Inside Yourguide
Have your say - general - columnists analysis  canberra.yourguide.com.au  

< Local News

< National News

< Local Sport

< National Sport

< Features

< Editorial/Opinion >
Columnists Analysis
Editorial Opinion
Letters to Editor
Opinion Cartoon
< Your Say >
Letters to the editor
Have your say

< Weather

< Email us

< Local Info

< Entertainment

< Special Features

< How to subscribe

< How to advertise

< Contact Us

Buy / Sell

< classifieds

< autoguide

< jobsguide

< localdirectory

< propertyguide

Local Links

ACT Business Gateway
ACT Government
ACT Legislative Assembly
ACT Government legislation

< Home

< Search

< Help

< Privacy Policy

< Copyright

A Prime Minister who runs ahead of the pack.

Will he go or won't he? With an eye on history, more than likely, predicts PETER BRENT.

Tuesday January 7 2003

The “Don’t go John Howard” show rolled back into town last week. The Australian contacted several Coalition backbenchers who were already on the record as firmly stating that the PM should not retire before the next election, and invited them to restate.

They obliged. Said Victorian Fran Bailey, “my constituents are very, very pleased that the person at the helm of the country is the person to lead Australia in difficult times ahead.” Paul Neville, Qld, doubts that any PM has ever been “so in harmony with the Australian electorate”. De-Anne Kelly, Barry Wakelin, Peter Lindsay and Gary Nairn all concurred.

Former senator, Treasury boss and Joh for PM team-member John Stone summed up the case the next day in a pungent opinion piece in the same paper. Stone scoffed at the idea of Peter Costello as Prime Minister and pooh-poohed his treasurership. Heaping praise on the PM while excoriating the government’s economic performance takes a fine balance which was perhaps absent, for the next day The Australian carried a letter to the editor from Howard defending his Treasurer’s record. Saturday’s editorial also addressed the issue.

So if by chance anyone had forgotten that the PM’s 64th birthday is in July this year, and that several years ago he’d promised to consider his future at that time, they can consider themselves reminded.

Most of the quoted backbenchers hold marginal electorates, so we can assume their entreaties were sincere. But a rational analysis suggests they’ll be disappointed. A Howard retirement looks very likely.

That’s because John Howard is, as often, ahead of the pack.

The media praise for Howard last year was extraordinary. We got, from senior newspaper journalists, our leader as “ working class hero”, “conviction politician” (again) and “reigning supreme [and] shaping Australia as he wants to shape it”.

And that was just in the final week.

You might ask why would a Prime Minister leave politics at a time of such adoration. But the question should be: why wouldn’t he?

Every Prime Minister has had one eye on the history books. If Paul Keating had retired during his last term, and left, say, Kim Beazley to carry the defeat, history would view his Prime Ministership, and the electorate’s judgment of it, very differently.

So too an undefeated John Howard. The PM didn’t get where he is by succumbing to flattery or accepting the accepted wisdom. He’s familiar with the electoral cycle, and knows - because he was there - how close and difficult the last two elections really were. Despite the hype, a truly all-conquering politician would have made their re-elections look easy - see Steve Bracks in Victoria and Jim Bacon in Tasmania last year. Howard must know what a tall order another win would be.

Neither do the opinion polls paint an unassailable picture, with last year being a reasonably even contest in voting intentions. Not that you’d know it from the reporting; much of the confusion comes from commentators ignoring preferences at a time of an unprecedented high Green vote that will predominately flow to Labor.

There is another, rather woolly but much quoted measure called “preferred Prime Minister”, and it is here that John Howard continues to eclipse Simon Crean. But “preferred leader”, while probably saying much about Australians’ attitudes to authority, bears little relationship to electability. Trailing as preferred PM didn’t prevent Howard beating Paul Keating by 40 seats in 1996, for instance. Kim Beazley regularly out-performed John Howard as preferred Prime Minister. Most current Premiers - Bracks and Bob Carr are two examples – prevailed from opposition despite dismal preferred Premier numbers.

And, of course, there’s political history. On July 26, his birthday, John Howard will have been in the job one week shy of seven years and five months, overtaking Malcolm Fraser’s tenure by days. Beating Bob Hawke into second place behind Robert Menzies would mean another election, which fails a risk-benefit analysis.

Late this year there’ll be a window of opportunity. The Prime Minister can cash his chips for maximum historical return. If he does he’ll join Robert Menzies as a Liberal god; if not, there’s a good chance of the electorate being seen to repudiate his version of the country.

It would require a combination of clear analysis, ego, discipline and cunning - which means it would trouble him not at all.

Ok, so I’ve never met the man, but like many Australians it feels like I have. Retiring in late in 2003 or early 2004 and getting the very last laugh. Now that’s the John Howard I know. 

Peter Brent is editor of mumble.com.au

Would you like to comment on this article?
<< Click here to have your say


ACT Mortgages


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .