Former n Prime Minister Tony Abbott gives The Margaret Thathcher Lecture at a banquet for The Margaret Thatcher Centre held at London’s Guildhall. Picture: Julian Andrews
‘‘GOD save us always,’’ the novelist Graham Greene once wrote, ‘‘from the innocent and the good’’.
I wonder what Greene, a Catholic, would have made of the speech given by Tony Abbott in London this week.
While he seems intent on hanging grimly to what’s left of his parliamentary career, the former prime minister is apparently unhampered by his duties as member for Warringah, and found time to pop across to the old country to deliver the second Margaret Thatcher lecture.
You might say that Mr Abbott’s argument, that the ‘‘wholesome instinct’’ to love your neighbour as yourself has led Europe to make a ‘‘catastrophic error’’ in its response to the Syrian refugee crisis, fits neatly with Greene’s point.
The 1955 novel The Quiet American, from which I pulled the line, is set during the French war in Vietnam, and follows a cynical British journalist and an idealistic American CIA agent – two frenemies, to put it in contemporary terms.
The American – inexperienced and naive – is determined to make a difference in the conflict, but in the end his interventions only cause more harm.
In the context of ’s immigration policy, it is hard not to be reminded of the Left’s determined moral righteousness.
While decrying the government’s asylum seeker policy as fundamentally wrong, there seems to be no practical humane alternative to achieve what has become, rightly or wrongly, the electorate’s main concern; thatis, ‘‘stopping the boats’’.
Faced with an electorate more concerned with stopping brown people reaching our shores than a humane resettlement policy, the government has struck a sort of Faustian Pact in the interest of holding power, while the liquid-spined Labor Party follow along at its heels.
And there is no question that they have succeeded.
But, listening to Mr Abbott speak, I was struck, not for the first time, at the narrow lens through which he seems to view the world.
At the black-tie dinner, which cost £250 a head and, if you were wondering, featured Scottish lobster and Poached Hereford Tournedos on the menu, he lectured the crowd on how the continent’s compassion towards refugees risked ‘‘a tide of humanity surging through Europe and quite possibly changing it forever’’.
Plenty has been written about the stunning obtuseness of those comments.
As if ’s policy of towing refugees back to Indonesia where – although they are reduced to a status as an essentially non-person – they aren’t shot, could or should be copy and pasted onto the literally millions fleeing civil war in Syria and the threat of Islamic State.
His comments seem to me to display a different kind of naivety. That of the blinkered ideologue.
I was living in England in 2009, and remember laughing out loud when I heard that the man I had always viewed as a sort of conservative conscience for the Liberal Party had become its leader.
He represented a sliver of modern life. The arch-conservative whose views, while not part of the fringe, still seemed antiquated.
The elevation of his sort of evangelical take on life seemed entirely out of step with what is generally a fairly moderate n public.
There was no way, I thought, that he could be acceptable to the average voter.
I turned out to be wrong.
But, now, unshackled from the chains of moderation that high office required, and with the (steadily decreasing) diplomatic heft that being a former n prime minister brings, Mr Abbott has decided to take his show on the road.
Still relatively young in political terms, he now gets to turn statesman, introducing the expanded version of his famous three-word slogans to a global stage.
There is another Greene line that springs to mind: ‘‘Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell,’’ he wrote, ‘‘wandering the world, meaning no harm’’.