Bob Hawke turned up at a shopping centre here in Bennelong recently, and it got me thinking about Hawke's successor and the former local member: where is John Howard?
John Howard has been involved in political campaigns for the Liberal Party for half a century, including 33 years as an MP and six federal elections as leader of the Liberal Party (lost 2, won 4). He was closely involved with the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party through its three changes of leadership. He's a political animal first and last: he's not infirm like Whitlam, cheesed off like Fraser (or both like Menzies was in the decade after his retirement), or floating above politics in some statesmanlike cloud (with the odd descent into the mud for a rumble) like Hawke and Keating.
Is he really taking the whole cricket business too hard? Can he just no longer be bothered with the whole gladhanding thing? Is he going to do a Fraser, where the Liberal Party goes so far right that Howard becomes derided as a leftie? Is there nobody in the Liberal Party who would appreciate his presence, even if for old time's sake at a fundraiser?
Tony Abbott is basically promising the return of the Howard-Costello government without Howard or Costello. Costello has done his bit: hosted a function at which a few dollars were prised from the tight fists of Melburnians, and upstaged Abbott, for which the latter was pathetically grateful. Imagine how rapt he'd be if Howard did the same: reminded voters of the good old days, when Tony Abbott was kept on a short leash as emissary to Glenn Milne and there was none of this Prime Ministerial 50-50 nonsense.
The absence of John Howard from the campaign trail is inexplicable, except as a stuff-up by Loughnane and the rest of the Liberal campaign team. He was exhausted politically in 2007, but the whole Liberal pitch since then has been that Labor have been so bad it's time to bring back the Libs. Well, come on, let's have him: let's see him in Bennelong and see if the old magic really is gone. Let's see him in Robertson, LaTrobe, Bowman. Tony Abbott has a bunch of piecemeal policies in search of a wider narrative, and that narrative is that only the Libs can bring the happy days back. He can't cut this, cut that, cut everything else while also claiming to be a visionary: it's back home to the Howards or bust.
Howard would bear comparison with his three successors, but also his immediate predecessor as Liberal leader. If this is true, then Downer scored the greatest political own-goal since the German decision in 1917 to allow Lenin to go from Switzerland to St Petersburg. Every Coalition MP who lost office in 2007 should have a crack at Downer over that. Besides, isn't Downer supposed to be some big wheel at the UN where everyone has to be bipartisan?
How can the Liberals win on a neo-Howard platform without Howard himself? How can the Liberals be confronted by the inadequacy of their own position unless Howard is shown to be yesterday's man? Either way, get Howard out there and get Downer out of politics altogether: a dud leader, a dud foreign minister, and a toxic strategist.