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Logic, and perhaps the lessons of history stand in the way of James Mathison toppling Tony Abbott on his home turf.
Savagely and swiftly removed from the high office to which he was preordained, Tony Abbott must now contend with a common TV celebrity calling time on his political career as he attempts to rebuild it.
Forced into fighting a humbling and humiliating election campaign without the usual support which comes with incumbency and a ministry, and a Peta Credlin, will make Tony Abbott hungrier, meaner and nastier than he’s been for a long, long time.
This is bad news for the usual suspects lining up to unseat him, or at least make Warringah “marginal”. And this time there is not only an X factor (candidate Nick Xenophon) but a TV celebrity, former host of Australian Idol, James Mathison, to “see off” too. And see them off Abbott will. That’s what he does best.
When the late political speechwriter/filmmaker/eccentric Bob Ellis took on Bronwyn Bishop in the safe conservative electorate of Mackellar in 1994 it was a very entertaining affair. Bob even managed to make the contest real by trimming some of Ms Bishop’s majority. But James Mathison is no Bob Ellis. To dethrone “Tone” you need to know something about the game of politics. When it comes to the required skullduggery, Bob shone whereas James is still very green.
As another dislodged PM, Kevin Rudd, was wont to say, “Let’s get real here”. Mathison is going to get his arse handed to him on a plate in this race. There is no way he can beat Tony Abbott in the seat of Warringah. Not even if Abbott is caught with a goat behind a Dee Why bus shelter. Warringah has been an ultra-conservative electorate since several decades before the ultra-conservative Abbott was born. Tone has this baby by the balls (Warringah, not the goat) and that grip will only loosen slightly come election day.
If James Mathison declares his crack at the seat as an Independent is not a stunt…even though it will inject some colour into the remainder of what has been a beige campaign, he clearly hasn’t thought this thing through. There are a few basics he needs to grasp if he’s going to even last the distance, let alone lay any leather on the former Oxford pug.
Politically, Tony Abbott is a frustrating enigma, but more importantly, a warrior with his battle scars on proud display. He can simultaneously kick a head and eat a raw onion. He can make and break a promise and toss his political mother under a passing bus, all the while dressed in nothing more than a brief pair of red speedos.
Tony Abbott is the Chuck Norris of Australian politics. If Chuck Norris came to Warringah he would timidly take a how to vote card from Tony Abbott any day of the week.
With the hashtag #ItsTimeTony, Mathison, who only decided to get off the couch two weeks into the campaign, is basing his tilt at Tone on this political gem:
…the Greens are too extreme. People here don’t overly trust Labor but they can’t stand Tony, so what do they do? They just sleepwalk into the polling booth and do what they’ve always done.
Mathison, who most recently hosted the breakfast flop Wake Up on Ten, plans to arouse the sleeping giant which is the disenfranchised and disinterested youth vote. But he left it a bit late to gather them before AEC enrolments closed last week. Mathison, who says TV has prepared him for politics, got a serious TV endorsement via social media which hotted up at the weekend with this Tweet from Adam Zwar, the bloke who plays a TV dog called Wilfred:
Great policies, funny guy. Canberra could benefit from a bit of Mathison. Think about it Warringah. pic.twitter.com/jCLpPtZyDN
— Adam Zwar (@adamzwar) May 27, 2016
The last thing Canberra needs is another “funny guy”. And “Wilfred” wants the voters of Warringah to “think about it” in relation to giving James Mathison a go.
This raises the fraught issue of celebrities running for public office. Those who make it through (often parachuted into safe seats) mostly burn out quickly. Peter Garrett, Clive Palmer, Maxine McKew and Nova Peris all found the going tough. In the ACT, Mal Meninga was smart enough and got out before the going got tough but the penny is yet to drop for tough guy Angry Anderson. Eventually he too will come to realise only the pros make it in the long run. And that’s the key. The long haul.
With his profile, Mathison will be shirtfronted from the moment he steps into the ring with the champ. More than likely Abbott will enjoy a bit of “sport” with the TV star along the way to avoid becoming bored with the inevitable and predictable result on July 2, but if Tone is to be boned, it won’t by James Mathison. Mathison would be better off marshalling his supporters behind Xenophon, who will be at least far better schooled in the realities of politics and therefore a chance at least of taking the contest up to the former PM. James Mathison might be a nice guy but we all know they finish well down the track.
As much as I want to be proven 100 percent wrong here, it is just pure folly to take Tony Abbott on in a political fight in his heartland and expect to beat him. I hope I am wrong, because I do not support the way Tony Abbott goes about his work. However to ignore the obvious facts and harsh reality of politics is to join a long and poorer but hopefully wiser queue of people who thought they had what it took to make a real difference.
Sadly that is not how it works.