Time to leave Howard in the swamp

Tuesday, 21 August 2007 

Sid Marris of The Australian is offering ten dollars to anyone who can work out what Howard’s ‘aspirational nationalism’ means.

This does not seem very generous. The phrase is in a speech that is meant to set out Howard’s vision for the next five years. However, it shows all the problems of a Prime Minister who, after having broken up the election campaign into trivia, now has to pull it back together again.

The speech clearly highlights the dilemma he is now in, particularly the big hole that is in the middle of it. Despite giving early prominence to defence and building up the army, the speech has not a single mention of the place where that army is currently deployed, Iraq. Instead the focus is on regionalism and the Asia-Pacific region ahead of the AEPC conference next month. Asia is often talked about by Australian Prime Ministers when the real international agenda has fallen into trouble. The coming APEC meeting will uncomfortably bring that out when the architect of the current mess in Iraq flies over from the States to see Howard for probably the last time. The strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to be the elephant in the room while Bush and Howard try their best to catch up with the new language of international relations, climate change.

It is because of these critical problems with the international agenda, that came home with the Haneef fiasco, that Howard has launched on his ‘War on the States’ to look as through the government could still make things happen. But trying to put a series of random local initiatives into a coherent programme for national office is not easy. Here is how Howard tries to explain the guidelines for this new ‘aspirational nationalism’:

Sometimes that will involve leaving things entirely to the states. Sometimes it will involve cooperative federalism. On other occasions, it will require the Commonwealth bypassing the states altogether and dealing directly with local communities.

i.e. he will make it up as he goes along. Pork-barrelling used to be the way a government with a national agenda firmed up support at the local level. Here Howard is trying to make the pork-barrelling the national agenda itself.

Howard has taken the campaign into local trivia, partly as a deliberate strategy, but more as a reaction to the loss of control over the national agenda. He now has only a few weeks before the APEC meeting and then the election to pull it together to present a national case for re-election. His trouble is that in 11½ years he has only one convincing agenda, Iraq and the War on Terror, and he can barely mention that anymore. The international agenda has now shifted Labor’s way which underpins its solid lead in the polls this year. Rudd’s job now is to stop boring the nation on how drunk he was four years ago, get out of the swamp that Howard has dragged Labor and the campaign into over the last six months and confirm that claim on power.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 21 August 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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