There's a touch of the Mark Latham's about Tony Abbott. And I'm not the first one to think so. When both of them, particularly Latham, were on the rise a few years ago, journalist Michael Duffy produced this book, comparing the two:
And it's easy to see why. They're both about the same age, they both represented the next generation in their storied political parties and they both employed a bit of the biffo, head-kicking, enforcer type style to get their point across. Latham even acknowledged that they had something in common in his hilariously bitchy published diaries. On taking Abbott to meet some of his constituents:
He seems strongly committed to the principles of social self help. Not rampant individualism, but the revival of old style mutualism in society.
This being something that he, Latham, believed in himself.
And this was on my mind yesterday - long after Latham had taken his bat, ball and fat guy shirt home - watching Abbott role out a dodgy gimmick on the campaign trail.
Abbott was trying, with the kind of lack of success that could only be deliberate, to explain his Industrial Relations position to Melbourne radio's Neil Mitchell. Under repeated questioning from Mitchell about whether or not Abbott would seek to revive the previous Liberal Government's hated 'Work Choices' policy, Abbott snatched up a pen and a bit of paper and said he'd sign an agreement to that effect. Not to bring it back, that is.
What he wrote was 'Dead, Buried, Cremated,' signing his name underneath in a way that, according to one prominent 'graphologist,' showed he wasn't thinking about what he was writing and didn't believe a word of it anyway. Or something.
Shades of Latham in 2004, signing some sort of ridiculous novelty contract thingo that declared he would always keep interest rates low. Or something.
And so the lesson of Latham's ultimately doomed election campaign should be clear to the current opposition leader. Leave the gimmick's to 'The Chaser' and stick to what you're good at. In Abbott's case, running around the country looking and angry and demanding that the boats be stopped.
Truth be told, Abbott had a tough day yesterday, as he tried to simultaneously say two different things at once; that he both wanted to keep the current, Labor Party style of Industrial Relations law AND look at revisiting some aspects of 'Work Choices.' No wait, that wasn't it. No, actually he was quite happy to keep Labor's system for the next three years before junking the entire thing and replacing it with 'Work Choices.' No, no, that's not right either. Of course, the thing that he signed. The Mitchell thing! What it is, see, is that 'Work Choices' has actually been cremated already so there's no need to worry about it... but also that Tony has the urn full of it's ashes and he's going to keep it handy just in case he needs it for something.
How any one who's meant to be John Howard's political protege could cock something like this up so badly I have no idea. I mean, why didn't he just say he'd 'never ever' bring back 'Work Choices' and then just introduce it at the next election.
John Howard never signed nothin.'