Morrison made kooky moves but he was no dictator

Morrison made kooky moves but he was no dictator. By Greg Sheridan.

The quality of political leadership around the Western world right now is wretchedly mediocre. One big reason is a loss of faith in democracy, and an accompanying loss of faith in the orderly processes of government. Scott Morrison’s unfathomable weirdness in appointing himself to five extra portfolios is evidence of this.

We ought to keep a sense of proportion. Morrison’s moves had little effect on his government. They don’t destroy his legacy, for good and ill. But they were extremely kooky. …

Finnish PM partying in her private time

Centralization of power leads to worse decisions:

One of Morrison’s greatest weaknesses was his overcentralisation of power.

Cabinet meetings became frustrating and meaningless. Every decision was taken by either the national security committee or the expenditure review committee. The members of those committees maintained group solidarity on their decisions, just as cabinet members maintain solidarity within the party rooms, and just as the Coalition maintains solidarity in parliament.

In other words, despite notional layers of scrutiny, real decision-making occurred among a tiny group of politicians. …

Dictatorships have a lesson for democracies here. One-man dictatorships make enormous mistakes because no one gives the boss bad news and the boss does not have his views contested by powerful near-equals in cabinet.

The Australian cabinet, at 23 members, is just way too big to be a deliberative, decision-making body. … Really the cabinet should be no more than 12 to 16 strong, with the real business of government being determined there. …

Boris Johnson:

A failure to master good process, perhaps a contempt for good process, was a key element in Boris Johnson’s leadership failure in Britain. They say that politics is showbiz for ugly people. Johnson mastered the showbiz of politics better than anyone I’ve ever seen. He was that rarest of creatures, a politician who became a celebrity through his life as a politician. …

At his best, Johnson used his celebrity to advance political causes he believed in, especially Brexit. But once he became prime minister he showed an astonishing lack of interest in, and mastery of, the boring nuts and bolts of government process. He was both lazy and a control freak. …

The contrast between Johnson and Margaret Thatcher, about whom there was never a hint of impropriety, and who relentlessly but conventionally drove cabinet and all government processes to achieve solid, reforming government, could not be stronger. …

The modern trend to dumber, celebrity politicians:

Political leaders who think it’s all about them often think the key problem is communication, because after all that’s the one thing they do well. There is a touch of Argentinian populist Juan Peron among many Western leaders these days. …

Barack Obama was the first of the wave of celebrity candidates to win office in a big democracy in the past couple of decades. Obama famously had authored two books, the more famous of which was a self-indulgent and self-pitying memoir, and no legislation when, as a senator of almost zero experience, he ran for the presidency.

obama thinking

Old-fashioned ideas of process, such as advancing legislation or running an executive government, counted for nothing. Trump, though from the other side, was Obama’s logical successor and extension as the next celebrity candidate. Much of Trump’s inability to achieve solid policy outcomes from many of his ideas arose from his absolute failure to understand the processes of the American government. …

Australian leaders past:

John Howard ran an excellent cabinet government with, once it settled down, stable and authoritative ministers. Bob Hawke had done the same. Howard is a highly intelligent man but he didn’t market himself as an intellectual super­star, a la Kevin Rudd or Malcolm Turnbull. Nor did he try to go around cabinet, though he did begin the process of NSC dominating the larger cabinet. Good process doesn’t guarantee success but bad process guarantees failure.

Howard was consistently courteous, decent, unthreatening, a parliamentary lifer who knew how our system operates in all its multi-layered complexity, and generally was an incremental reformer.

If Anthony Albanese is to succeed as Prime Minister, he will succeed along similar lines. Mostly people like him, he’s a courteous and decent person, he moves in a particular political direction but generally he’s not threatening, so far he has aimed to do what he said he’d do, he’s possessed of common sense and generally does not conceive of himself as larger than life. These are big assets and Albanese should not lightly throw any of them away.

I knew Anthony Albanese a little at university, and didn’t notice anything remarkable. He might make a good leader, if he doesn’t resort to too much Tory-bashing or indulging his other prejudices.