By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
The March of Patriots: The Struggle for Modern Australia
By Paul Kelly (Melbourne University Publishing, $44.99, softcover, 716 pages)
Former Prime Ministers Paul Keating and John Howard are said to have been patriots at a time when patriotism had become ‘unfashionable’.
They were in two distinctly separate political camps, but Australian history was “shaped by their absolute dominance of their governments”.
A shrewd and perceptive commentator, Paul Kelly says while they were “divided by party, temperament and many values, they were united by events, pragmatism and many policies”.
They were ruthless political warriors who saw public life as an honourable calling.
Australian history is anything but boring, especially the way Paul Kelly tells it. In a detached, scientific manner he looks at Keating and Howard during the 1991-2007 era comparing them with each other, identifying things they had in common and some that they did not.
For a while at least, both men had the notorious GST and border security in common, according to Kelly, who goes on to point out that their bitter war was over this issue and examines their differing views of Australian national identity.
Kelly describes Keating as being absorbed with his “Big Picture” material; Howard’s flaw was his two-decade-old labour reform quest Workchoices; and how in the end both men fell to the arrogance of their individual beliefs.
The March of Patriot tells of the struggle for modern Australia. It is an interpretation of their efforts to construct a new framework for Australia in economics, foreign policy and social policy. It seeks to discern the meaning of their prime ministerships and their strategies for the nation.
Giving their best years to public life, they were “old-fashioned brawlers and passionate believers, the last in a dying species defined by their authenticity in a business burdened by spin, manipulation and gesture”.
Kelly makes many persuasive comparisons: Keating shopping for ideas, Howard being weak at discussing them; Keating was intellectually curious, Howard was dogmatic – yet both offered their followers new governing models based upon a reinterpretation of their party ideology.
It may not be a gripping narrative, but Kelly is appreciative and critical of things in both men which makes for a thought-provoking read.
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.