The new feisty John Howard on The 7.30 Report last night, compared to the steadier Rudd, highlights that Howard is the one to watch in this campaign not Rudd.

Labor is changing in a way that is being largely missed by the media, but it is the state of the Liberals that is the volatile factor in the campaign as it struggles for an agenda to connect with its own supporters and cohere the party.

Howard’s aggressive mode reflects that his immediate priority is rallying the core and being confrontational on the ABC never hurts for that (right to the end with his combative sign-off). Yet the tone for core supporters may not be the one for the broader electorate and several times he checked himself. However, it was definitely an improvement on his demeanour in last month’s appearances when his leadership was being questioned.

Delivery aside, the interview did show the problems Howard has in making the economy central to his re-election. The question comes down to how much control the government has over the economy and how much credit it can take for it, something Rudd has translated to ‘riding the Chinese boom’. Howard’s claim that this was an insult to those not in the mining sector was weak, his charge that it was a negative view was better. But even if he can make it a question of stewardship, the problem is distinguishing his from Rudd. The Me-tooism not only came from Rudd last night on fiscal conservatism but Howard was also being me-too on his defensiveness over his earlier spending cuts, another core platform of Howard’s agenda being put away. In focussing on the economy, Howard is running on an issue that is becoming depoliticised. He may have attitude, but the programme to rally the troops is still not there.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 16 October 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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