Monday 17th of May 2021

Why 'Not Happy John' needs a sequel (Tim Gillin)

Margot Kingston's book describes the way the political hucksters and con merchants of the Howard government have screwed the public, dragged us into an unnecessary war and recycled spin at every opportunity. All for the great goal of re-election and holding onto power. I am sure political partisans of the left (defined as broadly as the word gets) will find plenty of grapeshot here for their prejudices, preconceptions and even the occasional principle. To my (admittedly biased) mind this is the greatest weakness of the book and of Margo's analysis. To really tell the story it needs a sequel, or prequel. 'Not Happy, Paul!'. Margo, to her credit, mentions how she voted against Keating, but the analysis more or less stops there.

Howard and his administration, like George W Bush and his, have more in common with their immediate predecessors than most political partisans pro or con would like to admit. All four administrations, as well as Hawke and Tony Blair, represent the victory of spin and media management over political substance and principle. They have all learned the game from each other. Politics today is about manipulating media perceptions not realities. Democracy has mutated into a very unfunny Spin City. And it's our taxes, liberties and very lives that are at stake. Bush and Howard learned their trade following in the steps of two sultans of spin, Keating and Clinton. Whether politicians are defending 'the family' or 'the environment', multiculturalism or 'traditional values', don't believe them. They are merely throwing out lines to win votes. Their goal is simply power for themselves. Principles are disposable.

The strongest part of NHJ! is where Margo gives a timeline of the 'right wing's' prosecution of Hanson. Unfortunately she neglects to outline how the 'left wing's persecution gave the establishment a helping hand in giving modern Australia its first political prisoner. Margo has however dealt with much of that story in her first book 'Off The Rails'; she was indeed one of the few mainstream journalists not to join in that witch hunt.

On present indications, Howard and Bush's likely replacements, Latham and Kerry, could just be worse again. Mark Latham's recruitment of 'great green hope' Peter Garrett in a 'made for TV' love affair is evidence of a corrupt cynicism devoid of any principles.

It probably doesn't matter that much whether you believe in 'exporting democracy to Iraq' or 'saving the rainforests'. What matters in a democracy is honest debate not spin. And the way it is going, spin is winning...hands down. I think Margo is trying to make that case and sounding a much needed 'wake up call' that people of all shades of opinion should heed. Nonetheless her political partisanship means we only get half the story. But half a story is better than none at all.