As I watched Abbott, my nemesis, get torn down by his own side I was literally clapping. I slept better than I had in a long time on Monday night knowing that I would wake up living in a country without Abbott as Prime Minister. Knowing that I would never have to hear the words ‘Prime Minister Tony Abbott’ ever again still makes me grin. But I must admit, as much as I hated Abbott, I also loved him too. I’m not claiming to some masochist love-hate fixation with the man who I literally hated in 200 blog posts over the last four years. The hate bit is obvious. But the love bit is more complex. I love Tony Abbott because he did what progressive have never been able to do for ourselves: he united us. I’m now hoping we can bottle that unity.
We know what we’re against: we’re against everything Tony Abbott is for. Let’s hold onto that. Let’s bottle that and never let someone like Tony Abbott run this country ever again. If we can do that, Tony Abbott’s legacy will be a gift to progressive Australians. Because a united progressive movement in Australia will never elect a conservative government ever again. We will never lose another election. What’s not to love about that?
The key to seeing the importance of the hatred of Tony Abbott in every pocket and corner of Australia is understanding that people like me and probably you, think far more deeply and regularly about politics than 99% of voters. When Abbott was elected Prime Minister, we knew him far better than the rest of the country. I remember the sense of dread at what was in store for us when I saw Abbott’s first cabinet assembled together for a photograph. Every one of the team was a wrecker. It wasn’t just Abbott of course. Turnbull was there too. Each and every Liberal and National MP elected to govern our country is equally responsible, and to blame, for every single thing the Abbott government did, or tried and failed to do. The rest of the country, who hadn’t been paying attention like we had, thankfully didn’t take long to catch up and to recognise who the Abbott government really was.
Abbott’s first budget, to politically informed progressives, was a predictable nightmare. To those who share progressive values, but who perhaps don’t think enough about politics to even realise they have progressive values, only had to look at the policies presented in their stark reality to understand that Abbott’s government didn’t fit with their sense of what was ‘right’. It didn’t fit with Australian values. Their policies just weren’t fair. To put it simply, Abbott’s government has done progressives the favour of widening our movement to voters who never realised they were progressives until they hated Abbott.
I’ve seen many commentators talking about all the mistakes Abbott made which led him to losing his job after becoming a national joke and the most hated Prime Minister in Australia’s history. A two year blip. Sure, it was humiliating and frustrating when Abbott gave Prince Philip a knighthood, when he promised to shirt-front Putin, when he ate an onion and pretty much made everyone cringe on a daily basis with his obvious stupidity and awkward sloganeering. But those things on their own didn’t make him hated. If he was a positive, inspirational leader who hadn’t wrecked the economy, who hadn’t lied about his plans and then went about stripping funding from education, health and welfare, who wasn’t an obvious misogynist, who hadn’t waged culture wars on the Human Rights Commission, on wind farms, on the ABC and SBS, who hadn’t shut down the car manufacturing industry and spent most of his energy trying to scare voters into believing there were ISIS bogey-men under the bed through an ever growing collection of flags, all the awkward, sometimes creepy stuff would be an aside. It might even be weirdly endearing, if Abbott was a good PM. What Abbott did, which progressives need to acknowledge as a good thing, is to reveal what politicians with conservative values will do to the country given half the chance. Every single policy that Abbott produced in his first budget was a policy that he, and everyone else in his government, including Turnbull, have spent their entire political careers waiting to introduce and would introduce again given the opportunity.
Many commentators also say Abbott’s problems were bad communication skills, a lack of a narrative, an over-reliance on slogans. But they are wrong about this. It’s far simpler than that. Abbott’s policies were rejected because Australians in the majority did not like them. Abbott might have done a great job of covering up his conservative, neoliberal values whilst in opposition and the lazy, inept mainstream media was his accomplice in this game. But the blunt, uncharismatic, unintelligent, unsubtle Abbott couldn’t keep the game up for even a day once in power and that’s why everything unravelled for him so quickly. He showed who he and his colleagues really were, and then there was nowhere to hide.
So by loving Abbott for this outcome, what can progressives learn? We can learn that Australia doesn’t want a conservative government, even if it comes dressed up in a shiny, expensive Malcolm Turnbull suit. We can learn that progressives can unite and make things happen. Whether they vote Labor, Green or even accidentally voted for Abbott, if they hated Abbott, they have progressive values and so they need to be reminded they will hate Turnbull too. We Marched in March, we ranted on Twitter, we shared on Facebook, we wrote and liked Open Letters, we grew the Independent Media, and we collectively hated Abbott. So let’s bottle this hatred and make it something positive. Let’s make sure Australia never elects a conservative neoliberal wrecker of a government ever again.