Posts Tagged ‘likeability’

Tony-Abbott-Wink

There are a number of reasons Tony Abbott will no longer be Prime Minister after tomorrow, and some of them are linked.

Offending your deputy. Offending half your backbench. Offending great lumps of the Australian public.

But the main reason is really quite simple. He is very obviously, as far as any elector can tell, just not a very nice man.

Being considered a nice person is a much under-rated trait in politicians, as it is in the most walks of life in the body of the population.

Most of the really powerful and successful people we have met – and we have met more than our fair share over the years – have had a few things in common. They are usually personally charming, they exhibit humility, they have “the common touch” whatever their station in life, and they genuinely care about other people’s lives. Or at the very least, they seem to.

There are other characteristics, too. They tend to be ferociously hard workers, and they maintain a sense of perspective. Sometimes things will go wrong, sometimes they will go right, but there is never a reason to be nasty, or essentially unethical. Push the envelope, don’t rip it to shreds.

They have some advantages, of course. In the realms of the uber-powerful or the uber-wealthy, the rules that the rest of us find ourselves tied up in knots in don’t normally apply.

They don’t get caught drink driving, because they have drivers. They don’t end up in jail for tax fraud because they pay top dollar to stop that happening. And anyway, their affairs are so convoluted that the tax office doesn’t really want to look too closely, stretched for resources to prosecute cases as they always are.

They don’t seem as stressed as we do because they don’t queue for airline seats and the seats they buy are more comfortable. They don’t spend a day trying to negotiate a ticketing system to see a top show or sporting event, because their personal assistant gets them a seat in the Director’s Box, where they are always welcome because of their referred authority. Their holidays, such as they are, are smoother, more private, less noisy, less hassle, and more satisfactory. And if for some reason they aren’t, they throw money or influence at the problem.

But despite all this privilige, most truly successful people have an astounding ability to drop down to our level and chat amiably about our latest problem with an internet provider, how our local supermarket has stopped stocking our favourite fruit juice, or the problems we are having with our teenage progeny. It may be that they remember when they, too, were mere hoi polloi, or it may be that they recognise that while success is nice to have, it rests on the common consent of those around them.

There is a reason all those Godfathers in American hoodlum movies are seen kissing babies and helping little old ladies as they parade down the street in Little Italy. It’s good for business. And keen observers of human nature as all successful people are, they work at it until it comes naturally.

This is not to say they are all paragons. Clearly they are not.

Some drink too much, either in binges or habitually.

The most significant politician in 20th century history, Winston Churchill consumed at least a bottle of brandy a day. People in Melbourne still talk in hushed tones of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s capacity for the grog, even though he had the discipline to give it up when high office beckoned.

Some are sexually wayward. A bunch of Australian Prime Ministers have been enthusiastic adulterers, (the laws of libel dictate discretion here), and all the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King, and Bill Clinton also come to mind without much effort. Francoise Hollande, for that matter.

Yes, powerful businesspeople run foul of the law with some regularity, especially in civil court. But rather than rant and rave at their misfortune, they merely view it as a sort of occupational hazard. A bit like the rest of us view parking tickets.

So they aren’t really like us, no matter where they started out. But in general, in our experience, it is the capacity to simply get on with people that marks the truly successful from the also rans.

Some time ago, we wrote a blog that talked about the demise of Kevin Rudd, which we titled “Kevin Rudd has his Lee Iaccoca moment”. In it, we explained that Rudd’s disonnection from the leadership of the Australian Labor Party rested entirely on his near-maniacal control freakery, which caused the distrust of those around him, (and it went back a decade), and an acid tongue which hurt people’s feelings. In simple terms, he failed the likeability test.

Yes, Rudd had the capacity to be chirpy and chipper and even make us laugh with his obvious erudition and quick wit, especially in public. Sadly, though, no one near him, or very few indeed, actually liked him. More than one political groupie muttered in our hearing that they thought he was unhinged. He was better liked in the public, mainly the first time round because he wasn’t John Howard, but he wasn’t really mourned when he left the leadership either the first or the second time, when, of course, he was only returned to the top job because he wasn’t Julia Gillard.

There were very few people rushing to lift his head away from the block when the axe started to fall in the initial leadership putsch that so reminds us of what’s happening in Canberra tomorrow. And he simply  couldn’t believe it. Him! Kev! The smiling Milky Bar kid, the good Christian, the clever little bugger who overcame adversity, and the man who beat John Howard. Who could chat to the Chinese Premier in Mandarin, no less.

He didn’t get it then, tears in his eyes at the enormity of the disaster, and probably still doesn’t now.

Political leaders need to understand something central to their careers. Not being someone – Beazely, Gillard, Rudd, Howard, Turnbull, anyone – isn’t a good enough reason to keep the top job. It might get you there, but then we want more. We want their capacity to be “not them” to turn into someone we can grow to support in their own right.

Was or is Rudd unhinged as the whisperers asserted? We suspect not. Personalities come in all shapes and sizes and types, and labelling someone barmy is just code for “not like most people”. It doesn’t really matter. But some character aspects were certainly publicly observable. Capricious when it came to policy announcements? Unshakeable certitude? Breathless cynicism? Two faced? Rudd was accused of all that by colleagues and more. Similarly, not for nothing is Abbot often referred to as “The Mad Monk”, and not just because he was a Roman Catholic seminarian at one point. People can be very harsh to those they personally dislike. Both to his face (reputedly) and to the media, Tony Abbott has had to endure a repeated theme from his colleagues in the last week.

“You’ve done this to yourself.” The phrase was no doubt delivered with some relish.

Exactly like Rudd, he has a terrible aptitude for making it up as he goes along, and his basic error has been his own over-weening self belief, expressed in an arrogant disregard for the real world outside his personal office bubble, and the Canberra bubble generally. We are not talking about mere self-confidence or a healthy regard for his own abilities. All leaders, in all spheres, need that. Abbott’s major problem has been the apparent impossibility of his genuinely (as opposed to begrudgingly) believing he could be wrong about … well, about anything, much, really. From the outside looking in, it feels like “collegiate” is a word that he only discovered last Monday.

And his righteous self-belief has been expressed with such vehemence that he has carved out a hard-edged role for himself that is so acutely defined that now he simply can’t escape it. He has created an image of himself that has become reality, inside him, and externally.

When Abbott was tearing down Julia Gillard, and just out-waiting the hapless Rudd when he returned as PM, people in general – the mug punters, you and me – even if they agreed with the need to get the Labor Governmet out before it made any more mis-steps, turned their head away from the spectacle in hand-over-the-mouth disgust at his tactics.

The people of Australia wanted the Labor Government gone so badly that their swallowed the reflux bile rising in their breasts and their concerns. But Abbott crucially mistook this mass real politik for “taking the country with him”. (Which is why his current desperate appeal is based around “the country elected me to lead our party and the Government”, which is a nonsense, of course. The country elected the Libs and the Nats because Labor needed to be flung out. They got Abbott as part of the package.)

With each prating, carping, negative act of savagery while Opposition Leader Abbott not only damaged Gillard but also his own long-term public persona. He should have seen a warning, for example, in the general head-nodding agreement – not just in Australia, but worldwide – when Gillard tore into him in the Parliament for what she characterised as his innate misogyny and sexism. People then, and now, felt sorry for Gillard, sensing that her competence might be in question, and certainly her political judgement and presentation, but also perceiving that there was a clear goal to damn her simply as a woman holding the top job.

The continual focus on her looks and dress sense in the rabid right media pack that Abbott did nothing to hose down, for example. Abbott standing and sneering in front of lunatics carrying “Ditch the Bitch” signs – such a specifically unpleasant anti-female expression – knowing full well that the TV cameras would film him grinning from ear to ear in front of them.

And then, the feeling grew, by implication, event by event, that Abbott just doesn’t like women generally, or at the very least holds views better suited to the 1950s.

Where were the women in his Cabinet? With one exception, nowhere.

His later insistence, as Prime Minister, that successful Foreign Minister Julie Bishop needed a Ministerial chaperone to the climate change conference in Peru was just one recent example of a continuing round of mis-steps in this area, and his refusal to accept her offer of help with his under-whelming National Press Club performance was just the latest, along with his clumsy and offensive co-opting of her support for his staying in the top job, only to be shot down a few hours later by a cool and clearly angered Bishop.

And during all this growing female angst, what was Abbott’s response to his enlarging personal “gender gap”? To announce a completely ill-thought through paid parental leave scheme as a “top of the head” sop to working women, that was derided as shooting from the hip and likely to be unaffordable the day it was announced, to gasps of despair from his own supporters.

Women from all walks of life noted that they didn’t need more money so they could stay home and bake cookies for a while, they needed childcare places so they could continue to pursue their career. Until last week, it appeared no-one could hear them.

And at a stroke, with “PPL”, Abbott skewered his own budget position with what looked like yet more Howardesque middle class welfare, and forced the Coalition into the position of “soaking the poor” to balance the books. It took Abbott 16 months to realise his mistake, and then his grudging retraction of the patently unworkable policy was mealy-mouthed. Tone deaf, as always.

Yet as he watches his colleagues say one thing to his face and then do another as they cast their private ballots, we would be very surprised if Abbott has any real understanding of what is happening to him. Well, we have a primer for him.

The very same people that don’t want unfettered flows of refugees into Australia also don’t want those refugees left floating about in the bowels of a navy vessel for weeks, or consigned to misery in tropical concentration camps, reduced to psychological illness, self harm, or worse. The first is an appeal to commonsense and good governance. The second is mean-minded and cruel. That our Government doesn’t seem to care about the latter upsets many more people than just those on the left.

Similarly, there may be no pressing mood for Australia to become a Republic. Australians are deeply small-c conservative most of the time, and if something’s working OK, such as our constitutional arrangements, we’re pretty much happy to leave it alone.

But we do like Australia for the Australians – we detest knee-bending to the Poms in general, and royalty in particular, with the exception, perhaps, just a little, in the case of the Queen herself, who is widely admired. The “in itself unimportant” decision to knight Prince Phillip – the decision to bring back knighthoods at all, in fact – made us feel like the whole country was a laughing stock.

That Abbott couldn’t have predicted this goes precisely to his inability to feel himself part of the herd, even momentarily or occasionally. His later embarrassed admission that his action had been a “distraction” during the disastrous Queensland election showed no sign that he really understood that he made us all feel faintly ridiculous, and as we hadn’t done anything wrong, well, that he could swallow all that, thank you very much.

It is often said that a politician can survive anything but ridicule. The ridicule that swamped Abbott in the days after the announcement revealed with stark, lightning-bright clarity one unmistakeable fact. And it is this.

We really don’t like him. This wasn’t a “Silly boy, oh well, all’s well that ends well” moment. This was a “You complete fuckwit” moment. His inability to truly take that on board in a convincing manner only made the whole sorry saga worse.

But his real problem – the one that will see him dumped – has been the gung ho manner in which he has chosen to address a “fiscal crisis” that the public simply doesn’t perceive. Backing his even more socially inept Treasurer at every turn, he foisted on the public a panicky, poorly presented and savagely deflationary budget (the only thing missing was the word austerity) that no one understands or wants, and then utterly failed to sell it.

Meandering between a self-satisfied “I know more than you do” smirk and a frowning, headmasterish “you need this” assertiveness, he managed in just a few short weeks – ably assisted by his tin-eared Treasurer – to offend just about every “ordinary voter” in sight.

As Paul Kelly wrote in The Australian yesterday, “The Abbott-Hockey fiscal consolidation is undermined by a popular revolt, Senate vandalism and election results that prove the public is unpersuaded of the case for reform.”

In this sentence, Kelly of course uses the word popular to mean “widespread” or generalised. But in fact, the core problem for Abbott is deeper than that. Not only is the broad mass of the public unconvinced of his policies, and therefore acting up, we are also communally delighting in watching Abbott being dragged bloodily from the throne. The revolution is popular. It is also popular.

In suburban households up and down the country, Madam Lafarge is click-clacking with her knitting circle in joyous expectation that Abbott’s head will soon tumble into the basket in front of them.

We. Just. Don’t. Like. Him. One too many (or perhaps a few thousand too many) ums and errs. One too many refusals to take responsibility. One too many unpleasant little jabs or full-blown haymakers. One too many unblinking cold stares.

Dear Reader, we have been on this planet 57 years, and since the age of 16 we have been actively involved in politics, current affairs or commentary to some degree or other, including even – once – facing the general public for endorsement ourselves.

Our fascination with ballot-box politics has seen us read, experience and learn voraciously everything that has passed our way from the minority governments of Harold Wilson, Ted Heath and the miners, Margaret Thatcher and the miners, Jim Callaghan’s winter of discontent, the breaking of union power in the UK, Thatcher and Reagan staring down Gorbacev, the Blair “Noo Labour”revolution, the failure of American policy in the mid-East from Reagan and Carter onwards, the near-perpetual antagonism of Howard and Peacock, the glittering landscape of micro-economic reform under Hawke, Keating and Kelty, the near-collapse of democratic Government in Italy, and now in Greece, the demise of fascism in Spain and Portugal and their current struggles to retain good governance, the economic miracle of Germany and its internally-mutually-supportive PR-based politics and worker-inclusive industry, the stumbling from economic powerhouse to economic stagnant pond in Japan, the growth and gradual opening of China (where we have done business, and a country we admire), the Asian tiger phenomenon, the descent of Central America into chaos and murderous civil conflict and it’s slow recovery, and, of course, the adventurism of Iraq and Afghanistan. All of it. We hoover it all up.

Which is why we feel it helpful to say that in all that time, and with all that political junkie obsessivenes, we have never – never – experienced such generalised dislike of a democratically-elected politician as we now experience in our daily life whenever Tony Abbott’s name is discussed. Irregardless of whether we are talking to ironed on Labor voters, Liberals, Nats or Greens, the man simply cannot buy a good word from anyone. He is no longer even seen as a necessary evil. The people have spoken, daily, for months and months, if not, in reality, for years.

We just don’t like him. We just don’t like him, a lot.

With his leadership lying in the hands of a group of people who would rather like to keep their jobs after the next election, that is why he is about to lose the Prime Ministership. Not because (as will be said afterwards) he attempted the hard yards of economic reform. But because he royally fucked it up.

As Grace Collar remarked yesterday (also in the Oz) “Trust and confidence have been lost. One decision has already been made. This government – in its present form – and the Australian people have parted ways. This decision is final. It cannot be undone, no matter what. No appeal can occur.”

People don’t like Tony Abbott. His own people don’t even like him. They may even hate him.

Malcom Turnbull, it will be noted by observant readers, is likeable.

And in politics, that, as they have been known to say, is that.

PS Even if Abbott somehow survives tomorrow – we dont think he will, but he might – he is doomed. The votes against him will reveal a very significant section of his party no longer believe in him. That is an impossible position for a Prime Minister to take to the people in 18 months or less. He has to win big – huge – to survive, and he’s not going to. Simple as that. You heard it here first.

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Lee Iacocca

Lee Iacocca - Henry Ford simply didn't "like him" - that was enough.

Lido Anthony “Lee” Iacocca was famously head of both Ford and then Chrysler after he was fired by Henry Ford II – grandson of the founder of the company – despite being probably the most successful Ford executive of all time – with the simple words “I just don’t like you.”

At the time, the move shocked the automotive world and the world of commerce generally. It was widely seen as a foolish move by Ford. But I have a great deal of sympathy with the decision.

Life is just too short to spend time working with people you “just don’t like”.

At the heart of such antipathy always lays other factors – unspoken perhaps – such as incompatibility on personal, ethical or business values, lack of trust, lack of mutual respect, and so on. The stress that results from accommodating such deeply felt emotions is rarely, if ever, worth the effort, for either protagonist.

I have have left jobs, and resigned business rather than keep working on it, no matter how lucrative the position or contract, because of an essential loss of confidence in the key players. Not capriciously – I am no tantrum-throwing diva – but thoughtfully, having weighed my deeper feelings against all other factors. And I have never once regretted the decision.

In today’s caucus vote, Kevin Rudd finally discovered, crunchingly, what it is like when “people just don’t like you”.

Despite opinion polls showing he would be more likely to defeat the Liberals at the next election, and that he was hugely more popular with the general public than Prime Minister Gillard, he was not just defeated, he was roundly and thoroughly rejected. In the end, despite the Rudd camp’s spin, Gillard won the ballot 71 votes to 31.

In the news coverage of the last three days, cabinet minister after cabinet minister lined up to tell us, in excruciating and exhaustive detail, why Kevin Rudd was just one small step up from the anti-Christ. Either explicitly or by implication they branded him as dysfunctional, domineering, rude, non-consulting, mercurial, and borderline egomaniacal. As somebody has already tweeted to me, it’s a shame the Oscars don’t have a statuette for best soap opera, because The Public Murder of Kevin Rudd (Part Two) would have won hands down.

Rudd tears

Politicians love to be loved. It's a big mistake to forget that in a party-based system the love you need most is not the public's, but your colleagues'. The same is true in business. And families. If we can't keep the affection of those closest to us, then what everyone else thinks won't save us. Rudd is seen here after the leadership "coup" in 2010.

You can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. Perhaps.

It’s no doubt a hard lesson for Rudd to learn, because by all accounts he’s been avoiding learning it for his whole career. He was apparently widely disliked when he was an effective senior civil servant in Queensland. In a business not noted for shrinking violets, he was labelled as a pushy, self-aggrandising little oik long before the Labor caucus grudgingly turned to him as their best hope to overturn John Howard in ’07. They tolerated him, biting down on their bile. Then as soon as they thought things were going wrong they dumped him so fast, and so hard, that the public were shocked. But if the public had known how much they didn’t like him in the first place it would have come as no surprise at all.

Of course, admitting that would have been to admit that they had wrought a huge con on the Australian public at the election, so that wasn’t on.

As a result the public was left confused and resentful.

But Rudd should have been left in no doubt what he’d done wrong. Labor caucus members certainly knew. Instead, if we are to believe his public utterances, he chose to re-make reality in his head, (and so did his advisors), and interpret his overturning by Gillard as merely the result of factional brawling and the ambitions of so-called faceless men, and the perfidy of his deputy.

My old Mum would have said “there’s none so blind as those who will not see.”

(Incidentally, in retrospect, the 2007 election, which was then and is still now often widely referred to as a triumph for Rudd’s campaigning skills, would probably have been won by a drover’s dog with a Labor rosette – the punters were simply sick of Howard’s smug little face. But that’s a different discussion.)

This is the lesson. It’s not how smart you are. It’s how likeable you are.

Likeability

Likeability ... it's always there, shadowing us, and it determines our success.

The short story is that there comes a point at which you can’t keep alienating the people near you and then expect them to support you, no matter how competent you may be, (and no one denies that Rudd has talents), because when push comes to shove if we’re going to put our trust in someone it has to be someone, at gut level, that we like.

A Columbia University study by Melinda Tamkins shows that success in the workplace is guaranteed not by what or whom you know but by your popularity.

In her study, Tamkins found that, “popular workers were seen as trustworthy, motivated, serious, decisive and hardworking and were recommended for fast-track promotion and generous pay increases.

Their less-liked colleagues were perceived as arrogant, conniving and manipulative. Pay rises and promotions were ruled out regardless of their academic background or professional qualifications.” Ouch.

The Gallup organization has conducted a personality factor poll prior to every presidential election since 1960. Only one of three factors – issues, party affiliation, and likeability – has been a consistent prognosticator of the final election result.  Of course, the factor is likeability. (Note that Obama is effortlessly more likeable than any of the Republican candidates still standing, except perhaps Ron Paul, who is widely considered mildly nuts.)

Think none of this affects you because you’re not in business or politics? Nu-uh.

Doctors give more time to patients they like and less to those they don’t. According to a 1984 University of California study, there were significant differences in treatment, depending on the characteristics of the patient: the combination of likeable and competent was significant.  Patients perceived as likeable and competent would be encouraged significantly more often to telephone and to return more frequently for follow-up than would the patients who were either unlikable and competent or likeable and incompetent. The staff would educate the likeable patients significantly more often than they would the unlikable patients.”

In a survey of twenty-five hospital doctors initiated by Roy Meadow, a pediatrician at St. James’s University Hospital in Leeds, England, researchers studied what happens when both likeable and unlikable parents bring in children. Considering what you’ve already learned about likeability, it’s not surprising that children with likeable parents received better health care and were more likely to receive follow-up appointments.

I’m guessing the same can be said of schools.

Sooner or later, history shows us that the vast majority of disliked people come a cropper. Being liked is simply a pre-requisite for success, in all spheres of life. I am sure we can all think of contrary examples where fear, for example, was enough to keep the troops in check, but I am obviously speaking in broad brushtrokes here. In a future article, I will rehearse some of the components of likeability, because the good news is that they are skills that can be learned, not innate abilities.

We don’t just have to be grinning, amiable idiots all the time.

Readers will note that I isolate likeability as the key survival factor: I do not say “being agreed with”. We can disagree with people and still like them. In fact, the opposite is true: good governance, in business and politics, demands that we disagree with people when we genuinely perceive risk in their opinion or behaviour.

But the Labor caucus didn’t just disagree with Kevin Rudd – in fact, ironically, many of them may have agreed with his essential analysis, which is that Gillard cannot beat Tony Abbott – although in my view, the jury is still out on that, as I have lived long enough to know that if a week is a long time in politics then 18 months is a lifetime and a half. No, it was about much more than whether they agreed or disagreed with him.

These people, who take their opinions from having actually met the guy – worked with him, dined with him, drunk with him, walked with him, sat in cars with him – unfiltered through spin doctors and media appearances – actually loathed him so much that they would rather struggle on with the Government’s current level of performance than return to the smiling Milky Bar Kid, even if the cost was their own seat in Parliament.

Now that’s disliking someone.

A public suicide. Messy, sad, and ugly.

I never thought Kevin Rudd was ever going to beat Julia Gillard today – that was the genius of the Gillard camp in forcing his hand and bringing the spill on, by letting a rumour getting about that he was about to be sacked anyway – but it was almost as if, in the last few days, Rudd was intent on some sort of phyrric suicidal exit on his own terms.

He was determined to face down those who didn’t like him, by virtually ignoring them and appealing over their heads to the public. “Ring your local MP and tell him or her you want me back” he said (I paraphrase) instead of simply picking up the phone and calling the MPs concerned and having a good chat.

He was never going to get enough votes – he must have known that in advance, surely? – but he could have perhaps reserved his place in Labor history and even partially rehabilitated himself if he had gone down the road of “Mea culpa, I stuffed it up last time, how can I do it right for you this time?” and actually meant it.

Instead, by pressing the flesh in shopping malls and working the ever-hungry meeja for all it was worth, Rudd merely confirmed Labor MPs suspicions. He didn’t really think he’d made any mistakes at all, despite a few mealy-mouthed mumblings to that effect on TV. And he also he left an abiding impression: “this bloke doesn’t like me, need me, respect me, or want me. Righty ho, he can have that back, in spades. I’m voting for Gillard, even if that does mean I am a turkey voting for Christmas.”

As a serious political force in Australia, Rudd is now finished. There will be no Lazarus rising, not even Lazarus twitching. I expect to see him foisted on the international community in some major role – or at some serious policy wonk think tank – as soon as he can pull the levers of his impeccable overseas contacts, especially in America and China. The ALP will ease his way, glad to see the back of someone that they never really believed was one of their own. As Paul Keating once remarked, “He’s Labor, but not tribal Labor.” In the end, that’s what killed him: he just never really wanted to be one of the tribe, or was prepared to work at it, and they hated him for it.

Well, well. Moving on: Gillard will get a small bounce from her success today – in the last few days voters will have re-connected with her, grudgingly, with her guts, determination, refusal to get flustered, and inner steel.

All smiles - Gillard leaves the caucus meeting.

All smiles - Gillard leaves the caucus meeting. But what of tomorrow?

These are qualities we value in a Prime Minister, and Gillard, despite other failings, has them. But she now needs to learn Rudd’s lesson. She is widely disliked – mistrusted – and this time by the public. And they will be meeting in their very own caucus before too long. Many of Rudd’s criticisms of her will have rung true with people, even as they admire the way she stood up for herself. She has a tiny window of opportunity – which will start closing immediately – to radically re-make her government.

For example, she won’t – but she should – build on her new-found image of decisiveness by removing Wayne Swann as Treasurer, because although he is her ally and he is also technically competent he inspires no confidence whatsoever in the public in the second most important office in the land.

A dramatic, bold move would be to promote Swann’s mate Stephen Smith to Treasury – his quiet, serious demeanour goes over well and he has proven himself a highly effective Minister – and move Swann to Foreign Affairs, where he will still be in the inner circle, and can’t really do much damage, and where he already has good contacts to build on. Refresh, renew, revive. Show imagination. Show leadership.

Gillard

Can Gillard be saved from herself?

And most of all, she should employ new speechwriters, and professional speaking consultants, to utterly transform her dreadful, whining, monotonic delivery of both formal speeches and her performances in the Parliament.

It is always hard for pollies to hear this, (I speak from experience), but the public has long since gone past their gentle amusement at how staggeringly irritating her delivery is, to reach a point of genuine annoyance. Quite apart from any policy disagreements or trust issues, her flat, nasal tones, distractingly repetitive and unhelpful hand movements, lack of light and shade, and holier than thou seriousness make her genuinely disliked.

When the usual answer to the question “Would you have this person round for a beer and a sausage?” is derisive laughter, then you’re in real trouble. When you’re a politician, it’s terminal.

Frankly, I worry about the state of our public discourse in general. Because it’s not as though the other side are much better.

The widespread opinion amongst those I speak to – including Liberal supporters – is that Abbot is an unpleasant little blow-hard, transparently seizing any opportunity to personally denigrate the leaders of the Labor Party and to talk the country down. That this is a common mis-conception of the role of the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition is no excuse for the policy vacuum that the Coalition currently offers, and the apparent vacuum in the heads of most of its leaders. As I have said before, if Gillard does anything right at all in the next six months, expect to see Abbott replaced with Malcolm Turnbull, quick smart.

And the final wash up?

The ultimate question, I suppose, is this: in a country full of well-educated, intelligent, hard-working, charismatic people, why are we led by such donkeys? And when will we demand better of our leaders, rather than just grumble ineffectively about them? What is it that we are doing wrong, if, as I firmly believe, we get the politicians we deserve?

On May 17, 2007, when he was all of 83 years old, Iacocca published a book called Where Have All the Leaders Gone?, co-written with Catherine Whitney. An article with the same title, and same two co-authors, has recently been published. As we leave the circus of the last week behind us, there are wise words in it for all Australians to consider today. In the book, talking about the quality of Government in America at all levels, Iacocca wrote:

“Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.” Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!”