7 August 2005 Margo update: Janet Albrechtsen has joined Bolt - see Pass baton to Costello. The latest Newspoll was a shocker for the government, and speculation is rife that next week Howard will either call an election or stand down. The Chaser proved that the emperor has no clothes - eerily reminiscent of the Bush visit to Canberra in 2003, when security waved what looked like a camera in without a security check and the AFP dressed civilians up to look like cops. Howard is about appearances, not reality.
25 July, 2007
Hello. Today, Carlos writes on the news that the Melbourne Herald Sun's infamous Andrew Bolt has called on Howard to stand aside for Costello. It could be a Melbourne thing, as Bolt is a Costello supporter, but still... This is Carlos's debut piece for Webdiary. I have his full name and have agreed he can use the nom de plume Carlos here.
Early this morning, Andrew Bolt wrote the most open call from a media government supporter for PM Howard to quit now, while he still can do it with some dignity.
Did Murdoch send word to cut the loses and play "kingmaker"? Did the Bolt lose a screw? See Howard must quit.
What's really going on here? Is it a Melbourne coup? Bolt has called for a peaceful transition, a smooth change in the Coalition leadership, for a while now. But he has never before come out with such force and so openly. Of course he dresses the criticism in his convoluted rhetoric:
IT IS unfair, I know. But it's time John Howard quit. He must quit as Prime Minister not because he's a failure, but - perversely - because he's a success. He must quit because he's done so well he should be red hot to win the next election.
However, in a rare bout of honesty he can no longer keep up the pretence that most of the mainstream media has been propping up for most of this year:
Instead, every poll this year agrees he's stumbling to the mother of all hidings. And yesterday's pictures of him falling over are devastating in their symbolism.
Is Bolt trying to play kingmaker? To take some credit by being among the first to jump ship? That might be part of it. But there is more to this. The media strategy here is also to minimise the loss and rescue the dignity of Howard's legacy.
The last thing they need is for the government's dirty, unethical politics to be totally discredited where it really counts, the ballot box. These moves have one eye on history and the other in the practical electoral outcome of this year's voting: preventing annihilation.
It has been said before that Menzies at least knew when it was time to go. He was able to hold the levy, if you like, to delay the Sixties' tide of change from forcing his hand on many issues.
Eventually Menzies knew his time was up and left with some dignity while the Sixties quickly made up for the delay during 1968-69 and arguably well into Whitlam's Seventies.
Let's contrast Howard's recent dismissive reaction to suggestions of retirement, that his key job was to secure power and once there to retain it, and that he was yet to meet a president or PM who sets out to retire or lose an election. He wanted to lead the Coalition to this election and he wants to remain PM and lead the Liberals for as long as it is in their "benefit".
While for some time now The PM has been aiming for policies with "legacy" implications, most have been reactive and carried out of a pure immediate political need. Opposing a return of Australian troops from Iraq, The NT Aboriginal Emergency, The Murray water initiatives, and of course the recent Terrorism scare with Dr. Haneef.
Hence, the logical reaction from the electorate. Australians, a bit wiser from Howard's past campaigns, now see every policy and big ticket item skeptically as a "wedge", reacting with a fair bit of healthy cynicism.
And yet the ALP and Rudd have been cowardly, doing very little, if anything, to propel this momentum. Meanwhile the mainstream media mostly regurgitated the official talking points, dismissing the bad poll results and focusing on more favourable "preferred PM" comparisons instead. (See Margo's Murdoch's men censor former Webdiarist Tim Dunlop.)
Basically, the Australian blogosphere has been on the mark for most of this year, perhaps better able to reflect the change in mood among most of the electorate.
Regardless, for Howard the tide has turned and he is likely to be left alone to personally cope the blame, from both the electorate and his party. That is the broader context for these current events.
But there's more! How about this from Murdoch's Courier Mail: Howard admits 'drunk on the job'
JOHN Howard has admitted addressing Federal Parliament while drunk during his so-called "wilderness years" after losing the Liberal leadership in 1989.
A new biography on Australia's second-longest serving Prime Minister reveals Mr Howard was deeply affected by his 1989 loss to Andrew Peacock, breaking down in a tearful apology to staff and sometimes drinking too much.
"Without the responsibility of a leadership role, Howard would on occasion drink more heavily than he should," the book, John Winston Howard : A Life by Peter van Onselen and Wayne Errington, says....
As things are getting really desperate, we should expect many more of these half-baked attempts to re-write the recent history of Howard and the future of his current electoral campaign. The drought is becoming a flood. Somehow things seem to be unravelling rather fast. And Howard seems caught in the perfect storm.
And the Rats are leaving the sinking ship.
Todays Herald Sun editorial, Howard's end?, seems an obvious attempt to have a bet each way, while being much more constrained than Andrew Bolt:
PRIME Minister John Howard has maintained he "ain't for quitting" and has vowed to fight on for re-election. In Saturday's Herald Sun the PM declared his party was a long way from deciding he had passed his use-by date.
"No, it's not close, mate, it ain't close," he said of any move for leadership change... If Mr Howard did choose to step down he would go having successfully contested four elections as a leader who has orchestrated a decade of growth and prosperity. He would avoid the ignominy of defeat, possibly in his own seat.
The vacancy would give Peter Costello - the man Mr Howard has repeatedly named as his natural successor - a tilt at The Lodge...
Any surrender by Mr Howard would also be seen as a cut and run in the face of defeat -- a principle he has rallied against in his Iraq policies. His departure could also risk an even greater loss of seats, leaving the Libs in opposition and facing a bigger deficit in the 2010-11 election.
On balance, even though he faces an uphill battle to retain government, the Prime Minister should stay the course and face the voters one more time.
After years of denouncing the Kafka-esque Howard years (especially Margo and many regular Webdiarists) it certainly feels a bit strange and unreal that it is Andrew Bolt who is highlighting the tough reality Howard is facing:
Most voters simply refuse to be impressed. They refuse even to listen any more.
Take Howard's bold decision to send in troops to help rescue Aboriginal children from appalling poverty, neglect and abuse. Yawn...
Time to turn the dial because voters seem bored to sobs by Howard after 11 years, and especially by that last half a decade of yammer about terror, Iraq and lies.
They insist in poll after poll they want to hear another track, albeit from the same kind of album, and so badly that they'll give a whopping 55 per cent of their votes to Labor's reassuringly conservative and, above all, fresh Kevin Rudd. To a New Howard who isn't actually Howard himself. It's personal. And it's over.
It does feel really weird doesn't it? I'm not sure I've ever agreed this much with him!
Bolt even mentions the unmentionable:
Even if there were to be another terrorist attack, God forbid, the public is now so cynical it's as likely to blame Howard for provoking it as it is to admire his firmness in handling it...
What could Costello possibly do that Howard couldn't do better? Simple. He'd make voters listen again to the Liberals, in a way Howard no longer can....
As things are bound to get a lot more desperate, we should not say I told you so. What we must do is to critically look at what games are being played and we must prevent government mouthpieces from re-writing history.
Instead let them say it: "John Winston. Thou, too, art mortal"
You reap what you sow. Bring on the election!