The PM is in trouble. This, we all well know as it’s been covered exhaustively on just about every media outlet for days, but hearing it over and over again makes it no less wonderful.

The country is awash with political commentary right now, so I’m not going to flood the market with any more. However, I will add some linguistic commentary into the mix.

It is common knowledge that for the many years that Howard has been steadily growing older and more stubborn, he has been telling anyone who asks that he will stay in the job as long as he can. Specifically, he says:

    I will stay as long as my party wants me to and it’s in the party’s best interests that I do.

On reading that, you might make the assumption that he will stay only if two necessary conditions are met: that 1. his party wants him to stay and 2. that his staying is in their bests interests. In other words, it normally gets parsed (by me at least) as:

    (I will stay as long as [(my party wants me to) and (it’s in the party’s best interests that I do)])

Logically speaking then, if either condition isn’t met, if his party do not want want him to stay or his staying is not in their best interests, he should resign as leader of the Liberal party.

However, the intonation doesn’t quite agree with this. I’ve even found the very quote, or at least one instantiation thereof – remember he’s said it that many times – and I’ve extracted the important bit, using WordPress’s nifty mp3 embedding tool (failing that you can download the mp3 from here, it’s only 30KB!):

Notice the intonation? He didn’t say he’d stay as long as it is in the party’s best interests, he said that his staying is in the party’s best interests. He (possibly) intended it to parse as:

    [I will stay as long as my party wants me to] and [it’s in the party’s best interests that I do]

At the moment it is certainly not in his party’s interest that he stays; he’s a liability. But he won’t go of course, because, under this interpretation at least, he never said he would. He only said he’d go if the party want him to. The fact that his staying is in the best interests of the party is asserted.

It’s just like interests rates. “We will keep interest rates lower” they said. The moment they went up, Howard turns around and said “when I said lower, I meant lower than they would have been had Labor been elected instead” which is of course, absolutely untestable.