Howard Prepares To Say Goodbye Bennelong
Three more weeks to go until we learn whether the Rudd opposition has succeeded in pulling off one of the more incredible election victories, and political psychological warfare operations (against the government facing defeat), in Australian history.
John Howard must by now truly understand what Kevin Rudd meant when he said he was going to mess with the prime minister's head. Rudd is 'psy-oping' Howard into a state of barely concealed terror. Howard knows he is going to lose, and it will be impossible for him to hide the fact that he knows this in his heart.
There will plenty of pouting, lots of whining and bucket loads of begging.
The Rudd "Me-Too" strategy is likely to go down as one of the more brilliant election strategies in decades. Rudd has managed to avoid nearly every wedge that Howard And Friends had planned to isolate and crucify him with. It's absurd to read Howard huggers like Piers Akerman and Andrew Dolt claiming that Rudd is running a dirty campaign. Well, why wouldn't they? They learned from watching John Howard, the Yoda of dirty politics, for a decade. They know every one of his tricks, and now they're using them all against him. And it's working.
Rudd has managed to not make this election so much a choice between Labor and the Coalition, but a choice between Howard and Rudd. And Rudd is just far too popular for the prime minister to beat right now. The majority of the Australian public don't hate Howard, but they don't want to vote him back into office. They want some new blood, or Rudd.
That may change in the next 22 or 23 days, but it's impossible to imagine how.
The Liberals are viewing Peter Garrett's supposedly serious admission that everything will change, as far as Labor agreeing with Liberal policies once they win the election, as "Gold!"
They think they've found the hammer they can use to crack Labor skulls.
This week, we will see the same old, tired, boring parade of Costello, Abbott, Howard, Downer and Joe Hockey trying to Fear Up the Australian public over what Labor will do when they win.
"It's all a big con!" they'll shout and whine. "You're being fooled!" "They'll turn Australia into a Union Socialist Utopia and you'll lose your job and your home!"
It won't make much difference. Not to Rudd's chances of winning anyway. But unless the Liberals have plenty of good, exciting and positive news to fill in the gaps around all the worthless Fearing, they'll find they're doing more damage to themselves than Garrett has done to Labor.
The media will lose interest by Monday night in Garrett's 'gaffe'. It doesn't help that the person most seriously pumping the story, radio jock Steve Price, has a wife employed by a federal government minister as 'an advisor'. Seriously, where is this guy's credibility?
Price thinks he has delivered the scoop of the election, the revelation that will turn the tide for Howard And Friends. Good luck with that, Steve. Garrett has already all but neutralised his own words. The interest rate rise will rip Garrett's 'gaffe' from the headlines and make it into yesterday's news.
In fact, Howard already has done exactly that :
To be handed such a stick with which to beat Labor was an unexpected windfall. But the PM knew where to draw the line. "(Are) you saying that a political party should outline everything they're going to do in the next term of government if they are re-elected?" Howard was asked in Darwin. "No, no, I'm not, I'm not saying that," he said quickly, seeing the familiar trap. Before the last election, he didn't signal WorkChoices...
It's hard to imagine anything more crushing for Howard than heading into the final half of the election campaign with the biggest selling newspapers in Australia headlining how he is going to lose his Bennelong seat to Maxine McKew. The polls are grim all round for Howard and the Liberals. How can they turn it around? What will work now? What have they got left?
The Murdoch media is running wide today with the story that John Howard is renovating his all but abandoned suburban Sydney home in preparation for his departure from his 11 year long occupation of Kirribilli House. Millions of Australians will read or hear about this, and most will probably think : 'The old bugger's already given up.'
Howard And Friends now have to get to election day without looking like they are heading to a funeral.
Howard, his ministers, his advisors, his 'huggers' in the media, can't believe what is happening. How did this all go so very wrong? How did those hopeless Labor union patsies get on top of them so quickly, so effectively and how do they keep winning the week?
Even John Howard's infamous morning walks are turning against him. For the next three weeks, every morning he steps out into the early sunlight, he will be ambushed by comedy teams, hecklers, protesters and bizarrely costumed attention seekers. As Michelle Grattan points out, as bad and as embarrassing as the morning walks have already become for Howard, he can't just stop them now :
The Liberals might be better off if the walk was scrapped before it gets entirely out of hand. But presumably the PM thinks he needs the exercise. More to the point, ditching it now, after so many years, would be akin to throwing out a major policy. The significance would take up hours of airtime, acres of print.
Garrett's gaffe, or blatant honesty, will excite them for a few days, but it won't carry them all the way through the next three weeks. And Garrett has already found a way to spin the 'gaffe' to Labor's advantage :
Garrett looks like he has already killed the controversy, or at least turned it to Labor's advantage, before the Liberals can even get started on it.
"Notwithstanding what was said, there is no doubt things would change under a Labor government," he said.
"We would launch an education revolution. We would get rid of WorkChoices. We would deliver a high-speed broadband network across Australia. We will end the blame game on hospitals."His comment was about a change "for the better" that would come with a Labor government. "It's very clear to me that the changes we refer to here are the positive changes that Rudd Labor could bring forward … across a range of issues that count to the people of Australia," he said.
Every time the Howard cheer squad bring up Garrett's "everything will change once we get in" quote, Labor can counter it with exactly what Garrett said above.
They can now dare the Liberals to run with some full-blown Fearing on the Garrett quote, and get their positive, future-looking message even more air time.
The Rudd-approved messing with Howard's head continues, with gusto.