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Friday, 22 April 2016

Book review: The Road to Ruin, Niki Savva (2016)

It takes some suspension of disbelief, for a political progressive like me, to read a highly detailed account of a conservative leader's downfall, but I did it. Savva talked at great length, and no doubt on multiple occasions, to a large number of people in the process of writing this book. It has authority and gravitas. Never mind the fact that a lot of the people interviewed for the book are lying jackasses in real life, people I wouldn't give the time of day to. I think in the end that the problem for me was the gaping void between the assumed point of departure of the writer and the point of view of the reader consuming the book.

But regardless you still get a good look at the problems that beset the Abbott government apparently from its very beginnings. One of the main ones was that all decisions seemed to emanate from a small group of select people in the leader's office, including his chief-of-staff. The type of collegial consultation that members of Parliament are apparently used to in a Westminster democracy were thrown out the door. A tiny clique was doing everything to control the message, but when the leader's popularity failed to turn around people outside that group turned on the leader and replaced him just like that.

I should be grateful that the most disgusting, abhorrent and downright putrefacent of the Liberals were those on the ideological right who stuck by Abbott through thick and thin. So Savva didn't talk to many of the really sick-making people such as Eric Abetz and Peter Dutton. For small mercies we should all be thankful. I hardly need the time before I go to bed to find itself populated by the spectres of such ghouls as these.

It's clear that Savva - who as a conservative commentator had made remarks about the Abbott government in public on numerous occasions before this book appeared - didn't like Abbott. I suppose I should like Savva. But when she says that a particular MP "shines" in their role (when I think they're just a lying turd) it's a bit hard to take the author seriously. The bigger problem, furthermore, of governments that lose office after just one term is a thing that Savva does not tackle at all. She's a conservative, after all, and can hardly be expected to use her imagination. But this phenomenon of one-term governments is something that the commentariat will have to one day really take a close, hard look at. So far noone has really made the attempt. I think it has something to do with the new public sphere in the age of social media. But a lot of people would despise me for even suggesting something like this.

Having said these things, it's quite fun to see a lying, specious, callow fellow like Abbott get his comeuppance. He fell far and he fell heavily. He regrets the move made to get rid of him. What we do find however in the book is that he had a lot of opportunities to make the changes that might have saved him and he missed all of them. He had noone to blame for his removal but himself, as Savva points out on more than one occasion.

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