Silence says nothing

Wednesday, 12 September 2007 

There was a lot of talk of meaningful silences yesterday as the media tried to make something out of very little as it continues to see a government implosion in terms of a leadership challenge.

But this is a challenge without a challenger. Much was made of Costello’s silence yesterday, but it was the silence of someone who could not attack Howard because he was incapable of mounting a challenge, yet neither could he support Howard in case the leadership was dropped into his lap. It was thought highly significant that Costello would not rule out becoming leader if he was offered it. But if being prepared to accept the Prime Ministership handed on a plate makes someone a challenger, then surely all but the most timid member of the parliamentary Liberal Party would qualify.

In hindsight, Howard’s mistake on The 7.30 Report the other night was not that he threw down the gauntlet to the party by saying the parliament would sit for the full two weeks. Rather it was admitting he needed to talk more about future plans, which he did not have. In doing so he put his finger on exactly the reason why the government would lose and undermined the one thing Howard has going for him, his record. It didn’t help either that last week he exposed the party’s discontent by asking Downer to sound out the cabinet, the findings of which spooked the inner circle and led to the last three days of ‘introspection’ and paralysis as the leadership woke up to the vacuum of support around them.

However, when it comes to taking on his party, what Howard has on his side is reality. There is no-one better than Howard to lead the Liberals to their defeat and the party knows it. This is not just because he is its most popular possible leader (probably made a little more so by staring down his party yesterday) but because Howard’s lack of future plans are also those of the party. This is a political party that cannot face up to the true cause of its coming defeat. For most of this year it simply dismissed the opinion polls (followed by the media). After that was made impossible by the last Newspoll, a poll held in high regard by the coalition, the blame turned on Howard’s leadership as the problem (followed by the media).

It is also why it is so frustrated with Rudd, who they see, fairly enough, as policy-lite but untouchable. But the issue is not Rudd, it is them, and the fact that the Liberal party has lost the role for which it was set up. What we are seeing now is the beginning of a historical crisis in the Liberal party, which will become apparent once it loses its last hold on state and federal government for the first time in its existence. The crisis has begun with conservative commentators tearing up Howard’s legacy, something that reached fever pitch in Andrew Bolt’s blog yesterday in his over-excitement as he waited for Howard’s dumping (taken off H-S’s site but here for your enjoyment).

Where it goes from there is hard to see. Certainly it won’t get much help from deluded conservative thinkers like Albrechtsen who see Howard as another Thatcher (at least Thatcher implemented a programme before she was dumped). The debate on the right will probably go quiet, the sort of silence that will probably be present in the party room today where it is quite possible the leadership will not even be discussed, because while Howard has run out of ideas, he will remind the party that, in the words of their heroine, there is no alternative.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 12 September 2007.

Filed under Political figures

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