No hat, no rabbits

Wednesday, 8 August 2007 

To stretch this silly analogy until it snaps, it is not so much that Howard doesn’t have any rabbits to pull from his hat as that he hasn’t got a hat in the first place.

If there has been one problem with much of the commentary over this election year it is that it keeps missing the big picture. The government is on its way out not because Howard is too old, or Rudd is good on TV, or interest rates are biting or the electorate is just having one of its mood swings. It is because the government is going into this election with no agenda and no big idea that relates to anything going on in the world. It had it with the War on Terror, which it worked through to the electorate in a myriad of different ways, but now that is fading. Without that framework, it has no basis to build a consensus and even major federal initiatives flop.

This is even true when it launches a major initiative with strong public support, like the NT intervention. It can stop the rot for a while but Howard cannot capitalise on it enough to turn around the momentum of the campaign. MPs may be quite rightly complaining about how the NT legislation is being rushed through parliament but bear in mind that the government first wanted to call a special sitting to discuss it in order to wedge Labor. The rush-through suggests the script did not go quite as planned.

As the failure of the national initiatives leads to Howard stepping off the national stage to get involved in state and local affairs, some commentators have followed him down, claiming even the sight of nurses (understandably) cheering the re-opening of their hospital is politically significant. The problem with this ‘failed state’ strategy is that not only does it mean abdicating national responsibilities, but he is moving into an area that will give him little chance of creating any new ‘big idea’. State politics has already become de-politicised and about little more than service provision (which is why Labor’s public service connections give it a natural advantage) so any row with the federal government will never rise above petty funding priorities. It may undermine the states a bit but not create what Howard so desperately needs – a case for re-electing the federal government. Now Howard says that he is even prepared to go down to the local council level and get involved with the squabble over the amalgamation of the Queensland councils. If he manages to find anything politically significant in the tribulations of Wambo Shire Council, he will truly be a magician.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 8 August 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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