I’ve never been a big fan of scandals, but occasionally you can’t ignore them. That’s true of the scandals currently afflicting the Labor government. As regards the Thomson accusations, if he is guilty he should resign his seat and will in any case be forced to do so if convicted. That will probably end the government if it happens, but there’s not much I can add in the way of political analysis.

The accusations against Julia Gillard published, and quickly retracted, by The Australian under Glenn Milne’s byline are a different matter. Not only has the content of the retracted article become public knowledge, but News Limited appears to be walking back from what at first appeared to be an unreserved apology, notably in comments by Hartigan and in Andrew Bolt’s column on the topic.

In these circumstances, Gillard has no alternative but to disprove the allegation that she derived a financial benefit, even unknowingly, from the fraud committed by her former boyfriend. That seems like a pretty clear-cut question of fact, which should admit a resolution even nearly 20 years after the event.

On the other hand, if the falsehood of the allegation can be proved, the case that News Limited in Australia is playing the same dirty tricks as its UK and US operations becomes all that much stronger, as does the case for treating the entire organisation as a political propaganda/lobbying operation rather than a newspaper publisher in the traditional sense. And, of course, Gillard would have a very strong case for defamation.

All of this pretty much kills my suggestion for a graceful exit by Gillard after the passage of the carbon tax. Until she can put this one to rest, a resignation would look like an admission of guilt.

Light blogging ahead

Because of writing and travel commitments, I’ll be blogging less frequently for the next few months. I’ll try to put up some open threads – please keep discussion on these threads civil and friendly, so that I don’t have to intervene in their management.

I may be some little time …

I’ve been planning for a while to write a post arguing that the one thing Julia Gillard can do to (at least, potentially) salvage her place in the history books is to secure passage of the carbon price package (and preferably the other outstanding items left over from the Rudd era, such as the mining tax legislation and health reform), then step aside, and let the Labor party choose a new leader. I was going to wait until the package was passed, but for various reasons, I’ve decided it’s time to speak up on this.

I’ve been very critical of Gillard, but I’m probably less hostile to her at this point than the majority of Australians. On the other hand, her success in holding a fragile government together, and in securing agreement on some complex pieces of policy, suggest she is much more appealing in person than her public persona would imply. My limited contacts with people who’ve worked directly with her support this view, as does the clear belief of her supporters that, if only we could see the “real Julia” we would all like her.

Unfortunately, that’s no longer a relevant possibility. After more than a year in office, there seems very little likelihood that the negative view of Gillard, based on her public record, is going to change, no matter how many rebranding exercises she undertakes. Her last chance, a big bounce when the release of the carbon price package showed the spurious nature of Abbott’s scare campaign hasn’t come off. Moreover, despite her contribution to getting the package together, she can never get past her promise that there would be no carbon price under her government. Only with a change of leader can Labor sell the carbon price.

As regards the choice of alternative, my natural inclination is for Rudd, but it seems clear that his colleagues won’t go that way, and he is doing a good job as Foreign Minister. Wayne Swan has been a good Treasurer, but he is too closely tied to the coup against Rudd and the dumping of the CPRS. Greg Combet would be my preferred choice, but Stephen Smith would also be good.

Given a change of leader, and if they aren’t forced to an election early, I think Labor still has a good chance. Abbott is incredibly unpopular, considering the circumstances, and the hostility towards Labor is very much focused on Gillard personally. If the government can survive long enough to see the carbon price in place, Abbott’s scare campaigns will collapse completely.

Soaking the rich

Matt Yglesias says

Many on the right and center indicate that in order to restore the economy, President Obama needs to do more to cater to the whims of rich businessmen. Many on the left feel that this is exactly wrong and that in order to restore the economy, President Obama needs to do more to stick it to the rich and dispossess them. History suggests that both are wrong.

He goes on to give plenty of evidence for the wrongness of the first proposition, and none at all for the second.
Read More »

The end of tyranny

The seemingly imminent downfall of Muammar Gaddafi may not represent “the end of history”, but, for the moment at least, it’s pretty close to being the end of tyranny, in the historical sense of absolute rule by an individual who has seized power, rather than acquiring it by inheritance or election. Bonapartism (if you exclude its more specialised use to refer to supporters of the Bonaparte family claim to rule France) , is probably the closest modern equivalent. Forty-odd years ago, this kind of government was the rule rather than the exception in most regions of the world (notably including South America and the Communist bloc), and was represented even in Western Europe by Franco and Salazar.

Now, there’s Mugabe clinging to a share of power in Zimbabwe, along a bunch of less prominent, but still nasty, African dictators in the classic post-colonial mode (in the original CT version of this post, I underestimated the number of these who are still around, but they are clearly a dying breed). Add in a handful of shaky-looking strongmen in the periphery of the former Soviet Union, and that’s about it for tyrants in the classical sense.

Normally classed as tyrants but not meeting the classical definition, Kim jr, Assad jr and Castro minor (and some others mentioned in comments), the first two of whom are certainly tyrannical in the ordinary modern sense, but all of whom inherited their positions, as of course, did the remaining absolute monarchs. The historical evidence, starting with Cromwell jr, and running through Baby Doc Duvalier and others is that regimes like this hardly ever make it to the third generation. They combine the low average ability inherent in hereditary systems with a lack of either royal or revolutionary, let alone democratic, legitimacy.

More interesting cases are those of Museveni in Uganda and Kagame in Rwanda, illustrations of the point that tyrants in the classic sense need not be bad, at least relative to the alternative they displaced. But these seem to be isolated examples, owing much of their appeal to the horrors that preceded them and the fear that those horrors might return.

More surprising to me are the number of cases where classic tyrants, having established one-party states, have been succeeded by self-selecting oligarchies – China is the most striking example, but Singapore also fits. Looking at the evidence of the past, I would have predicted that such oligarchies would either collapse in short order or see the emergence of a new tyrant, but there is no sign of that for the moment.

I don’t have a good theory to explain the rise of so many tyrants in the modern period, beginning with Bonaparte (or maybe Cromwell), or the sharp decline of this form of government from around the mid-1960s. But it seems that it’s a development worth noting.

fn1. Putin is often presented as being a near-dictator. But he doesn’t need to repress his opponents – it’s pretty clear he would easily win elections in Russia with or without doing so. Conversely, there’s no real evidence to suggest that he could or would hold on for long if public opinion turned sharply against him.

Planned Outage Tonight

Hello everyone, it’s your friendly Ozblogistan Tyrant here.

I plan to migrate our servers to a different data centre tonight. There will be some disruption during the move, and it may take time for your DNS records to be updated.

We’re moving from the Fremont data centre, which has turned out to be about as reliable as a Ford Pinto, to the Dallas data centre (I look forward to your big-hats-and-oil jokes).