Downer must stop playing footsies with the public
It is now crystal clear what Alexander Downer’s vision is for South Australia. Total uncertainty.
The former Foreign Minister must end his hair-twirling antics and declare categorically whether he intends to lead the South Australian Liberal Party. As things stand, the continuing game of footsies he is playing with the public and his party is starting to look like an exercise in vanity and self-indulgence.
The irony with all this is that Alexander Downer is the consummate party man and a deeply passionate South Australian. Yet his actions are damaging his party and not helping the state.
There is a parallel to all this. It is one with which Alexander Downer would probably not be too comfortable. As a senior member of the Howard Government and a highly trusted confidante of John Howard, Downer helped the former PM build a fortress around his leadership to resist all attempts by Peter Costello to position himself for the job. Downer only reluctantly suspended his support for Howard on the eve of the 2007 election, by which time it was too late for him to go anyway and too late for Peter Costello to have countered the then-surging Kevin Rudd.
Downer shared the widely held assessment of Peter Costello that he lacked the ticker to mount a proper challenge; worse, that it was illogical for Costello to claim that he would not challenge for fear of damaging the party, when the leadership speculation he was himself feeding was muddying Howard’s message and harming the Liberal brand.
This is also now the case with Alexander Downer. It is a strange set of circumstances as he is on paper the best candidate the Liberals have got, by a country mile. This party – this “sad tale”, as he apparently rightly called them – has become paralysed by juvenile factional squabbling, petty feuds and rivalries, and has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by failing to present a united front against governments which are there for the taking.
Downer would be a particularly lethal option for the Liberals because he would not only draw a line under two decades of childish squabbling, but he could energise a whole bunch of voters who would see him as a Kennett-like figure who would act like a turbo-charged advocate for our city and state.
Downer loves living here, he has great ideas about the city, about our challenges in terms of tourism, he is crazy about the arts, he thinks we under-promote the wine industry. He is also affable and entertaining. As a premier he would be a bit like our own Boris Johnson, the former editor of The Spectator who became the London Mayor. A lot of swinging voters and small-l liberal voters who have a natural tendency towards voting Labor would be prepared to come across to the Liberal side under Downer’s leadership.
Instead we have had a string of answers along the lines of: not at this time, perhaps, not really, well, not really right now.
Yesterday should have been the moment where he stated once and for all what is really going on, and he tip-toed around it again. It’s for this reason that Steven Marshall has been forced to suspend declaring his hand for another day, as the phone calls continue to see whether Downer is an option, or off the agenda.
The sad part about all this is that governments are at their best when they have really strong oppositions. This is a government which deserves to be put under maximum pressure. The opposition has been too busy starting at its own navel to place the government under any pressure at all. The state is basically bankrupt. Revenue is up the spout. Jay Weatherill has succeeded in convincing the voters that he is a terrific bloke, which he is, but we are yet to see his plan to get us out of the economic abyss, or see how his new Cabinet will work in practice. The opposition should be taking the fight up to him and in its current shambolic state is unable to do so, and Mr Downer’s “will he or won’t he” theatrics aren’t helping at all.
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