CANBERRA OBSERVED: News Weekly
Election outcome will shape Australia's future
, October 13, 2007
Could John Howard's defeat at the forthcoming federal election spell the demise of the Liberal Party?Depending on the outcome, the coming election result is going to have an immediate impact on John Howard's legacy or on the reputation of the pollsters.
Of course, pollsters will say their data is not predictive and that the views recorded only state the mind of the voter when the questions are being asked.
But all three of the polls have been saying the same thing for 10 months - voters are not listening to John Howard and they like what they see in Kevin Rudd. They point to a landslide swing to Labor of historic proportions.
If Mr Howard pulls off a miracle win, there will have to be a major rethink about the role and influence of polls in the Australian political debate.Pain of defeat
If Mr Howard loses badly, the pain of defeat will be sharp; but he will also know he can be justifiably proud and satisfied with most of his Government's record.
Mr Howard will win plaudits for many of his reforms, particularly those in the early years of his Government.
Tax and welfare reform, family policy, and the waterfront are a few which obviously come to mind.
However, in the short term, he will have to suffer recriminations from those who will say he insisted on clinging to power for too long, and not reading the public mood properly after several of his Cabinet ministers suggested he should go.
Labor will move quickly to capitalise on the loss, arguing that Mr Howard wasted the latter part of his prime ministership in failing to tackle its chosen reform agenda on climate change, infrastructure bottlenecks, skills and education and broadband.
This would be standard behaviour for any political victor.
Commentators are certain to interpret the last years of the Howard administration as ad hoc governance with cobbled-together policies, such as the Murray-Darling water plan and the Mersey Hospital takeover in Tasmania.
Mr Howard will be accused of selfishly refusing to put in place an orderly transition to the next generation of leaders during his last term.
And the jackals will strip him to the bone for making the strategic blunder of his career by insisting on implementing his WorkChoices revolution.
Much worse, though, will be the behaviour of the latte left which is already trying to rewrite the history of the Howard era.
Its chief propagandists have been arguing that the imminent defeat of the Howard Government is in fact the delayed reaction by voters to issues such as children overboard, David Hicks, Iraq, its failure to say sorry to the Aborigines or to advance the cause of the republic.
In others words, the shibboleths of the left will be rebuilt by the left over time as if nothing had happened and the Howard era had been a dream.
The consequences of defeat for the Liberal Party will also be grave.
A new Labor Government would be likely to be in power for at least two terms, and most likely three.
This would likely see out the end of the political careers of Peter Costello, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott, Alexander Downer and possibly Dr Brendan Nelson.
At a minimum, it would mean the federal parliamentary Liberal Party will have to rebuild itself from the ground up.
But with the Liberal Party in a parlous condition in every state and territory, it would not be an exaggeration to suggest a Howard defeat could spell the beginning of the end of the party as a political force.
In short, the stakes are enormous for Mr Howard, and until very recently very few people in the Government believed it could happen.
Mr Howard remains convinced he can still win the 2007 election, despite consistent polling which suggests the potential for the biggest swing toward Labor in post-war political history.
But the PM thinks he actually has history on his side, arguing recently that no federal government has been thrown out during good times or unless they have been proven incompetent.
Mr Howard asserts correctly that neither of those factors are at play.
And he also believes the Australian people will be reluctant to have wall-to-wall Labor Governments - an alignment of the political stars which few if anyone can recall.
The key question is: is the PM deluding himself in the same way Paul Keating did toward the end of his prime ministership?
In fact, Mr Howard is probably the most realistic and grounded political leader in decades.
He knows better than anyone how tough the coming fight will be, how high the stakes are for him and his party.
With only a few weeks to go, the Government knows that things are now serious and will have to act accordingly.