Australian Politics

September 12, 2007 9:36 AM

The media narrative of the moment is that John Howard, Australia's Prime Minister for the last eleven years, is seeing his leadership of the party challenged in the face of opinion polls predicting a crushing election defeat. What seems to be being missed in all the analysis is that you'd have to be nuts to want the Liberal leadership right now.

The Liberal party is running low in the polls because it has an unpopular leadership and unpopular policies, and is up against the simplest tidal force of politics: the sins of any government are cumulative, and eventually they build up to a critical mass.

Who'd be mad enough to take the party leadership under those circumstances? One of the old guard -- a Costello, Downer, Ruddock or Abbott -- would take the leadership at the cost of further destabilising the party, but without presenting any real alternative to the last eleven years of government. The tidal force for change would sweep a Costello government out of office just as surely as it would Howard.

A fresher face could promise to rebuild the party, but simply wouldn't have time to make any substantial changes or gain the confidence of voters before polling day. At the same time such a move would cancel out the one thing the Liberal party were counting on as an electoral advantage: their experience in government and economic record.

Anyone who takes the mantle of the Liberal leadership right now is most likely looking at a landslide defeat on election day, a permanent blot on their record, and a loss of that leadership soon after. At best it might make a neat full-stop on somebody's career, allowing someone to put "Prime-Minister" on their official bio even if it was only for a month or two.

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