Malcolm Tucker, the foul-mouthed spin doctor from the TV sitcom The Thick of It, would love him. Australia’s employment minister, Bill Shorten, behaved like a well-trained pet when he was asked on live television to comment on a statement by his prime minister, Julia Gillard. “I haven’t seen what she said,” he declared, with a valiant and partly successful attempt not to squirm, “but I support what my PM said.” Pressed further, he reiterated: “My view is what the PM’s view is. I don’t know what that is, but I’m sure she’s right.”
British politicians must surely learn from this. Independent thinking is overvalued. The democratic process has no room for mavericks, individuals, dissidents or any sort of conscience.
The prime minister had commented on claims of sexual harassment by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper. She might have called for his exoneration or his ritual disembowelling. Shorten, in automaton mode, didn’t know and didn’t care. Thank goodness he avoided those words that would have condemned him utterly as unfit to govern: “Sorry, nothing to say.”