My bladder is still fighting the NSW State Election. It is 5am and for the past six weeks this has been the start of my day, a time to scan the papers for titbits of fact and opinion which will be the current running through the news stories of the day. But the election is over. And we have won a second term. People talk about the joy of victory and the sadness of defeat. But it is not like that. A better comparison, in politics, is the respective feelings of relief and anger. Relief that the non-stop grind that you have put in over the course of the campaign – or in some case, years – has finally paid off. Anger because you cannot see how stupid and blind the public must have been to prefer your numbskull opponent over you.
It is the first Party Room meeting after the election. The media is set at the back of the room; everyone has their best suits and their best smiles. The ‘new chum’ MPs have been ushered into in an anteroom, so as to make their triumphant entry, although less Aida and more ‘debutante ball’. The Premier enters, standing ovation! One is reminded of the old Stalin-era dictum: the first person to stop clapping gets a bullet in the head. The new MPs themselves have been wandering around the Parliament. All approach the matter with the confused, bounding enthusiasm of a pack of puppies. It is worth remembering that the derivation of the title of Parliamentary Whip – a nod to the hunt official who tried to keep the pack of hounds together as they chased foxes over England’s green and pleasant lands.
Some of the older Members cannot resist pranking the new ones, suggesting it is immutable tradition that, on their first day, the rookies must buy lunch for their elders. ‘Is the Parliamentary dining room expensive?’ ‘Very, but the food is excellent’. Of course, when the bill comes around, the existing Members do the honourable thing and pick it up.
One breach from tradition is that mobile phones have been left on in the dining room. Everyone is waiting for ‘The Call’. Ministers fidget nervously; the Young Turks carve up the Ministry as they carve their lamb. Who is to get the gong, and who is set for the chop? The multitudes wait for the opening line: ‘Hello, it’s the Premier…’
The following day, news arrives that four former Ministers have copped the proverbial. The Premier giveth and the Premier taketh away, blessed be the name of the Premier forever. I am back as Whip in the upper house. It is not a bad job, and House of Cards has at least brought our profession a small amount of notoriety. But the truth is, under the Australian system, Whips are less the scary enforcers of the Executive’s will, and more the shop stewards of the backbench. One of the less appealing duties is the office cleanse of losing MPs. The Chief Government Whip is off on holidays and it has fallen to me to do the final once-over of departing Liberal MPs’ electorate offices, to make sure no incriminating political material is left behind. It is a bit like Mr Wolf in Pulp Fiction.
All this travel around to various parts of the state allows me time to indulge in audio books, in this case Atlas Shrugged. Go ahead, judge me, I do not care. It is a wonderful melodrama, with pantomime heroes and villains and perfect for eight hours on country roads. One disconcerting feature is that each of Dagny Taggert’s sex scenes is, technically, statutory rape under NSW law.
The staff in each electorate office are terminated. These are not permanent public servants, their careers live (and die) on the success (and failure) of their MPs. Nonetheless, they are all pretty stoic, more so than their Members, who are currently kicking cats around a room somewhere. I know what it feels like. In 1999, I ran for Drummoyne and lost. It’s a terrible feeling. Everyone gets what is known as ‘candidates disease’ – the unquenchable belief that whatever the margin is, whatever the polling, you just know you ARE going to win. Losing an election is not like losing a game of tennis. It is more like being dumped; worse, being dumped publicly, and having your girlfriend immediately walk off with some other guy. But that is always the test of a person’s mettle, how you react to unjust adversity: Angry recriminations and self-pity? Or purposeful revenge? Or affected nonchalance? Or genuine indifference? FU would know what to do.