Friday, February 20, 2009

John Howard, the Liberals and leadership, and the virtues of monasteries

Heee's baaack!

Once upon a time, losing politicians went off to a monastery for a couple of years for deep introspection and contemplation of their failures, before returning to numb the socks off all of us with their relevancy deprivation syndrome. Like Malcolm Fraser, who turned from head prefect to head bore, and stayed that way for endless years (even Paul Keating can't out-bore Malcolm).

Not John Howard. He's already buzzing around polishing up his legacy, this time with a speech to the Menzies Research Centre, re-published in The Sydney Morning Herald as Five great reforms are an essential legacy.

It's all the usual talking points - well really all the usual blather - made remote and distant by the harsh realities of the current economic situation, for which of course Howard has no answer, outside of evoking Ronnie Reagan's willingness to be an interventionist and a protectionist (chew on that free marketeers).

As a result, it's an exceptionally dull read, and could be safely ignored except for its exquisite timing. For Howard is polishing up his legacy at a time when the Liberals are in complete disarray, and that is due in no small part to Howard's massive mishandling of the leadership issue.

Poor old Malcolm in the middle is riding a merry go round of intrigue and back stabbing worthy of the Labor party. And behind it all looms the grotesque shadow of the piqued Peter Costello, for there's little doubt Costello would love Malcolm to fail, come a cropper, so he can waltz in and take over what's left. (Does that make Costello the Rush Limbaugh of Australia, as Rush announced he hoped Obama and his stimulus package would fail, thereby hoping America would fail, thereby demonstrating his great love for the people?)

So while Costello sits sulking in the corner, there's Tony Abbott and Warren Truss arguing over pensions, there's loon Senator Bernardi gone for gossiping about Liberal rats who are Labor party types in disguise, there's Christopher "Robin" Pyne saying it wasn't him, and there's used car salesman Joe Hockey suddenly appointed treasury spokesman as Julie Bishop spirals to earth in a death roll (would you buy a used WorkChoices policy from this man?).

And there of course is the argument about whether Malcolm offered Costello the shadow Treasurer position, and what all that might mean, if anything. 

No wonder Howard said he didn't want to talk about current events, he's "moved on". Well so have we all, but it's curious to reflect how precisely Howard's passing has left a legacy equivalent to his hero Menzies. After ruling his party for many years with an iron fist, and getting rid of any rival with a decent set of leadership skills, Menzies left the Liberals to enjoy the likes of Harold Holt, who managed the country the way he surfed, and the tearful Billy McMahon, and in opposition the splendid Sir Billy Snedden (who at least died on the job in the Rushcutter's Bay Travelodge, a fact curiously not reported in his Wikipedia entry).

How long before Malcolm joins the  list of opposition leaders done down by Howard's legacy? 

Meantime, the Ruddster's been given a get out of jail card - say what you like and do what you like, we'll be looking at our internal organs and yearning for the arrival of St. Peter.

Will the mad monk make a come back? Will Christopher Pyne survive? How long will Bishop stay deputy? How long will the tedious Alan Stockdale stay President of the federal Libs? These are the days of Liberal lives.

And in the end who cares? Thanks John Howard, now off to the monastery with you.

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