Monday, 26 November 2007

And hast thou slain the jabberwock?

So much to say. I'm afraid this is a long post. I'll wind in slowly, with a poem most have probably already read before.

(Apologies to John Quiggin, who seems to have also used a quote from this. It's just so appropriate, though)

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

The beamish boy (was there a more happy match for that label?) has indeed slain the Jabberwock (again, JW just fits far too well). The vorpal sword was Workchoices, and the promise of investment in infrastructure without sacrificing fiscal responsibility. To be fair, the Jabberwock was not his former self, and I really suspect that he won't personally mind losing so much, as he had mainly done what he wanted to do.

Nonetheless, I could have quoted just the second-last verse, but I have included the whole thing. There are two perils contained within.

The first is that the beamish boy has gone galumphing back to his putative father, and now must deal with his familial legacy. Will he be the son to the unions, or will he strike out as a leader and leave his own imprint? Early signs suggest the latter, in particular his indication that he will select his own ministry rather than leaving it to the caucus. As the prodigal son who has led Labor out of 11 years in the wilderness, he will have some leeway.

The second is that the last verse is the same as the first. Our two major political parties are, in many ways, more closely aligned than they have ever been. Will foreign policy continue to gyre and gimble in the wabe? Will the degradation of civil rights remain mimsy, and the refugees outgrabe?

If the answer to all these questions is "yes", when will a beamish boy arise from the Liberals? At the moment, it seems like the answer will be "a long time". It appears that Costello will go quietly into the night, and one can hardly blame him. The Liberals hold government in no jurisdiction bigger than the Brisbane City Council. The dominance of Howard over the party, and Costello's retreat, leaves with them with a vacuum at the top, and no governments in which to stockpile talent. Howard's long-time political expediency, of blowing with the wind of popular politics, has left them lacking direction. They are a party in need of a moral compass, and its hard to see where they will find one. Certainly the answer will not come from an opportunistic social conservative; such a move would only lead them further down the rabbit hole. Although highly unlikely, it is not inconceivable that the coalition will fracture, or even that the Liberal party will fold, and the Australian political landscape will be reshaped.

The one element where Mr Dodgson's poem has no contribution is the senate. Labor's sweeping gains in the house were not reflected in the upper house. The coalition have a hostile majority there until the transition next June, and even then it seems likely that the government will need the votes of all the Greens, plus Nick Xenophon, and either Steve Fielding or a rogue coalition senator like Barnaby Joyce, to pass legislation. Its hard to see how that will happen, and a double dissolution, either late next year or in 2009, is not out of the question.

We live in interesting times.

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