Tuesday January 17 2017
This is a work of political fiction I wrote a couple of years ago. I have brought it up to date so that it captures today’s political environment.
A Conservative Conscience.
We had been friends for as long as my now aged mind could remember. Long before politics became part of the natural discourse of our everyday lives. We had maintained a closeness that formed during childhood, manifested itself in adolescence, through puberty into adulthood.
I suppose it was our individual upbringing that created our political differences. Louis Martin-Smyth or Lou as I called him was born of parents who, well in my opinion at least, thought that they were better than others. Both spoke with confected accents born of Englishness. Fortunately this hadn’t rubbed off on Lou but their political ideology had. Not only that but they had insinuated monarchist values on their children together with a form of Church of England Christianity that had a social purpose that had little to do with practicing the faith. Typical of moderately successful English immigrants they had adopted an air of pomposity reserved for those who think they are above their station. Yes Lou was a son of those who think success necessitates an aloof conservative conviction.
Processed with a brilliant mind Lou was destined to become a surgeon. At University where I was also doing Law we often crossed paths on opposite sides of argument in our respective debating teams or conversely when on the same side competing against other universities. We formed a formidable team.
We both believed that debate was not necessarily about winning or taking down one’s opponent. It was an exchange of facts ideas and principles. Or in its purest form it was simply the art of persuasion.
It remains an unexplained mystery as to why he attended a government school although I suspect it had something to do with frugality. As for me I was born of Irish parents with an implicit dislike of conservative institutions and the draconian poverty they imposed on common people. I felt the morose struggle my parents felt. I abhorred the victimisation that was perpetuated on their lives and I was determined to help the less fortunate through law. Social justice would become my life’s work. They liked Lou and openly encouraged our friendship. Conversely his parents always made me feel uncomfortable. Lou was constantly apologising for their dislike of anything Irish. Something they would have been better off leaving in the old country.
In all fairness Lou, who could be best described as an old-fashioned conservative, felt a similar moral disposition. It was just that we saw the achievement of our aims though the lens of different political philosophies. Until recently that is. Well I guess our relationship started to break down during John Howard’s term of office. It’s hard to pin point really. I know he abhorred Howard’s decision to go into Iraq but I suspected there had to be more to it than that. The bond between us gradually fritted away to the point where we had little to say to each other and our regular dinners were now non-existent.
What were once friendly and often animated discussions that could be both a joy and a trial were long gone? I confess the loss of his friendship left an unpleasant void in my life? I had made in the past couple of years many overtures of reconciliation which were all met with negative responses. I longed for the times when our discourse was full of philosophical elasticity. When we wouldn’t give an inch each way in argument but in doing so respected the others view. We played intellectual gymnastics that often sent us both in pursuit of ideas and thoughts not previously considered. The exchange and intellectual debate of ideas, we both felt, needed to be re energised and that it was incumbent on the young to become involved”
If I were asked to define what it was he admired most in conservative values it would be this.
He believed in personal responsibility. Government he thought got in the road of allowing people to accomplish their goals. He was for free markets, individual liberty and traditional values. He thought the role of government should be to provide people with the freedom necessary to pursue those goals. That Conservative policies should generally emphasise empowerment of the individual to solve problems. And as a conservative he was cautious about change or innovation, in politics or religion. He deplored, which I found contradictory to his profession, the adaptation of new technologies. In addition he thought change should only happen incrementally so as to protect social norms. He agreed entirely with Margaret Thatcher’s statement that ‘’there is no such thing as society, only individuals making their way. That the poor shall be looked after by the drip down effect of the rich’’
I on the other hand, as a passionate progressive Social Democrat I believed in the same free market system but one which government regulates. I was convinced that government must protect its citizens from the greed of big business. That unlike the private sector, government should be motivated by the collective public interest. The common good in other words. I also believed that Government direction in all areas of the economy was vital to level the playing field and bring about social equity. I hated the inequality that the greed of capitalism was inflicting on the world. Having said that I had recently formed the view that Marx might have been right about capitalism and that we might be witnessing the beginning of its end. Further I believed that personal ambition was best advanced by government providing the platform for individuals to advance according to both their ability and need.
My attempts to bring us together continued for some years but in the end I just gave up and eventually I lost contact. The Rudd and Gillard Governments came and went and Tony Abbott was elected Prime Minister of Australia in November 2013. He proved to be a divisive, negative and ineffectual leader. So much so that I often wondered what Lou’s opinion of him might have been. Then one day while waiting for my next appointment I was scrolling through my emails when one caught me by surprise. On the subject line were the words ‘’Private and Confidential’’
A slight uneasiness in my chest reminded me that I had an appointment with my GP mid-afternoon. I began to read the email but was interrupted by the voice of my receptionist Kaye.
”Your next appointment is a little early. Do you want to see him now”
”Who was it again”
”Brian Skidman The pro bono case”
”Ah yes. Send him in”
My mind left the email as Skidman entered my office.
An hour later I regretted taking on his case. He was an ungrateful sod who expected everything and showed little appreciation of my efforts. Still in my view he was the victim of a great social injustice that I intended correcting.
I told Kaye I had a 3.30 doctor’s appointment and wouldn’t be back for the rest of the day. Before leaving I forwarded the email to my home computer so I could read it later. At the conclusion of Dr Ward’s examination he had a worrisome look on his face.
”Something wrong” I said.
”Well your blood pressures is elevated. You have pains in the chest. Your cholesterol is far too high”
”I’ll write a referral to a cardiologist”
”Well it’s not panic stations but you need to be checked out. And sooner rather than later”
When I arrived home I filled a glass with whisky and dry went to my study to read the email. The glass of whisky reflected itself in the screen and the irony didn’t escape me. Christ it’s from Lou I said under my breath. It must have been three years since we had had any contact.
The email was addressed ‘Robert John Falkiner. Attorney at Law’.
I have no excuses so I won’t try to justify my treatment of you by using any. You were such a good friend and I feel a great remorse for rejecting you. During the Rudd and Gillard periods I just could not understand your defence of them. To the point where I thought you had become irrational. Whilst I deplored Abbott’s indecency and negativity toward Gillard which was unarguably misogynistic and unforgivable I did feel at the time that she was a poor leader. Now with the benefit of some history with which to judge them I realise that I had not taken in the broader implications of a hung Parliament and other factors into account. When in 2013 the media, particularly Murdoch, promoted Abbott as Australia’s savoir. I fell for it. After his election all the lies and backflips of the election campaign became apparent. They’re all documented so what I say will be of no surprise to you. Indeed some of them have been spine chilling, economic mismanagement, and an ignorance of science that is beyond thoughtful examination. Recognition of a new economy that true conservatives should be openly embracing. And as a doctor I have simply not been able to ignore legalising human rights abuses and the efforts to hoodwink the population on national security. And any conservative worth his salt would be aghast at the Governments lack of transparency and the efforts to make all things secret. This is not the conservatism that I adhere too. It is something that borders on fascism. Then came the rorting of entitlements and the attempts to stifle all opposition. Not to mention the deliberate attempt to make free speech the domain only of those who support the government.
Now I realise that this man Abbott was not a Liberal in the true sense. He duped the people with his lies and is continuing to do so since Turnbull replaced him. I have been a gullible fool. I know I was lied to, I feel like an idiot, but I don’t want to feel like an idiot and own my mistake because I am a conservative but I have no other choice if at the very least I am to be honest with myself. Having the ability to admit that you are wrong is an absolute prerequisite to discernment and knowledge so it is with that in mind that I admit I was wrong.
Abbott had the best tactic for the underwhelming intellect and stunted emotionally developed person to grasp, and that is ridicule, divisiveness and patriotism. Abbotts finest leadership quality was that he could reach out in the voice of the alpha male, to all of the beta males and provide recognition and praise for ignorance, bullying and the, dare I say it, ever so conservative position of looking backwards for the future.
At the time, when Turnbull disposed of him I felt that he had done the nation a great service and I saw a ray of hope. But it was not to be. In spite of all the promise Turnbull had shown he turned out to be a hypocrite who tossed away all his values for the sake of the Prime Ministership. I could go on and on but i’m sure you are up to date with all the machinations.
Well that about covers it for me my friend. At this point I have been a gullible and possibly even naïve fool to have believed in this excuse for leadership in the first place. More importantly though is the fact that I let down a rare form of friendship. For that I feel an immense guilt, if not pain.
Will we ever grow intellectually to the point where we are able to discern and understand the potential for the good within us I thought to myself? Against my better judgement I refilled my glass and pondered the ramifications of the contents of the email. I closed my eyes and allowed my thoughts to cross-examine themselves. Then I remembered I had to make an appointment with the cardiologist and took the referral envelope from my coat pocket. When I opened it, it was addressed to Mr. Louis Martin-Smyth Cardiologist. 3 Collins Street Melbourne Vic, Australia.
My thought for the day.
“The exchange and intellectual debate of ideas needs to be re energised and it is incumbent on the young to become involved”.