Sunday, March 19, 2006

all Liberal eggs in one basket

Despite their best efforts, the Right hasn’t managed to get much traction on Labor’s factions, have they? Why? Because the public is not stupid and knows that the Liberal Party is completely in the glasshouse when it comes to leadership woes. Let’s face it, conservative success has been handed to Howard on a platter. When Michael Duffy praises conservative success, it’s telling how much is invested in the great Liberal Party savior.
“John Howard gets this,” he writes triumphantly. “Labor doesn’t.” Have you noticed how it's always John Howard v. the ALP these days? Maybe the Liberal Party should be given a new name too: The John Howard Party.
Still, it is probably true that rebranding Labor will be essential if the Liberals are ever to be booted out of office. As the conservatives say, such rebranding in itself isn’t the worst thing in the world. As Duffy explains, “In 1944 the floundering United Australia Party, our main conservative party, accepted its irrelevance and dissolved itself. It was replaced by a fresh political force, the Liberal Party. The rest is history.” Whether or not rebranding must include the seemingly pointless step of dissolving and immediately reforming under a different name is debatable.
The John Howard Party has its own leadership problems ahead, so it seems particularly absurd for conservatives to dwell on internal Labor Party upheavals. It’s not as if Labor is the only party with slim pickings for seconds. Sadly for conservatives, none of the rest of the Liberal honchos are John Howard, and everyone knows it. What’s more, if Howard gets the Liberal Party all covered in wheat dust, they’re all going to get hoovered away with him as quick as you can say in cahoots with Saddam.
Desperate to divert attention from their favored party’s woes, Howard’s sympathetic media continue to hype up Labor’s leadership issues. Me, I don’t see the recent dramas as a long-term problem for Labor. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Sure, Beazley is turning out to be not much more than a political seat-warmer. Right from the start, he has felt like an “acting Opposition leader”. Yet, I don’t think the Liberals can count on Labor fatally imploding before the next election. One man can completely reverse a party’s fortunes, remember? If Howard can singlehandedly reinvent the Liberal party to the extent that Paul Kelly can argue Howard has created a whole new Liberal Party ideology” (related posts to come), then Labor has an equally good chance of repackaging itself and making itself attractive to voters too.
I agree with Tim Dunlop that the only real contender Labor offers right now is Kevin Rudd. It’s clear Julia Gillard is too untested, and still tainted by Latham, at this stage. She also generates such passionate opposition such that the merest television interview causes thousands of negative words to be written about her. Such polarity can be a good thing for a leader, since it indicates that her supporters are likely to be just as passionate. But she’s clearly too inexperienced.
And what future for the Liberal Party, post-Howard? Peter Costello "has resigned himself to not being recognised in his own country", surmised Dennis Shanahan in a recent interview. It doesn’t sound like someone much motivated to campaign for office. Unless he’s trying to ingratiate himself with feigned humility, a tactic that works a charm for Howard. Howard’s probably given Costello a very gentlemanly deadline by which he must warm up the public or put his leadership hopes aside. It’s also likely that Costello figures he may as well give PR a chance (kicking off with the Australian values speech, and seeking out recognition from the fluffy media). George Megalogenis describes Costello’s recent outings as a popularity pitch, playing the "patriot card to grey voters with the attack on Muslim fundamentalists, and the SNAG card to families", though there are doubts within the Liberal Party as to whether he is at all credible on these issues. Megalogenis reports that Costello is less popular with voters than Beazley, which seems hard to fathom.
In the end, Shanahan’s comment inadvertently reinforces the impression that Costello’s entire being reeks of half-heartedness. And Shanahan’s colleagues aren’t happy with Costello either. A recent editorial titled 'Simply too much tax' savaged him with lines like, "Treasurer PC must wake up to the facts", "whatever Mr Costello wants to claim", "however Mr Costello wants to slice and dice the numbers" and "the Treasurer’s statistical jiggery-pokery". Lookin' good, Pete! The newspaper editorialised, "The truth is the Howard Government is a high-taxing, big-spending, vote-buying Government". Remember this is the Rightwing media we are talking about.
While humbly bragging about his economic miracle to Shanahan-- ‘Costello looked back at his achievements as Treasurer and liked what he saw’, ‘suddenly…a record of unprecedented economic success in Australia and realised he’d achieved success beyond his wildest dreams’--yet Costello’s GST by his own reckoning has failed in its fundamental purpose and is essentially rendered pointless in retrospect (no doubt the states would disagree).
If not Costello, who? Or are we to imagine Alexander Downer getting another go? The conservative media doesn’t like him much either, if ‘frankly mealy mouthed’ is anything to go by.
This is surely the best time for what’s probably inevitable for Labor: big change. All in all, I remain optimistic we’ll see the John Howard Party given the flick at the next opportunity.