arabs to keep them (the Jews) unified, for otherwise they argue and fight endlessly.
But it appears the Arabs need the Jews more. If Jews didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent them, in the interests of Arab unity.
But what's wrong with hating the Americans - as a profession? Won't that suffice? Well … the Arab masses are ambivalent about things American - the consumer lifestyle, etc. Whenever they're given the chance, they will accept it holus bolus.
The mullahs and the politicians know and fear this, so hating the Jews, and hoping to take their lives, their land and their possessions, are much easier to sell.
But now, I think, most Arabs have given up on this. They would appear to hate one another more, just as they do in Iraq and Pakistan.
It would be nice if we
could just tiptoe away, and just leave them to it. But there is the oil. There are also, just up the road, probably great dangers in store for the considerable numbers of Christians in the area, and it is they of whom Pope Benedict spoke and expressed his concern only the other day.
The only gain from this latest orgy of indiscriminate violence is that the Europeans are starting to re-learn what politics is about. On the other hand, half the Americans are trying to forget. Tony Blair's legacy
Tony Blair is at last standing down as I write. He very nearly erased the poignancy of the occasion by rushing from bureaucratic happening to bureaucratic happening, like someone sucking the last drops of an orange in public. He obviously regrets setting a retirement date, and obviously would like to stay on; but in fact he chose wisely, and when he's moved off to the sidelines he'll soon realise it.
He is now receiving the accolades, and predictable abuse - but there is already a strained quality in much of the abuse. If a newspaper like The Australian
feels it has to wheel out that imperishable hack Tariq Ali to produce another blood-on-his-hands tirade, you start to wonder whether The Australian
knows any sensible person in England. What about John Pilger and Ken Livingstone? They'd tell us all about the real
While Blair was a class act, his policies and his party are open to many criticisms. We will know for sure if these were, or are, his party's policies or his own when we see what Labour does under Gordon Brown.
But here are some criticisms. Western Australian author Hal Colebatch, who is running hot at the moment, sent me an article he has done on Blair and Rudd. He points out that the Tories had "reduced the British public sector payroll from 735,000 to 450,000. Labour under Blair expanded it to 1,150,000, creating a huge bloc with a vested interest in voting Labour forever." (Needless to say we have this phenomenon in Australia).
Colebatch adds that total government spending in Britain rose from 39.8 per cent of GDP in 1997 (the year Blair's Labour Government came to power) to 43.4 per cent in 2005.
Both indices would have risen since then, so we can say that, in a very short period of 10 years or so, public service numbers would have trebled, and public spending as a proportion of GDP would have risen substantially.
Now this time of dramatic change over such a short period has nothing to do with economic or historical determinism; it is due to public policy changes, in this case, ideology-driven. It can be reversed, as Thatcher did, and Kennett attempted.
But what have been the results of all this bureaucratic munificence - or, should I say, elephantiasis?
Colebatch quotes a recent independent report which found that British basic pensions to be the worst in Western Europe, whereas British public sector employees receive guaranteed index-linked pensions and, in many cases, privileges such as early retirement.
(A situation very similar to our own - except that our basic pensions are higher. But the gap between those on the pension, or partly dependent thereon, and those with superannuation, is a wide one, and likely to widen greatly, as an explosion of money, based on share and property value appreciation, feed into the super funds. Pensioners cannot share in this.)
Another dismal legacy of the New Labour regime is British education, where New Labour appears to have done a long march through the institutions very similar to that performed by our teacher unions and state Labor governments here.
None of the traditional subject areas have been spared, be they history, science, English or maths.
According to a recent report by the British independent think-tank Civitas, entitled The Corruption of the Curriculum
"One leading [English] educational publisher produces a history book tailored to the requirements of the National Curriculum that mentions the Duke of Wellington in connection with Peterloo but not Waterloo." (p.75).
"Unsurprisingly," said Civitas on the release of its report, "those who have been subjected to the New History have only the haziest ideas about who did what in history.
"One survey found that half of young people questioned did not know that the Battle of Britain took place in World War II, and thought that either Gandalf, Horatio Hornblower or Christopher Columbus led the battle against the Spanish Armada (p.61).
"This ignorance of history has consequences for the stability of a multi-racial society."
Another contributor to this collection, from which I'm quoting, said "To know the history of one's country is a birthright. It tells us who we are and how we got here. It tells how our shared values came into being…" (p.61).
This multi-headed attack on British education, including the universities, has inflicted enormous damage on British culture. These destructive policies made great headway under Blair, and I doubt whether his successor Gordon Brown would wish things to be any different.
So, although Blair stands above most previous Labour leaders, he can't seriously compare with Margaret Thatcher, when one considers their cultural and intellectual legacies.- Max Teichmann.