Monday, August 28, 2006

pleasure and pain

Maybe John Howard could get a tattoo across his belly like the one Angelina Jolie has? It reads, quod me nutrit me destruit, supposedly Latin for 'what nurtures me also destroys me'. Cos it appears the very factors that work for the Liberals at federal level are the ones that are working against the Liberal parties at state level. Mike Steketee had an analysis of the state Liberal parties’ woes in The Weekend Australian in which reasons for Labor’s state successes were debated. Factors for success appear to be largely impersonal rather than due to individual leader qualities such as charisma or competence. In the article, Judith Brett describes influential factors as 'incumbency...a strong economy…voters sticking with what they know in an era with threats to national security'. The newspaper’s editorial, also about the state Liberals, adds some more external factors: the lack of credible opposition leaders, and the state/federal counterbalance theory. (Naturally, Howard-lovers would argue that the 'strong economy' factor is an internal one, creditable personally to Howard's leadership. But many of us dispute this reinterpretation of political and economic history.)
I find it fascinating, this question of why people vote differently at state and federal level. I wonder who the swingers are. It's a conundrum. Is it that Howard-lovers are cuckolding him at state level? Or is it that state Labor voters betray Labor federally by switching allegiances to Howard? It is hard to believe that people who vote Labor federally would vote Liberal at state level, but I guess it's possible.
If the Liberals are failing in NSW, Imre Salusinsky (also in The Australian) argues it is because of Howard’s IR project. Headlined "Work Choices working well for Iemma", Saluszinsky says "if IR continues to frighten voters...on WorkChoices he just can’t lose". But if IR is scaring Howard voters over to Labor in the states, why wouldn’t they be scared enough to ditch Howard himself, the man personally responsible for the unwanted changes? Will voters really sheet the blame to Debham while keeping Howard in power federally because they want him there for other reasons (those external factors—he’s the devil we know in dangerous times, fortuitously presiding over boomtime, etc etc)? Maybe Iemma is just selling it better than Beazley is nationally?
The problem with Howard’s failed states is that as Steketee argues, "a continuing downward spiral in the State parties eventually must make the Federal Liberals’ job harder." Steketee also quotes Graham Young saying that if the Liberals lose a federal election, the party will probably "implode". Happily for non-Liberals, Howard might have already ensured such implosion when he refused to pass the baton to Costello while the party was on a winning streak. In effect, Howard told Australians that he regards Costello as unelectable and unfit to handle the job. That’s great for the Libs, so long as Howard wins the next election and then someone more electable than Costello gets to front them. But how likely is that? I mean, who on earth is there? (This subject is way passe, I know, but my theory on Howard’s motivation, apart from insane hubris, is that he is actually against a Costello succession, but has no way to weasel out of their age-old, highly-publicised 'gentlemen's agreement'. Behind the scenes, I'm sure it's all about giving another contender the time to get the numbers to challenge Costello.)
Howard’s vanity might well cause the implosion of the Liberal Party itself. And wouldn’t that be ironic for the man currently celebrated as Liberal Party hero and savior?

zip it real good
Just about the Kennett/Kroger/Costello hijinks last week, it was pretty funny to see Howard come out and tell his boys to shut their mouths and keep Liberal Party conflict behind doors. Why didn’t he practice what he preached and tell them in private, eh? In any case, we all know Howard is happy to let some people talk, when it’s strategic. He frequently lets out his loose cannon, Jackie Kelly, supposedly a ‘close friend’, to test waters and be his fall guy. She does not seem to have much invested in the longevity of her political career, so she hasn’t much to lose. He lets her criticise policy, for example when he let her be aggressive on childcare. I’m convinced this was to assess public reaction in case he ever wants to declare that he plans to listen to his minister and implement popular but not necessarily socially-conservative policies. He also allowed her to publicly deride Costello. I don’t remember hearing him come out and tell her to keep her trap shut for the good of the party. He let her talk because it helps destabilise Costello.