Scholars of the classics will remember that quote from This Is Spın̈al Tap: “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever”.
So, which word do we apply to Barnaby Joyce’s return to the Nationals leadership today?
We know what the answer of most of the MSM and chattering class would be. If they roll their eyeballs any more they will be risking severe damage to the ocular muscles.
Another chunk will go for a third word — problematic — because of the obvious immediate political problems this morning’s spill will pose for the Prime Minister, the Liberals, the Coalition and the Nationals themselves.
Scott Morrison is in quarantine after his G7 jollies. At this sort of time, he’d much rather be in the room than on Zoom.
The struggling Anthony Albanese has even been able to come out with an attempt at a zinger of his very own on affairs: “Instead of rolling out the vaccine, they’re rolling each other. Whatever their priorities are, they’re not focussed on you.” Thanks, Albo.
But what about “clever”?
Barnaby — for, other than Kylie, he is the only Australian immediately identified by their first name — is a barnstormer.
He stormed into the New South Wales seat of New England after being a Queensland senator, driving out Tony Windsor, one of the nastiest faux-virtuous types to be deified by the modern left.
He stormed back in the 2017 by-election after being booted over Section 44 citizenship problems with a primary swing of over 12 per cent.
Tony Abbott once christened Barnaby “the best retail politician in Australia”. Coming from one of the most tenacious opposition leaders we’ve ever seen, that’s a compliment.
The trouble is it came before The Fall.
Twitter is already playing up the “this is the bloke who walked out on his wife and four daughters for his press sec” line, not that traditional values are a usual concern of the Twits.
The by-election result might have shown Barnaby had been forgiven by his electorate, but that was Backbencher Barnaby. The deputy prime minister might be another matter. He or she has a wider constituency to worry about.
Barnaby will also be a controversial figure in our covid-cowled environment. Big Public Health and its media lackeys will leap on him. So will the Labor premiers.
There’s no doubt Barnaby will face an almost universally hostile media.
But this is where the Barnstorming will come in again.
Yes, there’s the marriage breakdown. Yes, there’s the imprecise or over-exuberant language. Yes, there are even shades of Kevin Rudd in the way he plotted his comeback — but people who know Barnaby Joyce will tell you he is a fundamentally decent man.
A bit of the barnstorming, a bit of the plain talk, a bit of conviction, not drifting equivocation — all those Barnaby skills — could be exactly what the Coalition needs now.
The original barnstormers took crazy risks but pulled off spectacular feats (if they survived).
That’s why, in these political times so dominated by the moribund and mediocre, Barnaby Joyce’s return might just prove to be a clever move.
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