Howard stabbed in the back
A new myth is born
almost scared to be confident, Joadja said But it does
look like Howard is in real trouble. The underlying poll numbers are
shocking for him. And now theres this story that somebody in
the government is behind the gay cabinet minister allegations.
Possum, Jo and I were sitting around in Jos garden, a minor
miracle of ferns and native wildflowers shed crafted out of
our little backyard bordering Werrong Lane.
hes in trouble all right, Old remarked, taking another
sip from his cider. But just when its needed, a new social
myth is being born. You see, if all goes wrong, its important
that Howard is preserved in the conservative pantheon as a hero who
never lost a battle
except when he was betrayed by people on
his own side.
Sydney Morning Heralds resident populist weirdo, Paul Magic
Water Sheehan always ahead of the game in such matters
led off with a piece a couple of weeks ago which he accused
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer of blundering and two conveniently
unnamed senior government figures of treachery against the Prime Minister.
And then Miranda Devine, another Howard trustee, citing unidentified
informants, followed three days later by confirming thered been
a private meeting of ministers in Sydney for APEC and
naming Malcolm Turnbull as a plotter against Howard.
why is she scapegoating Turnbull? asked Jo. Hes
a capitalist and a merchant banker should be just her type.
been doing a bit of snooping in Liberal Party circles and Id
say its because hes an outsider and a latecomer,
I said. Not only is he a man who might have joined the Labor
Party if circumstances had been slightly different, but he was also
a leading light in the republican movement and you dont really
want them in the party do you?
the face of it, Sheehans story is pretty fantastic. Imagine
the scene as he tells it: Howard called Downer in and asked him to
sound out cabinet membersview of the governments chances
at the forthcoming elections and the electorates attitude to
his leadership. Instead of, presumably, privately sidling up to the
cabinet one by one, Downer bungled by calling an actual meeting to
canvass opinions and inviting two opportunists which gave
the unnamed plotters (who must be cabinet members) a chance to move
against Howard and leak news of the crisis to Sky Media.
accept this yarn wed have to believe that Howard, whos
worked with Downer for a couple of decades and knows hes a prat,
wouldnt have either called meeting himself surely the
obvious option or told Downer exactly how he wanted him to
proceed and who to invite.
for that matter, wed have to accept that Downer would be quite
so silly as to have even considered sneaking around to interview cabinet
members one-by-one, which would have opened him up to the charge that
he was plotting a coup.
And Sheehan and Devines information, if true, could only have
come straight from Howard or somebody on his staff.
motive here is pretty clear, Old said. With the polls
showing the Liberal Government in desperate trouble, its important
for the rights ideologues to have an excuse for its electoral
failure other than that it was voted out because a majority rejected
its policies or simply believed it was time for a change.
what happens if the government scrapes back again?
Howard will have triumphed against terrible odds, making
him an even more heroic figure, but in that case, wont matter
much that the story was obvious mythologising. The allegations of
bungling and treachery will become just another piece of media blather
wrapping the garbage. Ah, but if the government falls, the accusations
by Sheehan and Devine suddenly become seen in retrospect as of great
prescience, and the far-right ideologues will embroider the fateful
it puts me in mind of is the original stab in the back
myth of 1918.
mean about why the Kaisers army was defeated in World War One?
the one. According to the myth, Germanys armies would have won,
but they were betrayed by the socialists, trade unionists, Roman Catholics
and Jews at home. It was absolute nonsense, of course. Over four years,
Germany had been fought to a standstill on the battlefield, it was
economically isolated by the allied blockade, fuel was desperately
short, the population was starving and the US had finally entered
the war, pouring in almost half a million fresh troops. No matter
how much Germany mobilized its population and maximised its war effort
it was outclassed by the combined population and industry of its opponents.
the bellicose nationalist illusions that had originally united the
German people had been shattered. The old order was totally discredited,
but of course, the forces of reaction just couldnt admit that.
They had to have an explanation, an excuse. The excuse was the stab
in the back and it became a catchcry of the right-wing Freikorps
militias and later an essential element of Nazi propaganda.