Abbott charms UK Tories

The Tony Abbott-Rupert Murdoch Show enjoys a ratings surge … Still in denial over the Vietnam war … Memories of dinner parties at the Knightleys’ in Notting Hill … A new series: Festival of Dangerous Ideas … Great Crashing Bores continues …

Abbott charms UK Tories

Tony Abbott’s visit to London for this week’s Tory Party conference was choreographed to perfection by Rupert Murdoch’s minions.

Abbott wrote a major opinion piece for Murdoch’s Times newspaper and spoke at a packed fringe meeting arranged by the lunar right Spectator magazine. Back home, The Australian and Murdoch’s hacks followed Abbott’s visit with the same gushing over-kill normally reserved for a royal visit.

Clearly on the comeback trail, Abbott accomplished two key goals: he floated the idea that he had not given up hope of returning to the prime ministership and he resiled from his previously stated view that Britain should remain in the European Union and claimed he now agreed with the referendum result to quit, i.e. Brexit.

Tory MPs and rank and filers, mainly from that section of the Conservative Party which former prime minister John Major identified as the “bastard” wing, were ecstatic. By a strange quirk of fate, Brexit has rekindled the Mad Monk’s political fortunes among monarchists, Little Englanders, Islamophobes, homophobes and other flotsam from centuries past.

The Brexiteers had recruited the London-born clown to their crazy circus. The drawbridge was going up, they were filling the moat with untreated sewage and “fortress” Englanders were raising the banner of the Crusades, Agincourt and Waterloo but … ahem … not The Charge of the Light Brigade, the Battle of Khartoum, the Boer Wars, the Somme, Dunkirk, Singapore, Suez, Kenya, Cyprus, Aden or Ulster.

As Abbott bathed in adulation from Home County Tories, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sank further in the Australian polls.

Bill Shorten’s ALP cruised to a four percentage point lead in the two-party preferred vote – 52% to 48% – while the Coalition’s primary vote slipped below 40% for the first time under Turnbull’s leadership.

Every day seems to bring fresh confirmation that Turnbull is losing support in parliament, his party room, Cabinet, the civil service, the board rooms and across the country at large. Even his coterie of supporters – Christopher Pyne, Julie Bishop, Scott Morrison, Marise Payne and Greg Hunt – have started to take on the demeanour of prisoners on death row.

It used to be said that it took one or even two terms in The Lodge for personal frailties, weaknesses and vanities to express themselves publicly. But the sheer pace of instantly accessible globalised events, the 24/7 glare of media coverage and the increased sophistication of the electorate have changed all that. Turnbull has been found wanting in just 12 months in the top job.

His overwhelming preoccupation is not running the country but protecting his job.

Mrs May rejects poll

The most under-reported part of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Tory Party conference speech was her admission that there would be NO early election. She would serve out her predecessor David Cameron’s full term ending in 2020.

Why? If Mrs May is correct and the British Labour Party is irretrievably on a course of self-destruction after its membership voted overwhelmingly for Jeremy Corbyn to remain leader – why not go to the polls now? A Tory victory would “legitimise” her Westminster coup and her occupancy of No 10 Downing Street.

But it seems perfectly obvious that the Tory Party’s worship of “Westminster democracy” has limitations. Mrs May is in unelected office. When she replaced David Cameron in July there was no election in the country, in parliament or in the Tory Party.

Her current presence in No 10 is the purest expression of the elasticity of bourgeois democracy: when it suits the toffs, ballot box democracy is junked in favour of authoritarian expediency.

Like the Blairites, Tories, Liberal Democrats and UKIPers are terrified of facing a renovated Labour Party that has turned its back on so-called “New Labour” and returned to the old-fashioned post-war social democracy of Clement Atlee. Corbyn, a limey version of Bernie Sanders of the US Democratic Party, has re-introduced socialism into the political debate; it is frightening the City of London as well as Wall Street.

At home with the Knightleys

Northumberland Place in Notting Hill, west London, is a very special place for me and hundreds of other people. For more than 50 years it was the home of Yvonne and Phillip Knightley and their three children, Kim, Aliya and Marissa. This weekend the Knightleys move out of their Northumberland Place terrace and the Camelot they created will be over. New owner/occupants will soon move in shortly.

When I left Australia in the 1960s to try my luck in Fleet Street I took the names of two Australians with me – Phillip Knightley and Murray Sayle. They were inseparable talismans of newspaper reporting and I quickly met them both. I joined the London Sunday Times where they both worked and we became colleagues and close friends. The highlight of our working week was Friday night. Sayle collared a small group and led them like the Pied Piper to the “good Chinese” in a side street at the top of Charing Cross Road and at other times to the “good Indian” or the “good Greek”, both in Soho.

image1But the invitation we all craved was dinner at Northumberland Place. Knightley rounded up reporters drinking at the Blue Lion pub, opposite Thomson House in Gray’s Inn Road, and we piled into his tiny Mini-Minor and drove west.

I was plagued with uncertainties: Who would the other guests be? What will we talk about? Will I be able to arrive at work tomorrow morning for the early shift?

When the door opened, a thrilling fragrance of spices filled the air: it produced a sense that was both soporific and exciting. Yvonne, who is Portuguese Indian, was a cooking genius. She produced Indian delicacies that made the restaurants in the city and west London seem provincial and plain.

As soon as everyone found a seat around the big extension table, Yvonne began to serve her scrumptious dishes.

I was often joined by my then partner, Joy Pinnock, a Sydney-born science producer and researcher who worked at BBC Television. Our children, Laura and Lachlan, and the Knightleys’ children were around the same age so it added to the warmth of our friendship.

The evening was always full of surprises. Guests ranged from painters, writers, diplomats, spooks, filmmakers to Australian friends who had just arrived at Heathrow.

Years later I had the pleasure of returning to the Knightleys’ “table” with my partner Judith White and deeper friendships were established. At dinner time, our son Scott was spoiled rotten with Yvonne’s gulab jamuns soaked in honey.

Over dinner, the debates, arguments and disputes were endless. I threw down my serviette and walked out on one memorable occasion. On another regrettable evening I fell out with Sayle who had come to the conclusion that America’s involvement in the Vietnam war wasn’t deliberately evil but simply misguided and he hoped the communists would submit to stop the bloodshed. The morning after our shouting match all was forgotten and we were discussing Irish politics and where to go for lunch.

The dinner table was a place where ideas were discussed – sometimes furiously – and where new friendships were born and old ones confirmed.

“Captain” Knightley, twice Britain’s Journalist of the Year (1980 and 1988) and author of The First Casualty, Philby: KGB Master Spy and A Hack’s Progress, is now 87 and still alert. When I saw him recently in London his first question was: “Now tell me, who came to your lunch at the Kolossi [one of the favourite eating places for Sunday Times journalists in the pre-Murdoch days] on Friday?”

The Knightleys, Yvonne and Phillip, gave everyone a sense of belonging and Northumberland Place became something more than the home address of our very dearest friends but a part of who we were. We can’t attend this weekend’s farewell but we’ll still be there, if you get what I mean.

Insulting the Vietnamese

War historian David W Cameron and his publishers Penguin Books take the award for the most moronic book title of the decade.

It is called The Battle of Long Tan – Australia’s four hours of hell in Vietnam.

How can anyone presume to write about history and care so little about its human cost, the history or the politics? While the author is tormented about “Australia’s four hours of hell” at Long Tan, the Vietnamese people suffered invasion and violent suppression of their independence from Japanese, British, French and American imperialism between 1940 and 1975. That’s 35 years of living (and dying) hell.

During Washington’s genocidal presence more than two million Vietnamese were killed and hundreds of thousands wounded and maimed. At the time the slaughter was being enthusiastically supported by the Liberal governments of Bob Menzies, Harold Holt, John Gorton and Billy McMahon.

Heaven knows how many more were killed by Japan’s Imperial Army, British special forces and the French Far East Expeditionary Force.

Let me explain, I have not the slightest doubt that Australian soldiers fought with enormous heroism at Long Tan. But we do them and history no service by blowing the event out all of proportions and treating it like the Battle of Tobruk or the Kokoda trail.

Eighteen Australian soldiers were killed at Long Tan and 24 wounded. The Vietnamese independence fighters lost at least 145.

A few weeks ago the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) with the urging of the corrupt RSL, the Australian War Museum and the Murdoch media tried to stage a celebratory concert and piss-up at Long Tan.

The Vietnamese government, ex-NLF veterans and local survivors thought the occasion was insensitive and callous, and a more restrained and respectful event was held in its place.

Books that glorify military savagery, whether intentionally or not, are not the way to educate readers and prevent a recurrence of shameful stupidities in our recent past.

Festival of Dangerous Ideas, A new series – 1

Hear the Hon Professor Emeritus Terry McCranndill discuss his seminal book, My life-changing Introduction to the Economic Theories of Mahatma Gandhi, written in 1961. McCranndill, winner of the Free Enterprise Foundation lifetime award for advancing the social benefits of corporate greed, will answer questions about his early days at Sir Henry Bolte Polytechnic when it was a hotbed of debate influenced by Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek, who both went mad. Adjudicator: Andrew Bolte. Book early: this is a hot ticket item!

Great Crashing Bores – 16

I’m backing the Malaysia Nine. Bigtime. Why were they arrested? For being good Aussies, that’s why. They were just having a bit of fun after Daniel Riccardo won the Malaysian Grand Prix. Okay, so they stripped to their underpants with the Malaysian flag printed on their arses. So what? That’s good old Aussie humour. They showed TV pictures of them drinking beers out of their shoes. Well, I’ve done that and shouted “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie – Oi, Oi Oi” too. That’s being patriotic, mate, and the Malaysians just need to get real. Having said that, if any slanty-eyed Asiatics got pissed at a Grand Final, dropped their daks and insulted the Aussie flag they should be locked up at Goulburn Jail and left alone in the exercise yard with some of our lifers.


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