Julia Gillard as manager

A description of former Australian PM Julia Gillard’s parliamentary and office management style, by former staffer Nicholas Reece:

Gillard is one of the best close-quarters politicians the Federal Parliament has ever seen.
As prime minister, she ran a disciplined, professional office that operated in much the same way as a well-run law firm – a product of her early career at Slater & Gordon.
Cabinet process was strictly upheld and the massive flow of administrative and policy paperwork that moves between government departments, the prime minister’s office and the prime minister’s desk was dealt with efficiently.
There was courtesy shown to staff, MPs, public servants and stakeholders – every person entitled to a view was given a chance to express it before a decision was made.
Gillard would diligently work her way through the detail of an issue and then patiently execute an agreed plan to tackle it.
She was generous with her time and did not rush people in the way busy leaders often do. She was never rude and never raised her voice, unless for humorous purposes.
She had a quick mind and could master a brief at lightning speed. She was a masterful parliamentary tactician and a brilliant analyst of the day’s events and the politics of the Labor caucus. She was a genuinely affectionate person and had a quick wit that could be deployed to lift the spirits of those around her.
At her instigation, birthdays were the subject of office celebration. This would involve Gillard turning up for cake and delivering a very personal speech to even the most junior staff.
Significantly for a national leader, Gillard had no major personality defects. She is probably the most normal, down-to-earth person to have served as prime minister of Australia in the modern era.
In a crisis, she was supremely calm. While others wilted, Gillard had a resilience that allowed her to keep stepping up to the plate.
She was good at remembering people’s names, knowing their story, understanding their motivations and being able to see a situation from another’s perspective.
These were attributes that were very well suited to the fraught circumstances of the 43rd Parliament.
In the negotiations with the crossbench MPs to form government, Gillard easily outmanoeuvred Tony Abbott. She better understood the independents’ motivations – she focused on the detail of how the relationship between government and the crossbenches would work and committed to serving the full term.
The achievements include: the national broadband network, putting a price on carbon, education reform, children’s dental care and the national disability insurance scheme.
In federal-state relations, there was the negotiation of health reform with the conservative premiers and in foreign affairs there was a strengthening of relations with our major partners, particularly China and the US.
Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that Gillard was well-liked, even loved, among her staff, the public service and most of her caucus.”


Ineffective imperalism

British MP, Rory Stewart, has spoken in Parliament of our failure to deeply understand the cultures of the foreign countries we invade, with the consequence that invasion efforts are doomed not to succeed.   His view relates to an argument he has put before, about the failure of contemporary international aid organizations and personnel to reckon deeply with the cultures of their host countries, in a manner profoundly worse than that of 19th-century colonial administrators.   Colonial administrators may have typically been racist and exploitative, but at least they cared for – and sought to understand – the cultures and languages of the countries they administered, and were prepared to devote their working lives to those countries.
Video here and Hansard Transcript here.  (Note that in his speech, Stewart refers to Gordon Brown by name, but the Hansard reporter has recorded this as, “the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown)“.)

Rudd 2.0

Australian journalist Anne Summers writing about just-deposed (and unjustly-deposed) Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s legacy (original here):

On the day Julia Gillard’s signature policy revolution, the Gonski reforms, became law, her prime ministership was defamed and denigrated, characterised as being littered with errors. Those who tore her down gave her no credit for any of her accomplishments as our country’s leader. Not for the 532 pieces of legislation that, by Wednesday night, had passed both houses of Parliament this sitting. Remember, this was a hung Parliament where every piece of legislation needed to be painstakingly negotiated.
Julia Gillard told me recently (in an interview that will be published this weekend in my digital magazine Anne Summers Reports) that because of the minority Parliament, ”It’s more inclusive on the one hand and that’s not a bad thing, but it can be slower and can distort the process a little bit.”
By far the hardest but the most worthwhile piece of legislation to be passed, Gillard said, was the carbon price, which she is confident will endure.
Yet when Kevin Rudd spoke after his shameful coup on Wednesday night and praised ”Julia” for being ”a remarkable reformer”, he did not mention a single one of her prime ministerial accomplishments. Not the carbon price. Not the NDIS. Not the Murray-Darling agreement. Not the Gonski reforms. And certainly not her historic agreement with the new Chinese leadership that ensures an unprecedented annual leadership dialogue between our two countries, something that Rudd while he was prime minister was unable to bring off. No, Rudd did not mention any of these things.
”In Julia’s case let me say this, if it were not for Julia we would not have the Fair Work Act,” he said. ”If it were not for Julia, we would not have a national scheme which ensures that the literacy and numeracy performance of Australian schools is tested regularly and that interventions occur to lift those students who are doing poorly.”
All things she accomplished while she was deputy prime minister. And, the subtext was, while he – the man mocking her by outfitting himself in a blue tie for the coup – was prime minister.
Expect Julia Gillard’s record of reform to be swiftly excised from the political memory of the Labor Party. It started on Wednesday night and will continue apace.”

Of course, Kevin Rudd’s egotistical, erratic and hard-driving management style (Rudd Version 1.0) would not have lasted very long in a hung Parliament.   Perhaps Rudd Version 2.0 comes with added humility, although there are no signs of it so far.   If not, I don’t see Kevin-13 lasting very long or achieving very much.  In the words of Energy and Resources Minister, Gary Gray, last week, Rudd can “get himself into the media … what he can’t do is govern and what he can’t do is lead the Labor party”.
POSTSCRIPT (Added 2013-06-29):
From  The Stalking of Julia Gillard, by Kerry-Anne Walsh. (Published on Tuesday by Allen & Unwin, Australia, excerpted here.)
In the words of a former high-level Rudd adviser who penned a personal, unpublished account of his time in the Rudd government, the way Rudd operated was ”a powerful warning for future governments … The Rudd government was never and could never have been a functional government because of the man who ran it.” This adviser was in a trusted position; he was intimate with the running and functioning of Rudd’s cabinet and at the centre of much of its day-to-day mayhem.
Once deposed, Rudd’s toxic ambition appears to have been either to return to the leadership, or to destroy both the government that had dumped him and the woman who had replaced him. In this pursuit he was abetted by political journalists who became pawns in his comeback play, channelling the Chinese whispers of his spruikers and giving credibility and substance to exaggerated claims about the pretender’s level of support within the parliamentary party for a comeback.

Privately, there had always been deep unease among his colleagues about Rudd — his overpowering personal ambition, his ruthless use of people and power blocs to get the leader’s job, his lack of strong policy focus and his uneven temperament.
The oft-quoted fable that his crash in the opinion polls was the reason for his removal is hotly disputed by those central to Rudd’s fate. Anybody who had an ear to the ground in Canberra at the time knew Rudd was in a bad way; that he’d been unravelling since the disaster of the December 2009 climate change summit in Copenhagen; that his office, his department and the wider bureaucracy were paralysed by a prime minister who could not make the big decisions, but who sweated the minutiae of irrelevant tasks and board appointments; that he was so obsessed with polling numbers and day-to-day politics that months into 2010, with an eye to the election, he was designing ever more extravagant and untenable policies that would provide him with the quick fixes of media limelight he appeared to need.”

POSTSCRIPT 2 (Added 2013-06-30):
And here is Independent MP Robert Oakeshott’s moving Parliamentary tribute to Julia Gillard and her prime ministership.  Gillard met with the Independent and Green MPs each week during Parliamentary sittings to discuss and co-ordinate policy, so Oakeshott is speaking from direct personal experience.  

Distortions of history

Surfing idly, I came across this statement:

In 1958 Arthur Lewis married Gladys and moved to Rhodesia. Their first appointment to St. Faith’s Mission in Rusape proved to be something of a nightmare. While the mission had once been very successful, social work and the attached farm had come to take over and the Gospel work was side-lined. Rev. Lewis soon discovered that the farm was also used as a front for a communist revolutionary movement. After much hard work and a determined struggle, Arthur Lewis was able to re-establish the Church and Mission as a dynamic Christian enterprise. Amidst all the trauma of St. Faith’s Mission, their first child, Margaret Faith was born.”  (Source here.)

Wait a minute!  Communist revolutionaries in Rhodesia in 1958?  The first armed incursion in what became the Second Chimurenga took place in 1967 (and was undertaken by South Africans with the ANC, members of MK, and not Zimbabweans), and the war of liberation only took off from the early 1970s.  In 1958, neither ZANU nor ZAPU had yet been formed.  Of course, Doris Lessing and her then husband Gottfried Lessing, and their left-wing Royal Air Force friends in the Southern Rhodesia Communist Party may have counted as communist revolutionaries in the mid 1940s – although they only ever talked – but they had had little impact and were by then long gone from Rhodesia.
After a moment or two, I realized that there was a clue in the location:  St Faith’s, Rusape.  This was the site of a very famous multi-racial co-operative farm founded by Guy and Molly Clutton-Brock in 1950.   In 1957, the Clutton-Brocks and their colleagues on the farm were instrumental in founding a non-racial political movement, the Southern Rhodesian African National Congress (SRANC), which like its South African counterpart (itself founded as long ago as 1912!) called for majority rule.  The SRANC was successful in convincing the then Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister, Garfield Todd, of the justice of their case, but he could not persuade his own party or his (mostly white) parliamentary colleagues.  He was dumped, and the new PM banned the SRANC in 1959.
At no point was anyone a communist revolutionary, unless you happen to believe that running a multi-racial commercial enterprise is communist.  But, of course, many white Rhodesians did!
POSTSCRIPT (2013-07-03):  Molly Clutton-Brock died shortly after this post.

Recent reading 7

The latest in a sequence of lists of recently-read books:

  • Igor Lukes [2012]: On the Edge of the Cold War: American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague.  Oxford University Press.   Some comments here.
  • Randall Woods [2012]: Shadow Warrior: William Egan Colby and the CIA.  Basic Civitas Books. Colby comes across as remarkably liberal, pragmatic and sensible in this account of his life, promoting agrarian socialism and grass-roots democracy to beat the communists in South Vietnam, for example.
  • Roger Hermiston [2013]:  The Greatest Traitor: The Secret Lives of Agent George Blake.  Aurum Press.
  • C P Snow [1969]:  Variety of Men.  Penguin Books, second edition. (HT:  Saul Smilansky at Normblog.)
  • Charlotte Joko Beck [1997]: Everyday Zen: Love and Work.  Thorsons.
  • James Button [2013]:  Speechless: A Year in my Father’s Business.  Melbourne University Press.   A mention here.
  • Robert Dessaix [2012]: As I was Saying.  Random House Australia.  A typically erudite collection of talks and essays, as smooth as a gimlet.
  • Charles S. Maier [1999]:  Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany.  Princeton University Press.
  • Meredith Maran (Editor) [2013]:  Why We Write.  Plume.
  • Marci Shore [2013]:  The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe.  Crown Publishing Group, New York.
  • Thomas Nagel [2012]:  Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False.  Oxford University Press USA.  Any book so heavily criticized by Brian Leiter has to be of great value, and this was.

The photo shows the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm, from 1954 home of the Berliner Ensemble.

Czechoslovakian betrayals

Czechoslovakians have reason to resent their betrayal by Britain and France at Munich in 1938.  They were betrayed again, by the same nations, when Hitler’s invasion in March 1939 was not immediately resisted by the western allies.  Reading a fine new book by Igor Lukes, it seems these betrayals continued through the post-war period.  Here were three:

Prague was liberated by the Red Army in May 1945.  It could easily have been liberated by US forces, which were closer than Soviet troops, but allied forces were stayed.  Against the advice of the US State Department and the British Government, General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, declined to liberate Prague, halting allied troops in Pilsen, western Bohemia.    Stalin, who had threatened dark consequences if allied forces advanced first on Prague, found that bellicosity achieved desired ends, a lesson the Soviets would take to heart.

Prior to Yalta, FDR had appointed Laurence Steinhardt (1892-1950) as ambassador to Czechoslovakia.   Steinhardt took months to arrive in Prague, and spent enourmous time out of the country:  From January 1947 to February 1948, he was away from his post some 200 days (Lukes 2013, page 182).  Most of this time, and even for much of the time he was in Prague, he was busy with his corporate law practice in New York, a business he continued all the time he was employed to represent the USA.  He also ignored many conflicts of interest as people and companies with Czech or Slovak connections used his paid legal counsel while he was Ambassador (!) to seek compensation or redress for various policy actions of the Nazi-era and post-war governments.   Steinhardt was rich and socially well connected, and mixed exclusively in similar circles on his apparently rare visits to Prague.  Despite having a good analytical mind, and despite knowing Stalinism well at first hand (having earlier been US ambassador to the USSR), he was singularly ill-informed about events on the ground in Czechoslovakia.   He was consistently and persistently optimistic in his reports back to Washington about the prospects for democracy against the ruthless thugs of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (Komunistická strana Ceskoslovenska, KSC), and their Soviet masters.

The US mission to Prague included intelligence-gathering agents and groups of various stripes, some of whom were employed by the US Military Mission.  These groups were apparently infiltrated by Czech and Soviet double agents.  (Some, of course, may have been triple agents – really, at heart, working for the US – but likely not all were.)  They were also spied on by all manner of local employees, contacts and passers-by.   Whether or not the US civilian or military employees were working for the other side, most were incompetent and negligent to the point of malfeasance.   As just one of many tragic examples, the key building occupied by the Military Mission had no late-night access, except through a police-station next door.  Late visitors to the mission were thus readily monitored by the Czech secret police, the StB.   Lukes’ book reads, at times, like farce – OSS and CIA meet the Keystone Cops.

Even after the boost given to the KSC by the presence of the Red Army in Prague in 1945, the coup in February 1948 that took Czechoslovakia from a semi-free country to a police state was not ever inevitable.  The malfeasance and incompetence of US military and embassy officials helped make it so.


Not everyone in the KSC was craven or a thug; the party also included some heroes.

The photo shows Milada Horáková (1901-1950), brave Czech politician and social democrat, imprisoned by the Nazis and then again by the Communists.  After a show-trial alleging treason, she was executed by Gottwald’s regime on 27 June 1950.  Now in the Czech Republic, this date is an official day of commemoration for the Victims of Communism.


Igor Lukes [2012]: On the Edge of the Cold War:  American Diplomats and Spies in Postwar Prague.  New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press.

String theorists in knots

Last week’s Observer carried a debate over the status of string theory by a theoretical physicist, Michael Duff,  and a science journalist, James Baggott.  Mostly, they talk past each other.   There is much in what they say that could provoke comment, but since time is short,  I will only comment on one statement.
Duff’s final contribution includes these words:

Finally, you offer no credible alternative. If you don’t like string theory the answer is simple: come up with a better one. “

This is plain wrong for several reasons.  First, we would have no scientific progress at all if critics of scientific theories first had to develop an alternative theory before they could advance their criticisms.   Indeed, public voicing of criticisms of a theory is one of the key motivations for other scientists to look for alternatives in the first place.  So Duff has the horse and the cart backwards here.  
Secondly, “come up with a better one“?   “better“?     What means “better“?  Duff has missed precisely the main point of the critics of string theory!  We have no way of knowing – not even in principle, let alone in practice – whether string theory is any good or not, nor whether it accurately describes reality.  We have no experimental evidence by which to assess it, and most likely (since it posits and models alleged additional dimensions of spacetime that are inaccessible to us) not ever any way to obtain such empirical evidence.    As I have argued before, theology has more empirical support – the personal spiritual experiences of religious believers and practitioners – than does string theory.    So, suppose we did come up with an alternative theory to string theory:  how then could we tell which theory was the better of the two?   
Pure mathematicians, like theologians, don’t use empirical evidence as a criterion for evaluating theories.  Instead, they use subjective criteria such as beauty, elegance, and self-coherence.   There is nothing at all wrong with this.  But such criteria ain’t science, which by its nature is a social activity.

Fathers of the Church

Yale theologian Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006) was once asked by some friends to join a social event.   However, he had work to do, so he replied:  “I need to spend some time in the library with the Fathers, not time in the bar with the brothers.”   (HT:  LR)

Destroying the Greek economy

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Telegraph:

The Troika originally said that Greece’ economy would contract by 2.6pc in 2010 under the austerity regime, before recovering with growth of 1.1pc in 2011, and 2.1pc in 2012.
In fact, Greek GDP remained in an unbroken free-fall. It did not grow in either year. It contracted a further 7.1pc in 2011, 6.4pc in 2012.
Roughly speaking, the Troika misjudged the scale of economic decline over three years by 12pc of GDP. The total decline will be around 25pc, surely a Great Depression.
Don’t tell it was hard to foresee. The Greek Labour Institute and the think tank IOVE produced very accurate forecasts. The truth is that the Troika’s ideology of “expansionary fiscal contraction” is bunk, and doubly dangerous when compounded by tight money.
Like the Spartans, Thebans, and Thespians at the Pass of Thermopylae, the Greeks were sacrificed to buy time for the alliance.
Instead of applause, they were then vilified for their heroic efforts by ill-informed and self-interested Dutch, Finnish, Austrian, and German politicians. A squalid episode.

Self-rebutting arguments

The Bank of England has been criticized because the next person selected to appear on English banknotes – Winston Churchill, on the 5-pound note – is again male, which will mean that all the figures selected to appear on English banknotes for their contributions to society will be men.   Caroline Criado-Perez has begun a legal campaign against this blatent sexism, and all power to her.
One response she has apparently encountered is that this matter is too trivial an issue for anyone to be concerned about.  But that particular argument is self-rebutting:  If the placement of images of women on national banknotes is trivial and without significant material consequences, then why not do it?!    The strength of the Bank of England’s dismissal of her campaign would seem to indicate that – to them, at least – the matter is not at all trivial.    Perhaps we should not be surprised by antediluvial attitudes to gender from an organization whose front-doormen still dress in 18th-century clothes and top-hats.
The stated criteria for appearing on banknotes apparently includes: “the person should not be controversial”.  How, then, I wonder did Winston Churchill, to this day distrusted in Australia as the chief architect of the disaster at Gallipoli, find himself selected?