Monday, June 07, 2010

A Mug's Game


Picture: Ray Strange. Source: The Australian


Friends laugh at me because I'm so superstitious. But I would not be Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd right now, not for all the tea in the China he has been so publicly exposed traducing. More on that in a minute, I just have to knock three times on wood before I can go on. One can't be too careful.

While we're on the subject of china, the tea-conveying kind rather than the tea-growing kind, the story has just, er, broken that two hundred of the fine porcelain commemorative specimens pictured above have been destroyed today because of an embarrassing typo involving US President Barack Obama's name. Take a minute to let that sink in, while I circle the Seat of Pants scarab eight times to ward off the Bad Spelling Fairy.

The mugs, commissioned by the Department of Parliamentary Services, went on sale in Canberra this morning. It's not clear yet but the outlet seems to have been a gift shop attached to Parliament House. Two were sold before an unusually literate staff member noticed the error. I haven't looked on e-Bay but I'm guessing they're already up for resale.

Secretary of Parliamentary Services Alan Thompson, demonstrating his own impressive command of the English language, took responsibility.

"We've got to take accountability for the misspelling," he told The Australian Online.

Let's hope that involves ensuring that Parliamentary Services copywriters have graduated from primary school. I have an even better idea - promote the gift shop salesperson to Head of Communications and Marketing.

Back to the subject of superstition. This is a bad, bad omen. For a start, President Obama last week cancelled his trip to Australia - for the second time. Why anyone thought it was a good idea to put the mugs on sale despite there being no actual visit to celebrate is something of a mystery, whether or not you believe in throwing spilt salt across your left shoulder.

A newspaper poll released this morning puts the Opposition in a winning position for the first time. The Prime Minister's personal approval rating has also plummeted. Not good news when there is an election due before the end of the year. Rudd was counting on the Obama visit for a pre-election bounce.

As if this isn't bad enough, a major essay has just been published styling Kevin Rudd as a politician 'with rage at his core'. From The Milkybar Kid to Mr Angry in thirty months is quite an achievement. In the last year or so we have become accustomed to the PM's short-fuse displays over his government's string of seemingly intractable balls-ups but the revelation of his outburst over China's manipulation of the Copenhagen talks comes as a real surprise.

Essayist David Marr reports Rudd reacted to China's intransigence in the face of a looming agreement deadline thus,

"Those Chinese fuckers are trying to rat-fuck us."

I must admit I have been in bad company in my time but never heard the expression 'rat-fuck' before. Perhaps it makes more sense in Mandarin. Let's hope not. It seems incongruous to me that Rudd was so wrong-footed by China's tactics. He's supposed to be the foreign affairs expert. Has he not heard of the diplomatic hand where you lose if the other guy is holding all the best cards? I guess it's a case of who rat-fucks wins.

All in all, not a good week for Kevin Rudd, and it's only Monday. I think there is a lesson for this Government in these comprehensive communications failures. The devil might not actually be in the detail itself but in the proof-reading of that detail.

I must go now and start stringing up garlic. By the end of the year we could have a Prime Minister called Abbott with a deputy called Bishop and I'm going to need all the boxed sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ever released to deal with that possibility.