I Was A Teenage Tory : John Hyde Page

    Some people might say my life is in a rut
    But I’m quite happy with what I got
    People might say that I should strive for more
    But I’m so happy I can’t see the point
    Something’s happening here today
    A show of strength with your boy’s brigade
    And I’m so happy and you’re so kind
    You want more money – of course I don’t mind
    To buy nuclear textbooks for atomic crimes
    And the public gets what the public wants
    But I want nothing this society’s got
    I’m going underground (going underground)
    Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
    Going underground (going underground)
    Well let the boys all sing and let the boys all shout for tomorrow

    Some people might get some pleasure out of hate
    Me, I’ve enough already on my plate
    People might need some tension to relax
    Me, I’m too busy dodging between the flak
    What you see is what you get
    You’ve made your bed, you better lie in it
    You choose your leaders and place your trust
    As their lies wash you down and their promises rust
    You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns
    And the public wants what the public gets
    But I don’t give a … what this society wants
    I’m going underground (going underground)
    Well the brass bands play and feet start to pound
    Going underground (going underground)
    So let the boys all sing and let the boys all shout for tomorrow

    We talk and we talk until my head explodes
    I turn on the news and my body froze
    There’s braying sheep on my TV screen
    ‘Make this boy shout, make this boy scream!’

    Going underground, I’m going underground!

John Hyde Page‘s autobiographical account of his seven years membership (1997 — 2004) of the NSW Young Liberals, The Education of a Young Liberal (MUP, 2006) is — as Dr. Cam has observed — very reminiscent of another work in the same vein: I Was A Teenage Fascist (McPhee Gribble, 1994) by David Greason.

Most of Page’s account is taken up with detailing the manner in which his political ambitions — in particular, assuming the Presidency of the NSW Young Liberals — has to contend with the rather tawdry, everyday machinations of the two factions which dominate the Young Tories, the ‘Right Wing’ and the ‘Moderates’. Nominally a ‘Moderate’, Page spends seven years trying to screw over his political opponents, while his political opponents, naturally enough, attempt to do the same to him.

Eventually, Page loses, and his final humiliation is losing control, not only of the ‘Moderate’ faction, but even that of his own local branch. This last event is what apparently cemented in Page’s mind his nagging suspicion that maybe there was indeed a better life awaiting him outside of the Party than within it, and that maybe now (mid-2004) was the time to start living it.

As a lawyer.

Aside from their eventual organisational loyalties, one of the main differences between the two writers, Page and Greason, is their respective social origins. Page is the “good [ie, upper-middle class] kid from the leafy eastern suburbs” of Sydney; Greason, on the other hand, is the working-class migrant from Preston, Melbourne, where “the streets are clean and the gardens are big and most of the time it’s sunny” (well, at least in comparison to the ‘English shithole’ he and his parents left when Greason was aged seven). And while Page attended Cranbrook, and then the University of Sydney, Greason attended Lakeside, and then LaTrobe University.

But while Page’s political trajectory seems fairly unremarkable to me — an ignorant, privileged young man with no discernible political beliefs, outside of or apart from the defence of privilege, joins a political Party with no discernible political philosophy outside of or apart from a defence of same — Greason’s descent into the gutter politics of local neo-Nazi organising (especially in the shape of James Saleam‘s National Action) is far more compelling, revealing and… well… educational. In fact, while Page appears to spend the bulk of the seven years he endured in the NSW Young Liberals being a hack — and demonstrating that ‘From Private School Boy To Hardened Political Hack’ is indeed a very brief journey — Greason explores much more interesting, and neglected, political territory; one replete with the kind of flakes previously immortalised in John Harcourt‘s Everyone Wants to be Fuhrer (1972).

According to David Humphries:

[Page’s] general thesis, however, is indisputable. Organisational politics, regrettably, is disillusioning because idealism is subverted in the name of winner takes all. Up goes the cry: crush the rival first, then we’ll turn to policy. For too many, the fun is in the former. And it’s so exhausting, there’s little energy for the latter.

Page elaborates on this thesis — first articulated in the closing pages of his book — in an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald (July 21, 2006) as a response to a column by Miranda Devine. Page argues:

Essentially the black arts are driven by two forces. The declining membership of political parties means that the stacking in of a couple of hundred tame voting drones can often be decisive in a preselection. Increasingly it also means there is no middle ground of decent, independent-minded people in political parties to react with disgust to the act of stacking itself, as well as other bad behaviour. Brutal factionalism thus pays many dividends, and does not entail significant costs for those who practise it.

The other key force has been the emergence, since the 1970s, of large taxpayer-funded staffing budgets for MPs. This has created a raft of sinecures for the young men and women I describe as factional hacks, and allows them to spend almost every hour of the day engaging in factional activity and pursuing destructive politics. It is the interactions of these people that give the interior of the Liberal Party its revolting texture.

The solution must involve getting more genuine, independent-minded people into the party to dilute the power that comes from stacking branches.

That, and cutting away the economic support for people who undertake factional activity: activity that some are keen to justify, but which is unjustifiable.

On the student ‘Left’, “the raft of sinecures” for young factional hacks within the ALP has traditionally been supplemented by the flatulent corpse of the NUS, and the Liberals desire to see it, and other, sub-national (and grossly mis-named) ‘student unions’ destroyed has recently met with success in the form of Voluntary Student Unionism or VSU (also known, somewhat less flatteringly, as Anti Student Organisation Legislation or ASOL). On December 9, 2005, the Higher Education Support Amendment (Abolition of Compulsory Up-front Student Union Fees) Bill 2005 [PDF] was passed in the Senate (with the crucial support of far right Christian Senator Steve Fielding), and received the ‘Royal Assent’ (Australia is technically speaking a ‘constitutional monarchy’) two weeks later, on December 19, 2005. As a result, since July 1, 2006, Australian universities have faced fines of $100 per student for compelling payment for any non-academic good or service…

For more on the Young Tories, see Let’s do the Kutasi! | A Tory perspective on VSU is provided by Edwin Dyga in ‘The NUS versus Freedom of Association’, Quadrant, Vol.49, No.5, May 2005 | On VSU, see also Dude, where’s my student union?; Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU); VSU cont.; discipline & punish | On Page’s Education, see also fellow Liberal Andrew Welder‘s caustic review; John Griffiths describes the book as not “just a great book about modern politics in Australia, [but] also a great book about modern Australians”; Dr John Hewson‘s speech at the launch of Page’s book (August 3, 2006 at Parliament House) is offered up for the gnawing criticism of virtual mice here; while Tom Richardson (State political reporter for Nine News Adelaide), has some reflections on the manner in which ‘Part hack-packs inflict terrible damage’.

As for Greason, an interview from the Environmental Leninist (No.163, October 19, 1994), which took place shortly after the publication of his book, contains the following reflection on anti-fascism and ‘the Left’:

What role do you see the left playing in any anti-fascist movement?

It’s vitally important for the left to be involved because, apart from the Jewish community, the left is the only group active in anti-fascist politics. The Jewish community focuses more on intelligence and monitoring. The left are the only ones to confront the fascists on the streets. If the left wasn’t there, who would be?

The two things that are needed are, firstly, no sectarianism, not only amongst the left but also moving out into gay groups and women’s groups. When we talk about fascism, people automatically think of attacks on people of other races, but it’s anti-racist activists or gays who are often the brunt of violence by these groups. That doesn’t mean that Asians don’t get attacked; they do. But the brunt of fascist attacks is borne by anti-Nazis.

When Nazis operate in a particular community, like Brunswick, it is important to get the rest of that community active against them. People don’t like Nazis. The Brunswick thing [an anti-Nazi demonstration in March] was brilliant. I noticed some correspondence in Green Left criticising the egg throwers, but National Action haven’t come back since, nor will they.

Two curious facts concerning this demonstration: one, the eggs (and tomatoes) were provided by friendly local shopkeepers; two, footage of the egg which landed in NA Fuhrer Michael Brander‘s mouth was featured as the ‘Goal of the Week’ later that week on The Footy Show, to much laughter and applause. Of course, Brander himself has since been welcomed with open arms into the Quadrant fold (perhaps as a nod and a wink in the direction of the magazine’s historical affiliation to ‘Anti-Communism’, who knows?).

    It’s not important for you to know my name –
    Nor I to know yours
    If we communicate for two minutes only
    It will be enough!

    For knowing that someone in this world
    Feels as desperate as me –
    And what you give is what you get!

    It doesn’t matter if we never meet again –
    What we have said will always remain
    If we get through for two minutes only
    It will be a start!

    For knowing that someone in this life
    Loves with a passion called hate
    And what you give is what you get!

    If I never ever see you –
    If I never ever see you –
    If I never ever see you – again

    And what you give is what you get!

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2020 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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