You sound a bit defensive, Glenn

I’ve never quite seen what all the fuss was about regarding Glenn Milne (well, except for his drunken buffoonery at the 2006 Walkley Awards). Pure Poison has a go at him every now and then, but he never seems to be on quite so distant an astronomical body as Andrew Bolt or Piers Ackerman, for whom communication with planet Earth is a constant struggle.

However, Milne’s take on Andrew Wilkie just seems a little unhinged. Milne is clearly armed with a lot of facts (or things than look like facts) regarding Wilkie’s history and about who said what, but he strings all this information into a tale that isn’t really all that informative and certainly not objective. Throughout the piece, Milne comes across as not much more than an angry Liberal cheerleader, not the journalist he presumably purports to be.

Milne’s main point,  insofar as I can discern it, is that Wilkie is an idiot for having relied on Liberal preferences to get elected and then supporting Labor. Milne makes a pretense of thinking this through, but doesn’t really get quite far enough.

Of course Wilkie relied on Liberal preferences – the vote was divided four ways (the fourth-placed Greens were on 19%, which is a lot more than fourth-place usually gets). Whatever happened, the Liberals were hardly going to preference Labor. This isn’t Liberal beneficence – it’s their absolute last resort to thwart their principal enemy.

Milne does tell us that, according to “senior Tasmanian Liberals”, the Liberal Party will break from this strategy next time and direct preferences to Labor instead. Milne bandies this about with both undue credulity and refusal to see its implications. No Liberal in his/her right mind is going to give an extra seat to the Labor Party just to get revenge on an independent. If that’s truly what is about to happen, then surely this says far more about the state of the Liberals than about Wilkie.

What also strikes me is that Milne, in his barely-concealed righteous anger, seems to consider that the worst outcome for Wilkie would be to lose at the next election. Really, Milne? The man is a newly-elected independent, not a career politician and certainly not a rusted-on party lackey. Maybe he has beliefs and motives that reach beyond his own parliamentary career. In the current hung parliament, he’s been presented with a golden opportunity to implement all the things he might want to. Perhaps he’s decided that this is the best chance he’ll ever have. Why would he waste his time trying to appease this tenuous, notional ally when his own goals are within reach?

Milne also engages in a rant vaguely directed against the voters. He explains:

If the voters of Denison want an independent member with a strong belief system, Wilkie is not their man. He has been on both the Left and Right of Australian politics.

If I was a voter of Denison, I might not take kindly to being lectured to like this. It’s all very simple on Planet Milne, apparently, where there are just two possible belief systems: left and right. If you don’t have either, then you don’t really have an opinion at all. I regard myself as something of a centrist, and I find the left-right dichotomy rather artificial and repulsive. Two sides, each largely defined by its hatred of the other, are so wrapped up in their little war that they truly cannot comprehend anything outside of it. Milne clearly suffers from this tunnel vision; his remarks are a complete non-sequitur. There are many, perfectly valid, principled positions that you might arrive at by taking different views on different issues.

Milne also sees fit to point out Wilkie’s past electoral defeats, calling him a “serial candidate”. Any other journalist might have looked upon this as a story of persistence and determination culminating in a fortunate and extraordinary victory. To Milne, this is the story of a loser who only won because the voters were too soft; a convenient rhetorical ploy that simultaneously dismisses the winner as illegitimate and the voters as idiots.

The “senior Tasmanian Liberals”, having established themselves above as a model of calm, thoughtful rationality, suggest that Wilkie’s win was down to his “at times moving profile” on Australian Story, and the electorate’s propensity for watching ABC. This is surely the most embarrassingly petulant and irrational excuse I’ve heard for electoral defeat. (I can’t even seem to find this mysterious Australian Story profile. Searching the Australian Story archives for “Andrew Wilkie” draws a blank, as does IMDB. I’m reluctant to say this; part of my brain is telling me that there was an Australian Story profile of Andrew Wilkie – it’s certainly plausible – but I wonder now if I was just imagining it.)

Finally, Milne makes a stab at Gillard for (partially) agreeing to one of Wilkie’s demands:

She gave him $340 million for a new Hobart hospital. That’s a hefty price tag for one vote.

Perhaps so, but this isn’t too shabby for “just another losing Greens candidate”, which was Milne’s running theme up until now. Let’s not forget that Milne’s associates were offering three times that amount for the same one vote, a comparison he studiously avoided. The very non-anonymous senior Liberal Andrew Robb was telling us that this was a “wise investment” irrespective of Wilkie’s opinions.

Milne wraps up by declaring ridiculously that Wilkie’s career is already over:

As a result, says one Tasmanian state Liberal, “He”ll be popular for a while. “But it’s a long way from 20 per cent to 50 per cent.”

That’s a reference to the next election in Denison where Wilkie will have to get 50 plus one per cent of the vote not to have to rely on Liberal preferences. Otherwise he’s gone. And in politics the numbers never lie.

“The numbers never lie” is a rather unfortunate choice of words given the Liberals’ costings fraud (because it’s really nothing less). Besides, it’s nonsense that Wilkie’s future electoral prospects rely on getting 50% plus one. He’ll certainly get Green preferences and Labor preferences. We’ll see if the Liberals’ thirst for such self-destructive retribution lasts through to the next election.