Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Education Of A Young Liberal, John Hyde Page

It’s interesting that this book has a blurb by Mark Latham on the cover, because it very much covers the same ground as Mr Latham’s Diaries, although here obviously on the Liberal side. (I've just realised something: both authors share the same agent, Mary Cunnane, and the same publisher, Melbourne University Press. Louise Adler at MUP saw both books into publication.)

Where Latham was brash, belligerent and crass, John Hyde Page is more precocious, frankly bordering on the obnoxious. His Education is a smartly written book, with good doses of humour and wit. Nor is he out to make himself look good, as he frequently shows how low he was willing to go to achieve his political objectives within the Young Liberals.

John Hyde Page joined the young Liberals as a teenager (at seventeen), and soon found himself longing to be the president of the Young Liberals. This overwhelming ambition lead him to all sorts of dirty dealings. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to achieve this goal. This involved all manner of Machiavellian double-dealing. Stabbing friends in the back was all part of a day’s work being a factional hack in the Young Liberals.

And check this out: during his work for the Young Liberals, Hyde Page was a practising Anglican. That’s right, while plotting his rise to the top, he was simultaneously doing lots of volunteer work for his local church. Even Hyde Page doesn't understand how his church shaped morality allowed him to get into the dirty end of politics.

You soon get depressed reading about all the time and effort that goes just into the politicking. It seems like such a waste of bother. No wonder Mr and Mrs Chadstone have little time for politics, and that party memberships are declining. It’s really these mum and dad types that need to be joining the major parties, to save it from the venal hacks like Hyde Page. It was shocking to read about how many pollies knew so little about their party’s policies, or how our democracy actually works. What they excelled at was crunching numbers and doing a best friend in behind their backs.

There’s lot of good portraits of major politicians in Education that political junkies will soak up: Bronwyn Bishop, with her hungry stare; Tony Abbott, sizing up the author to see how he’d go a round in the boxing ring; John Howard’s eyes on fire; the creepy and strange Malcolm Turnball. And on and on and on.

The question of accuracy does pop up in the reader’s mind. How much of Hyde Page’s witty style is colouring reality? None of that bothered me too much. As I wrote in my post on Latham’s Diaries, even if half of it is true, politics is in an unbelievably bad state in Australia. Some of the nutters in the Young Liberals movement sound absolutely bonkers. It’d be okay if they were fringe dwellers, but they’re running the Young Liberals.

So I think this book is a must read if you’re interested in Australian politics today. Hyde Page has done us all a favour by pulling back the veil on the lies, hypocrisy and dirty deals done in back rooms. And as Mr Latham says, Young Labor is no better.

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