20 June 2007

Man out of time

Labor has succeeded in making John Howard look out of touch, finally.

  • His hasty, and hastily unravelling, "policies" on climate change and water

  • The stumbles over ADSL and broadband generally, and the absence of any follow-through on what economic and educational benefits could flow from better broadband

  • The silly attempts to defend political shindigs at official Prime Ministerial residences, or parliamentary pay rises

They tried it when he was on 18% as preferred PM in the '80s, they tried it with the suburban solicitor thing, they tried it with Latham's reading to children and parliamentary super and whatever else he was on about. Now, after he's become the second-longest-serving PM in Australian history, this message is sinking in. Howard is losing it.

Keating looked visibly tired by the mid-1990s. He didn't want to be in Parliament, he couldn't translate the "big picture" stuff into practical action for you and I to take (other than voting for him - and I don't know about you, bu I didn't. I was a Liberal then ...). Now, Howard can't get across the big challenges before us, let alone attend to the detail and get in touch with us sufficiently to match our labours and hopes to the wider perspective. Rudd promises both something more in broad terms and finicky attention to detail. The risks are small, the benefits could be great.

Having a government that looks like it gets some of the challenges facing the country is far more valuable politically than some half-arsed hint that interest rates won't go up while you're at the wheel. Such a claim is easy to make, hard to defend - unless your opposition is non-existent and the media are asleep, and neither of these conditions apply now. Overdoing this explains why people are prepared to reward the perception of competence in the alternative, however fragile, so highly.

Reprising the "who do you trust?" message hasn't worked for Howard because you can't trust someone who has lost it, even if they can be trusted to keep their word. People would give him the benefit of the doubt again if there was no opposition, and the fact that such a lazy assumption remains in place is an indictment of the "political professionals" in the Coalition, all those overpaid halfwits who bluster around and rein in any State Libs who dare do anything that might win them government.

Now, though, Labor can probably be trusted to be no worse than the Coalition economically. Every slight interest rate rise has inflicted pain and both majors are equally unwilling to guarantee it won't happen again on their watch. Simply by clearing out dead wood and looking at issues anew, a change of government could lead to a freeing-up of resources and an overall economic boost. Even just renovating offices and downgrading Kirribilli House to a slightly more fancy Cadman's Cottage causes economic activity.

The Coalition hasn't won a well-respected opinion poll for over a year, so and all of the shenanigans pretending otherwise in recent times can't obscure the fact that the Howard government is heading for defeat. Even a terrorist alert isn't going to change things that much, as Rudd's perceived as more than capable in foreign affairs. We're not that scared of asylum-seekers, so another Tampa wouldn't work. Rudd is no wacky Latham, and bashing the journalists won't hurt Rudd at all. "It was politically devastating" my arse.

If economic management was the be-all-and-end-all, Labor couldn't have won in 1990 and couldn't have lost in 1996. It's a dearly-held notion among those I left behind in the Liberal Party, and they will regard a Labor victory as a vote for economic suicide.

Australians will change governments if two conditions are present: if the government has run out of ideas and if a credible opposition is ready to take over. These conditions were present in 1949, they were present in 1972 (let's all agree that 1975 is sui generis, OK?), they were present in 1983 and again in 1996. One or both of these factors were absent in all the others in between. Both factors necessary for a change of government are present in 2007.

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