This is not Howard v Peacock

Wednesday, 18 February 2009 

There is only one way to interpret an intriguing piece by Dennis Shanahan in The Australian today warning that Turnbull is threatening to split the party – it is a feed by those attempting to undermine him. After all, it is hardly unusual that a Liberal leader would attempt to put his own people in influential positions in the organisation, what Liberal leader has not? The fact that Turnbull has so few in the party to already call his own just illustrates that he came to power more because the old guard lost control than he won it in his own right. Where the article strikes a false note, however, is in comparing what is happening now to the Howard-Peacock merry-go-round in the 1980s.

The Howard-Peacock rows were essentially how to respond to an external development, namely the way Labor was handling the economic restructuring of the time through the social accord with the unions. Roughly the Liberals were split between that section of business and the Liberals represented by Howard, that wanted to break with the accord and nobble the unions directly, or the Peacock wing and business that were happier to accommodate to the accord. The irony was that both sections lost. Peacock’s chances faded as the accord ran its course while Howard watched Hewson try to take economic reform further and fail. In the end Howard returned pretending to be a faux Thatcherite but really someone who stood for nothing at all.

This time the Liberals are not responding directly to any external event but a more internal one of their very relevance. The troubles now are not a response to differing views of Australian business, but more a response to the fact that business has little interest in them at all. That is why the lines are much harder to determine and the issues less clear. Certainly it is not accurate to talk of a split between the left and the right in the traditional sense. It is probably more accurate to see this as between the old guard, who would look on the Howard years to cling to, and those who think it has to be something else, without being quite sure what that is.

It is why reports that Turnbull has support from the “mad young right”, while possibly surprising to those who see Turnbull as being on the party’s ‘left’, look entirely credible. It is also why Costello, often distrusted in the past by the Howard camp, is increasingly being brought closer to it, the more he becomes identified with a lost past. It would suggest that with neither side seriously representing anybody’s interests, other than a party trying to work out what it is for, so it will be difficult for either side to achieve a convincing ascendancy even for the periods seen in the 1980s.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 18 February 2009.

Filed under State of the parties

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5 responses to “This is not Howard v Peacock”

  1. Riccardo on 19th February 2009 2:33 pm

    The Lib activists such as The Australian are looking more and more like some fish flapping about on the shore, as the tide has receded and won’t be back for some time.

    The current fish will be long extinct by the time it returns.

  2. DM on 21st February 2009 12:35 am

    Hmm…I don’t get it. Why does the ‘mad young right’ support Turnbull? Can you explain that a bit further?

  3. Nick on 23rd February 2009 2:26 pm

    This was mentioned on insiders.

    As someone said there, there are differences between the camps at play here, the prime example being on environmental isses.

    Also lets not overplay the differences between Howard and Peacock, it was as much about the spoils of opposition as anything from my point of view.

  4. The Piping Shrike on 25th February 2009 6:59 am

    I agree Nick, although at least the ideological bit did give the power plays some coherence.

    Hard to say that now. The ‘bitterly opposed camps’ of Turnbull and Costello are hard to distinguish on policy, shown by Pyne’s ability to move between both. I think the events of the last fortnight could have frightened the old guard as much as Turnbull, i.e. that a fragmented party makes it easy for power plays to get out of control.

  5. Ricc on 26th February 2009 11:20 pm

    Why is history (or the Libs) so hard on Peacock. Howard camp must have started it.

    Peacock was Melbourne upper crust and well connected but that had never been a disadvantage before. Baillieu gets into trouble in the broader electorate but not within the old party establishment.

    The Lib’s mythologising the humble beginnings of their heros is a recent thing. Menzies might have come from Jeparit but I bet he didn’t lean on that crutch to get the job.

    Howard’s father might have lived in Earlwood but he owned a copra plantation in New Guinea and was one of those pushing for full annexation of PNG (thankfully Menzies refused to go down that path). I don’t think Howard was as poor as he makes out – he certainly managed to slip into Uni, Law and Wollstoncraft without much ado.

    Howard boosters have Peacock as lightweight but again, since when was that a problem? The NSW liberal party pushed McMahon into office. Enough said.

    The humble beginnings thing smells of Mid-Western Repub nonsense. Imported by campaign staff.

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