It seems that to rise to eminence in politics one must endure disappointment and failure. This is particularly true for a political leader. One cannot become a good leader without suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as says Hamlet in his famous monologue.
Climbing too easily to a top position leads inevitably to an early downfall. This was the case of Julia Gillard who rose to the role of leader of the Labor Party and Australian prime minister with relative ease and, as a consequence, was unable to secure her position not even completing a term as prime minister.
John Howard is a classic example of a leader who built his eventually successful career on a series of setbacks. In 1983 he ran for the Liberal leadership and lost. Two years later he acquired it only to see it slip away in the face of bad opinion polls. After a number of false starts he was given another opportunity in 1995. Twelve months later he finally became prime minister as an experienced politician and stayed in the job for nearly ten years.
In the United States, much like Howard, Hillary Clinton went through a phase of frustrations. Heading into 2008, she was considered the frontrunner in the Democratic primaries, but did not succeed in getting the nomination. Cast as a symbol of the political establishment, she was ultimately overwhelmed by the Obama juggernaut. Almost eight years on, she now looks more credible as a potential first female, American president.
Recently in Australia we witnessed the political resurrection of Malcolm Turnbull who replaced Tony Abbott as prime minister. A former Liberal Party leader, he was deposed by Mr Abbott in 2009 and announced his retirement from politics. He then reversed his decision after his supporters convinced him that his time would come and they were right.
Socially progressive, Mr Turnbull has long had high public approval ratings but has been mistrusted by many in his party, particularly among the more conservative wing. He is now seen as the political leader who can open a new chapter in the history of Australia and for his party.
With a successful and varied career behind him and a great diversity of interests and abilities, he is the right man at the right time for Australia. John Howard famously said that the times would suit him. Then under Tony Abbott the Liberal Party became dominated by outdated views of yesterday’s men scared of the future. At the same time the once-proud Australian Labor Party imploded, also largely as a result of its anachronistic us-versus-them view of the world.
In Malcolm Turnbull, Australia has its first ever truly liberal prime minister and he has the goodwill of most of the Australian population. His ascendancy is also good news for the Italians in Australia. Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy are great lovers of Italy which they have been visiting regularly for many years.
I remember his wholehearted participation in a fundraising event in Melbourne for the victims of the Abruzzo earthquake. I met him in the foyer of the reception hall at the Docklands where the event was taking place and he read to me a stanza from the Divine Comedy he was going to mention in his speech. We have never had an Australian prime minister who read Dante.