He’s a loathsome, offensive brute, and yet we can’t look away

There’s now less than a week left to go in the campaign, and at least as far as I can tell, all parties of note are out of puff. The grandiloquent vision phase of the campaign [momentary or illusory as it was] is behind us, and what lies ahead is merely mad scrambling and pork scratchings. We are living in the curious purgatory that exists between the meaningful cut and thrust of the campaign and the Australian people’s collective decision. Despite my fleeting engagement with the whole shebang, and my geographical detachment (I am typing this from my hotel room in Gloucester), this feels like it has been a really long campaign. It has felt like a campaign about nothing, echoing the bilious taunts of Mark Latham leading into the November 2007 election; funnily enough an election that really did mean something to a lot of people. It’s certainly important to keep Tony Abbott and his intellectually malnourished team out of The Lodge, but it’s a bit of a shame that Labor’s driving urge in this campaign has been reduced to this.

But back to Mark Latham. The latest gem to emerge from Iron Mark, television journaliste extraordinaire, is that voters should leave their ballot papers blank “as a protest” when they vote in this Saturday’s election. This is a shameful contribution to the public debate that lays bare the depths to which 60 Minutes and indeed Channel Nine has sunk during the last year or two. An informal vote is a wasted vote; a vote for ignorance, disengagement and ultimately, recklessness. In order to perform its function as the “least worst” system of government available. a democracy needs to embody the will of the people. In a regulated, ordinated democratic environment like Australia’s, mass delinquency at the ballot box fundamentally undermines this principle.

Everyone – even Mr. Latham – ultimately has a preference. He can spin all the pseudo-anarchist bullshit that he wants to out to all of us, but at the end of the day, he is only lying to himself by arguing that he doesn’t have any preference between the major parties in this country. If he really believes he hates them equally, then he should opt for change and preference the Coalition, and stop being such a fence-sitting coward.

Quitters can be writers

The news that former Treasurer Peter Costello is set to publish his memoirs in early October this year is not particularly good news for the Liberal Party. Apart from the fact that it represents a certain negative publicity time bomb waiting to go off in a few months, it also seems certain to provide ongoing grist to the rumour mill regarding the the leadership. Costello has already asserted through the media that his memoirs would not be a Latham Diaries style book of bile, but rather would seek to provide direction for the Liberal Party moving forwards. It is unclear whether the underlying motivating factor for publishing his memoirs so soon is to repay a debt he feels he owes to the party, or perhaps to provide a foundation for some resurgent leadership ambitions:

Peter Costello has vowed to identify the way forward for the Liberal Party in soon-to-be-published memoirs, igniting speculation that he will use the book to relaunch his political career and seek the Opposition leadership.

Mr Costello hinted that his memoirs would not focus exclusively on the past and would represent “a very positive contribution of where we are now, how far we’ve come, where we ought to go in the future”.

When it comes to the question of the leadership, I am in agreement with the senior members of the Liberal Party who believe that Costello should have taken the reins when they were handed to him if he really did want it. No doubt there are some conservative supporters who see a return of Costello to the leadership as a possible path for returning to the success of the Howard years. Those supporters need only consider the sorts of compelling and utterly effective attacks that the Rudd Government could make on Costello if he did try to return after throwing it all away last November. Now, folks like Kim Beazley will no doubt be thinking, who is the one who didn’t have the ticker?

By taking a leaf out of Iron Mark’s book without declaring his hand openly, Costello seems to be betraying that he is is still a little undecided about his future. At least Mark Latham had the good sense to exit politics before plunging a dagger into his own party. Costello would do well to do the same before his book is released, and to put an end to speculation about his future as soon as possible.