Every family has one, the curmudgeonly old relative who broods annoyingly in the background – except for special family occasions which they always manage to spoil. Bitter, nasty, spiteful. The nicest thing you can say about them is they have an unkind word to say about everyone.
It’s a role that has fallen naturally to Labor’s elder statesman and former Prime Minister John Paul Keating. Since his convincing 1996 rejection by the electorate, he is seen as a largely irrelevant éminence grise floating in the wake of contemporary party policy-making.
‘Statesman’ is perhaps the wrong word to describe Keating, because it implies a respected political leader or figure. Even the party he once led barely tolerates him, denying him the commemoration of his ascent to power Labor lavished on Whitlam and Hawke.
The petulant, ever-bitter Keating, constantly reappears when the party least expects and least wants him – like the leaping heads in a Wac-a-Mole console. Any attempt to belt him back into his hole is pointless.
Labor certainly doesn’t want (or need) his gratuitous advice in the lead-up to the next federal election.
Time is a traveller and in the years since was convincingly turfed from office by the electorate, Keating has recalcitrantly harboured delusional grudges for what could have been if the voters had only understood his messianic qualities.
If we were to believe St Paul, he was and remains; prophet, sage, saviour, saint. Except, as Monty Python might have put it, ‘He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!’
In exile Keating has become more of a Jonah, determined to disparage all others while arguing his own political infallibility.
While polls are showing Labor on track for a possible victory in 2022, Albanese’s popularity remains a negative. Perspicacious pundits predict a poll where local issues will likely prevail and that Albanese could become the accidental prime minister.
Albanese’s leadership is neither unifying nor edifying, though he brings the hard left’s capacity for trenchant, relentless criticism of its class war foes. This leaves him equally open to criticism for his lack of real policy substance.
Labor strategists, who recently organised an image makeover for Albanese, believe that if unrestrained, his own negativity could distract from Labor’s core messages.
Since Albanese seems determined to portray Morrison as without substance or moral compass, he also certainly does not need personal criticism from within. Nor should he underestimate the ruthlessness of the party’s right to shorten the odds and snatch the leadership if there is any whiff of victory.
Albanese is a score right from Paul Keating’s frayed songbook.
The hapless Billy McMahon, floundering towards his foreseeable defeat in 1972, once remarked, ‘Sometimes I think I am my own worst enemy!’
‘Not while I am alive you’re not,’ responded Sir James Killen, proving Churchill’s adage the opposition occupies the benches in front of you, but the enemy sits behind you.
With friends like Keating, who needs enemies?
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