What a difference a fortnight makes. At the start of the campaign, Howard was in combative mode rallying the troops against the ABC. This time it was all fixed smiles and furrowed brows. The attempt to mobilize the party’s members and supporters floundered by the debate at the end of the first week. Just how far the campaign has slipped from the government’s control was indicated by the current election topics that Kerry O’Brien raised; climate change, cabinet solidarity and broken election promises on interest rates – none of which the government wants to talk about.

Commentators have noted that the campaign is not focusing on what the government does want to talk about – the economy. The trouble is that it is hard to do so because there is so little to say. There is no real policy difference between the two on the economy as we will probably see tonight between Costello and Swan. All it has come down to is who was around when interest rates were 17% or 22% or whatever. This economic debate by past association is now a problem for Howard as when he goes back to the past, his failure to keep his 2004 interest rate promise highlights that no-one really has any control.

If the past is a bit awkward, the future is not much better. Howard may want to talk about the future but every time he does, it brings up his retirement plans. It was an announcement he made to shore up his leadership but in doing so he undermined its authority. This in turn has compounded the fragmenting of the Liberals now under way, exemplified by Turnbull’s hints of unhappiness at the cabinet’s position on Kyoto, but it could be even worse than that if Glenn Milne’s report that other cabinet members leaked it is true. O’Brien and Milne, like the rest of the media, still see this fragmentation in terms of a Costello/Turnbull leadership challenge (in fact Milne gets in a tangle trying to work out the leadership machinations of the leaking cabinet ministers, it could be they just didn’t agree with the policy). It might be that the Liberals can’t wait to start fighting over the lucrative prize of the leadership of a defeated party – if only their problems were that simple.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 30 October 2007.

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