Friday, November 09, 2007

Howard's grand failure

From The Australian, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor October 25, 2007 [my emphasis added - SL]:

...What would be the consequences for our political culture of a Howard loss, and what are the consequences of the nearly 12 years of Howard Government?

The first consequence will be an utterly shattered Liberal Party. It will probably regroup and eventually come back into government. But that could be many years away. In the short term, Australia is set to become a one-party state. ...A cautious, centrist Rudd government probably means Labor would be in office for a decade or more.....

.... All this flows from a larger failure by, and a complete popular misjudgment of, the Howard Government. It has been a predominantly weak government that has governed with occasional tactical brilliance from a politically weak position.

It has governed against the relentless opposition of the big institutions in our society: the media, particularly the ABC, the public service and the universities. It has at times out-manoeuvred these institutions; it has not reformed them. The Howard Government has comprehensively lost the culture wars. It has on occasion been clever at arousing a popular backlash against elite opinion on this or that subject. But it has not changed elite opinion. And in the end it appears that it is impossible to govern permanently against elite opinion. Elite opinion shapes popular opinion. Far from ferociously waging the culture wars, the Howard Government has been mostly missing in action.

Only three cabinet members - Howard, Downer and Abbott - have made any consistent, serious effort to contest the Left's broad interpretation of Australian history and society. Other ministers will argue the toss on a given policy initiative within their portfolio, but they lack the competence, commitment or courage to make a sustained effort to argue a conservative world view.

.... Howard's essential political weakness has been disguised by his brilliant tactical victories. But he is mostly a tactical rather than strategic politician. This is partly because for most of his time in office he has been in a weak position. In 1998 Howard decisively lost the popular vote and hung on by sheer good luck. In 2001 he won by 2per cent after the immeasurable electoral gifts of Tampa and 9/11. And in 2004 he had to come from behind to demolish the appalling Mark Latham.

....Everywhere taxpayers' money is subsidising a left-of-centre world view. Griffith University's journal, the Griffith Review, is a good example. This is a useful journal with some good writing in it, yet it is evidently of the Left and there is no new equivalent on the Right. Most egregious, the ABC remains utterly unreformed. The ABC is marginally more diverse than it once was, but no one seriously even argues that the ABC is balanced or unbiased, merely that it balances the Howard Government, or the commercial media, or some such. Yet every year the Government has given it generous budget increases, so the ABC world view is stronger than ever.

....Even as an economic reformer, Howard was often weak. Here we are 12 years into a conservative government and the top tax rate is still nearly 50 per cent, vastly more than in the US or Britain, and a huge disincentive to attracting brilliant and successful people to live here.

This could turn out to have been a very hollow period of conservative government indeed, and our culture may move quite sharply in ways we cannot now imagine.

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