The sad and terrible end of a brilliant political career
1 February 2011
“The collapse it comes real soon now and it will sweep the old regime as you say into the wheelie bin of history”, said Abdul the Cabbie as we sat outside the Brushtail Café in the sun sipping short blacks.
“Indeed”, I muttered. “First Tunisia, now Egypt. The masses at the barricades, riot police on the streets, tear gas grenades arcing across the sky, regime cronies besieging the airport check-in bound for Washington with their green cards in their pockets. It’s beginning to look like Arab Street’s version of 1848”.
“Actually, I was speak of our NSW government”, Abdul said.
Old Possum came out a cold cider and a couple of colourful election brochures. “Carmel Tebbutt’s campaign stuff doesn’t carry the ALP logo, and it doesn’t mention Labor or the fact that she’s deputy premier?” he chortled.
“Really? Same with Virginia Judge. And apparently her brochures have a nice green background, as if she was running for the Greens. This is hilarious. The ALP’s candidates are running like they’re independents. We’re watching the Labor brand vanish before our eyes.
“You know, come the end of March, it’s quite likely Labor will be represented in parliament by less than 20 people. And most of them will never have been in government before. The ALP benches will be a rabble of callow Young Labor types.”
“How did it come like this, that the party of the workers ends so badly?” Asked Abdul.
Old Possum took a long swig on his cider. “The best way to understand that is to track the political career of an average Labor candidate in this election. The guy I have in mind doesn’t actually exist, he’s a sort of composite of the last two decades of the drift of history. I’m calling him “Tony Agostini”.
“Hang on, Antonio ‘Tony’ Agostini was the guy who killed the Pyjama Girl”, I said.
“Ah, you know your crime history”, Old remarked, “Anyway, my mythical young Tony’s parents are salt-of-the-earth working class folk – his late father was an electrician and an ETU delegate who used to hand out how-to-votes for the Labor candidate and his mum worked in a local dry-cleaning shop. In 1978, Tony gets born into the Labor Tribe, so to speak.
“At Pius X College his history teacher, Brother Flagellation, stimulates an interest in politics and he joins Young Labor. He soon learns there’s a well-defined career path. First you pick a faction. If you want a future in ALP politics at all, it’s the one with the numbers in your area, so he does just that and becomes a soldier of the NSW Right. He’s entered a very Mediterranean culture, one where you sign up as a client of a patrone, in this case the local faction warlord. If you’re loyal you’ll get ahead, and if you’re not, you might end up wiring people’s houses, like your dad.
“In 1995, the year his personal hero, Bob Carr, becomes premier, young Tony goes to uni. By now, it’s occurred to him that politics can be a serious path of personal advancement – something that would never have occurred to his poor father who sprang from northern Italian socialist stock. On the advice of his patrone he does communications and a bit of economics. He shows his mettle fiddling the numbers in a tight ballot for positions on the university students union.
“There’s no Marxist economist left on campus and even the Keynsians are distinctly unfashionable, so Tony, not wanting to be a loser (the most damning perjorative he knows), imbibes the new neo-liberal market fundamentalist stuff. In the communications strand he learns spin doctoring. He tells people he’s for public-private partnerships and “civilizing capitalism”.
“He graduates in time for the Sydney Olympics and goes straight into a cushy job as a ‘research assistant’ in a union controlled by the right. In no time at all, his brother-in-law, who’s chief-of-staff to a cabinet minister gets him a senior policy advisor position. No actual experience in the field is required, it’s more of a ‘facilitator’ thing. Tony’s wife – they met in Young Labor – scores a job working in the premier’s office.
“Alas, Tony’s minister is forced to resign following a most embarrassing scandal and the new minister brings his own footsoldier to the position. Tony is found a job at a ‘Labor-oriented’ lobbyist firm and groomed as the future candidate for a traditional Labor seat.
“Sometime in early 2010, it dawns on him that things are sliding out of control. Four years earlier than expected, the MP for Tony’s promised seat begins to talk about retiring 'for family reasons'. This should be good news, but the seat’s margin is looking thinner and thinner. He considers a career as a ‘consultant’, but with so many careerist rats leaving the sinking Labor ship, competition is impossibly tight. Once, as a government insider, he might have found a bolt-hole working for one of the big three construction companies, or an industry lobby group, but with Labor certain to be out of office for years, he’s got no influence to sell, and none of these people want to know him.
“He’s trapped. If he runs for office and loses he’s unemployed and unemployable – at least for the sort of money he’s used to. If he scrapes in, he faces at least four and maybe eight years languishing in opposition. It’s an easy enough job, but his fond vision of a brief parliamentary career followed by a stint in cabinet, crowned with a lucrative retirement sinecure with a merchant bank has evaporated.”
Old took another swig from his cider. “Thus ends the sixteen year reign of the House of Carr. Hey, whatever happened to the original Tony Agostini?”
“In 1944 he was charged with murdering his wife ten years earlier. The jury bought his story that it was an accident. Convicted of manslaughter but released in 1948 and deported to Italy. Died in obscurity in 1969”.