Julie Bishop: Traitor, loyal deputy or just a normal Machiavellian politician

Now that Tony Abbott has been deposed, there will be extensive analysis of the reasons for his fall and in particular the role of his deputy, Julie Bishop.

The commentary on Bishop will fall into two parts. The first is that as his deputy, Julie Bishop owed her loyalty to Tony Abbott and should not have plotted against him. The second is that she acted in the best interests of the party and that she was one of many who told Abbott of the problems he was facing.  She was in fact acting in the best interests of the country.

Julie Bishop will argue the second case and true to form she will do it intelligently and articulately.  She will argue that she did her best to inform Abbott of the rising tide of support for Malcolm Turnbull and that Abbott thought he could tough it out.

 Machiavelli said that a politician should combine the qualities of a fox and a lion
Machiavelli said that a politician should combine the qualities of a fox and a lion

There is another case to be argued and probably one that Julie Bishop would admit to if you managed to get her in a rare moment of candour (rare for Foreign Ministers).

The argument goes like this: Look, politics is about survival and the exercise of power. Ultimately, you must do anything to maintain your hold on government. It is a fact of political life that leaders are deposed particularly when the followers believe they are unable to win government under the current leadership.

When this sentiment begins to run strongly, everybody is forced to make a choice to support the leader or support the challenger.

During this process, the normal rules of human engagement go out the window. Loyalty counts for nothing, honesty and openness give way to plotting and treachery and often friendships will come from nothing.

While the process of sorting out the numbers is going on, it is absolutely imperative that those who will be behind the challenger maintain their anonymity. Anything less would be political suicide.  The subterfuges to achieve this are many and varied but none of them are particularly pretty.

So while the plotting is going on, duplicity rises to an art form.

People find ways of expressing their support for the existing leader while continuing to work for their downfall.  The most likely person to succeed the incumbent prime minister is often the deputy, the very person from whom the Prime Minister should expect the greatest loyalty. So it is the deputy was placed in the most invidious position, possibly harbouring ambitions of the top job, garnering support from the troops and endeavouring to lull the leader in to sense of false security.

At best, they will be working for their preferred candidate.

In this situation, everybody realises that the choices will have profound impact on their career prospects. Support the wrong candidate and you are doomed to political oblivion until the political cycle turns full circle.

No one should  comment on politics without having read Machiavelli’s The Prince.  Here is some of Machiavelli’s advice which applies as much to princes as it does to politicians who would aspire to be princes.

Niccolo Machiavelli
Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince should appear to be compassionate, faithful to his word, guileless, and devout. And indeed he should be so. But his disposition should be such that, if he needs to be the opposite, he knows how.” The prince must appear to be virtuous, and should be virtuous, but he should be able to be otherwise when the time calls for it; that includes being able to lie, though however much he lies he should always keep the appearance of being truthful. ( My emphasis)

Julie Bishop has now served as deputy to four Liberal party leaders (twice to Turnbull). She has also on serve the removal of Rudd and Gillard up close. So she could write the book on deposing leaders.

But we will probably not going to hear the full story until she retires and writes her memoirs.

But until then, we should remember that politics is a rough business, all good politicians are ruthlessly ambitious and that the ultimate goal of all politics is the exercise of power.

And we should not be squeamish in accepting that in the gaining and exercising the power normal morality does not apply.

Another perspective from The Age

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