I don’t know whether reporters react today the same way that newsroom types of my era did whenever we were blessed with incidents of political infighting and cannibalism.
But I can vouch for the fact that most of my contemporaries would float with pleasure when the politicians would start to eat each other raw, especially when the feeding frenzy occurred in a very public way, an opportunity for the reportorial buzzards to circle overhead in anticipation of savouring every delectable chunk of entrails.
In this day and age of caution and political correctness, reporters are probably reluctant to admit to the fun of the feast. Plus, the political battles, for the most part,
have been far too civilized and we’ve been largely deprived of the nomadic excursions of the type we saw last week when Tom Osborne, a one-time cabinet minister relegated to the inconspicuous backbenches by his hero, Danny Williams, told all of us he no longer liked the cut of Kathy Dunderdale’s jib, and had to put some legislative floor space between him and the premier.
The memory neurons have taken a beating with increasing age, but I can recall back in my days of barking at the heels of politicians that there seemed to be numerous examples of floor-crossings or disenchanted MHAs backbiting his or her leader.
It was always the ultimate he said/she said scenario. You never knew who was really telling the absolute truth. But that was part of the fun: just watching and listening to the politicians trying to out-screw each other.
You didn’t really care who won, either.
These were/are politicians, employed in the most consistently self-serving profession in the free world. Just about everything they say or do is designed to promote themselves.
So it was, and still is, easy to derive sick pleasure when they start to gobble each other up.
Now take last week: maybe Osborne thought he’d get an easy ride, just come galloping in on his lily white stallion of sincerity, making sure to appear he was sticking to the high road, that this dramatic move was strictly a matter of principle.
I believe there were even a few near tears, a broken-hearted Tom, trying to talk the province into believing this exit from the Tory family was the act of a gallant and saddened politician.
And given the fact that the bad-mouthing of Dunderdale occurred just days after still another poll showed the accidental premier was about as popular as a fisheries officer on a wharf during the food fishery, many voters, I’m sure, were concluding that Osborne might be the first rodent taking a belly flop off a sinking ship.
But his former shipmates and their skipper came out in full anti-Osborne force, overly defensive to almost an embarrassing, near foot-shuffling level.
In her own full spin-doctoring mode, Dr. Dunderdale made the rounds with her stethoscope swinging wildly like a gaudy necklace: “Tom” was embittered, and hadn’t been “engaged” in caucus matters for quite a while (“engaged” appeared to be the key word recommended by the PR types for all Tories talking to the press, a word to be used constantly, to help leave the impression that the departed Osborne was basically a sook who had done shag-all in recent years except take up space in the caboose of the PC train).
Osborne denied he had been crying in his beer since being left on the outside looking in or that this attack on Dunderdale was all about failed ambition.
But my gosh, Queen Kathy implied, Osborne, just months ago, was salivating on one knee in front of her throne trying to get back in her good graces and back into cabinet.
And were there other long-tailed rodents, the “Bens” of caucus, prepared to replicate Osborne’s dive off the end of the floundering ship Dunderdale?
Osborne claimed Steve Kent — the crackie the Tories like to unleash to raise a rear leg on perceived enemies — talked to him about having a lack of faith in the premier.
Absolutely not, Kent replied (knowing full well, of course, that he was going to rest his bum on the back benches for eternity if Boss-woman Kathy thought there might be even a semblance of truth in Osborne’s assertion).
Oh, woe is me. Who are we to believe?
Well, I say just sit back, grab some popcorn, turn up the volume and enjoy the program.
Now, aside from the Osborne-Dunderdale sideshow, in which veracity is not a strong component, there is one matter of certainty: the premier is in some serious trouble, and her rationale that polls are merely a snapshot in time is starting to grow tiresome. Those snapshots are forming an album, and not a pretty one at that.
But the acrimonious exit of an MHA, in and of itself, is obviously not going to bring down the government. Nor is it a sign the administration is teetering on the cusp of absolute disaster. After all, these events tend to have a brief shelf life.
What should be much more worrisome to Tory disciples is the government’s penchant for bone-headed moves to limit information flow, its reluctance to give Stephen Harper a good kick in the arse now and then, its inability to handle the Muskrat Falls albatross left firmly wrapped around its neck by Danny Williams, and its present leader’s pronounced inability to strike a chord with the electorate.
What happens if a heavyweight or two follow suit, and joins Osborne’s caucus of one? Well, sir, then the entertainment value reaches the equivalent of a four-star feature at Studio 12 in the Mall.
We, the vultures of fun, can only circle in hope.
Stay tuned, as they say in the show business racket.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.