Thursday, 5 January 2012

OUR VERY OWN OBSTINATE LADY (Spectator leader Jan 6)

Strip away the Oscar-craving performance of an old woman with dementia imagining her dead husband is still by her side (‘Ghost’ meets ‘Cocoon’) and you are left with little insight into the ‘Iron Lady’ from Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Britain’s first female PM other than the fact - spelled out as a crossword clue in the clunky script - that she was somewhat o-b-s-t-I-n-a-t-e.

It is the one trait she shares with our own first female Prime Minister. In her ‘year of delivery and decision’ Julia Gillard has shown herself to be every bit as stubborn as Margaret Thatcher. She stuck to her guns implementing the unpopular carbon tax –despite having promised not to. She determinedly consolidated her position by buying off a ragbag coalition of minority-interest mavericks; splashing out over $15 billion in the process. She “showed determination and guts”, according to her Treasurer, by negotiating a half-baked mining tax. She fiercely resisted sacking the member for Dobell over his dubious credit card activities. And she refused point blank to return to the abandoned Nauru policy, despite its proven success at deterring illegal immigration. Clearly, this lady’s not for turning.

But being stubborn for the sake of it is nothing to necessarily boast of. Nor does it guarantee political success.

Thatcher's convictions were born out of her tough upbringing in post-war Britain, leading her to prize entrepreneurialism over government handouts, and leaving her suspicious of bureaucratic schemes such as the Eurozone and excessive taxpayer-funded subsidies. Thirty years on, many of her convictions have proved to be accurate, from the crippling debt of western welfare to the folly of the single European currency.

Gillard, too, would have us believe she has deeply-held convictions. But what are they?

Thatcher didn't go to war to retrieve the Falklands because a focus group told her to. Nor did she shut down an unprofitable mining industry because she thought it would boost her Newspoll figures. She didn't cut government spending in order to appease factional godfathers. And she certainly didn’t trash a successful government policy simply to spite a predecessor. There was no "real" Maggie who suddenly popped up mid-way through a floundering election campaign.

Thatcher’s determination to follow her convictions regardless of the political pain saw her win three elections on the trot. She was never voted out, and arguably much of Britain’s success in weathering the European storm is down to policy decisions she took, based on her immutable beliefs.

Gillard, on the other hand, appears to have only one stubbornly held conviction: ram through whatever deals it takes to cling onto power. The NSW Labor  “Whatever It Takes” philosophy is clearly the bedrock of Gillard’s belief system.

It is testament to Thatcher’s uniqueness that it required one of the world’s best actresses to attempt to capture the essence of her conviction-based personality. Three decades from now, it is likely the only on-screen portrayals of our own Obstinate Lady will be by stand-up comediennes in tax-payer funded spoofs.

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