They know not what they did.

It seems this blogger under-estimated Howard’s eagerness to speak out after getting thrown out – he clearly needs the money. He has followed his heroine Thatcher on the lucrative US speaking circuit for foreign conservative leaders. And like Thatcher, he seems set for a deluded old age.

Contrary to how it is discussed now, Thatcher’s moderate support from the UK electorate against a divided opposition in the 1980s rested not on her right-wing ideology, but her pragmatism. She was a response to the exhaustion of Labourism and a union movement that had failed to restrain the wages of its members in the Winter of Discontent. It was their bankruptcy that allowed her to wind the whole thing up with the defeat of the miners in 1986. The subsequent election was her high point after which her government began to fall apart as it had nothing left to do. She tried to revive a sense of purpose by pushing through the Poll Tax but the pointlessness of it gave her ministers nothing to counter its unpopularity. The British left liked to think Thatcher’s fall would lead to their revival but it had actually happened because her mission to destroy the left’s agenda had been accomplished.

If this all sounds a bit familiar let’s get clear the differences. When Thatcher took over there was at least a seemingly militant union movement. When Howard took over there was not. He and Reith ran around trying to make the waterfront dispute into their Miners Strike but it fooled no-one. Howard’s problem was that not only had the union movement clearly had its day but we also had here a Labor Prime Minister to tell everyone the fact. It was why Keating was persona non grata on both sides of the fence for a decade. His return to the national stage last year not only showed Labor had finally moved beyond its union roots with the election of Rudd, but that for the little fraud in Kirribilli, his time was up.

Workchoices was Howard’s Poll Tax, not because it was the cause of his downfall, but because it just highlighted the government’s irrelevance. It was so irrelevant that even as a symbol for a demoralised Liberal opposition to cling on to, it has needed to be dropped so they can do deals with their business backers. But for self-styled conservative leaders, it is that irrelevance (and of those who oppose them) that they refuse to see. Instead, it becomes seen as a problem that they were too ideological at the end rather than having no ideas at all. So begins their madness.

If Howard’s domestic fraud is our little secret, his international one is known around the world. Americans are generally a polite lot so they would be unlikely to remind Howard while he is over there, what a leading Presidential candidate said a year ago about Howard’s commitment to Iraq. When Obama reminded Howard that Australia’s commitment needed to be ten times the level to be in proportion to the US’s, he did what nobody seemed willing to do here, expose that Howard never had the political ‘conviction’ that he claimed. But all that will be forgotten as he goes around and cheers up lunching conservatives who are no doubt a bit in need of it given the state of their own neo-con revival. They will prefer to dream that in a country about which they know little, and probably care even less, there was once a True Conservative Leader.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 7 March 2008.

Filed under Key posts, Political figures

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