Imagine this. Peter Slipper, Liberal MP is fast losing favour with his peers. Their leader, Tony Abbott, admits to looking for ways to get rid of him. Mr Slipper meets a young man called James Ashby and feels an attraction. He attempts to persuade Mr Ashby to come and work for him. But the young man quite likely perceives that Slipper’s on the wane, and maybe not such a good prospect for on-going employment.
Then, by a bizarre convergence of bizarre circumstances outwardly set in motion when the ALP gave Kevin Rudd the flick but undoubtedly in play long before any of us punters were aware of such machinations, Peter Slipper finds himself, courtesy of the ALP, in the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Representatives, reborn, newly robed and now in a position to give those who would have seen him gone the big finger.
Suddenly Mr Ashby wants that job. Now, this could well be because Mr Ashby is possessed of a healthy ambition, and Slipper’s sudden elevation makes working for him a whole other thing, as they say in The West Wing. But imagine another scenario. The LNP, finally rid of Slipper in one sense as he resigns and becomes an Independent, may feel itself outwitted by the Gillard government’s nifty move, quite likely highly aggravated, and chafing under Slipper’s authority at Question Time.
So somebody sets a honey trap. Slipper has a record of complaints of alleged sexual harassment against him. There’s allegedly video of him in an “intimate” situation with a young man on a bed. He’s already expressed more than a passing interest in Mr Ashby. So now might be a very good time for Mr Ashby to accept that job offer, mightn’t it? Who knows what might come of it? It could even bring down the government.
The subsequent text messages and emails indicate Mr Slipper’s interest in Mr Ashby, which was interpreted by Mr Ashby as sexual harassment. The matter is now subject to civil proceedings.
My primary objection to the honey trap option is that I find it hard to believe the Coalition has the brains to put this together. But they might have hired consultants.
If this was The West Wing Peter Slipper would know that his duty was not to himself but to the men and women who saved him from mediocrity and obscurity. He would recognise that for him to reappear in the Speaker’s Chair when Parliament sits next (yes, I know, they are two entirely different systems of government but suspend disbelief) will be nothing short of farcical, and will set in motion a series of events that could well see the country under the leadership of the Dark One. If this was The West Wing, Slipper would sacrifice anything to avoid that outcome, especially his short-lived career as Speaker. He would stand aside until all allegations against him are dealt with.
In The West Wing everybody has their fair share of flaws from POTUS down. But what binds them is their goal: to keep POTUS where he is. They manage to overcome all personal differences, scandals, and weaknesses in their pursuit of this goal. This is what eventually drove me nuts about the show, but I could be wildly wrong. That tight-knit group gathered round Jed Bartlet seem to lack malice and ego. Even in their most flawed moments they convey a fundamental decency and an inherent capacity for redemption. I find this unrealistic, and just too damn sweet for my taste, but then I love Tony Soprano.
However, as someone pointed out the other day, in the cut throat race to become Presidential Candidate all manner of mud is slung, and many arrows fired. When it’s over, everyone gets behind the chosen one because getting your party into the White House supercedes personal rivalry, hatred, ambition and apparently most human flaws. Bartlett’s merry band of quippers take this to another level and seem to care for one another better than even Jesus’s disciples. As someone who grew up in the shadow of the Australian political system I’m calling bollocks on that.
However, there’s no doubt we could do with a bit of this kind of loyalty in Australian politics. Peter Slipper has the opportunity to demonstrate how it’s done. He owes the Gillard government big time. They took a punt on him when everybody else was plotting his downfall. It’s not their fault it turned sour. The most ethical move available to Slipper at this point is to quietly withdraw until the civil proceedings have been resolved and if this was The West Wing, he’d have announced it already.
As far as the civil proceedings are concerned, it may well be that the last thing the LNP wants is to see them fought out in court. Awkward questions will no doubt be asked of James Ashby, such as who briefed him on Slipper’s alleged peccadilloes in 2003 and why? Who is financing the court action? How much simpler if the government falls, the Dark One leads his people into the Lodge, and the civil case is quietly withdrawn, never to be heard of again?
Of course with the exception of President Bartlet The West Wing crowd aren’t politicians, perhaps this is the difference. But wait. The episode I watched last night featured a rather nasty Republican hell-bent on unearthing an ancient scandal about White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry. At the last minute he was confronted by a Good Republican Man who told him muckraking was killing their party and it had to stop. The nasty man’s efforts were thwarted. I did not find this believable. I’m sorry. I did not.