Modia Minotaur

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Leadership: The Speculation Begins In Earnest (or in Piers)

Piers Akerman's column this weekend suggesting that John Howard has set a plan into action whereby he will hand over the leadership of the Liberal Party to Peter Costello by December, retire to the back bench before quietly donning his green and gold tracky dacks and power-walking into the sunset has set off the biggest round of leadership speculation since ... well, how long is it since Costello was first promised the big seat in Parliament? A long time, anyway.

Tony Blair now knows how dangerous to give any sort of concrete timetable for departure, and you can bet that Howard will never, ever do the same (no, not like the GST - really never). But how genuine is the speculation? We all know Akerman is a cherished mouthpiece of Howard's, meaning he will say whatever Howard likes, regardless of whether it's true or not. The difference here is that it's difficult to see what tactical advantage Howard could gain from muddying the leadership waters on purpose, straight after the Budget, and at a time when the government are still asking questions about the Opposition leadership.

Howard's current overseas trip is therefore being interpreted as a `lap of honour', especially as it features both visits to old favourites (the US and UK) and places to which he has rarely or never made an official visit (Ireland and Canada), and will be scoured for symbolic or concrete demonstrations that he's making his last dance. Today, for example, Howard and George W. Bush have planted a tree in Washington in celebration of Australia's close involvement in the US's (ahem) `Liberty Agenda' Dubya's words, not mine.

(Might I add that while Kim Beazley's criticism of Howard's trip in the Budget Reply was poorly received, it does, after all, feature a stay in a UK hotel which costs $31,000 per night. Yes, that's $31,000 per night.)

So will Howard be out by December? Well, I've always said they'll take the bugger out in a box, and I still think that. Would he give up missing the APEC Summit? I just can't see it. But then again, the pressure has been mounting on Howard to detail an exit strategy, as it were, and the Treasurer has been exuding what journo Matt Price described as a `zen-like calm' in recent weeks. The idea of having Howard sticking around as a back seat PM can't be particularly attractive to Costello - it certainly doesn't say much for his faith in his ability to run the country - but it would be more so than sitting around waiting for him to bugger off for another ten years. On the other hand - doesn't Howard have a certain obligation to stick around and defend the sweeping changes that came in under his leadership just since the last election, and the Senate win? If I (or any other voter) wants to register their disgust about WorkChoices, or Welfare to Work, or any of the legislation rushed through Parliament in an indecent haste at the end of last year, I want my vote to be against Little Johnny, not his deputy. Isn't this what some in the business call `cutting and running'?

As to the second part of the story, that an early election (around April, which would place it within weeks of the NSW election) would be held to bed-in Prime Minister Costello - I'm not so sure of that, either. I just can't see any benefit flowing from having two elections so close together, regardless of the result in NSW.

Meanwhile, there's also speculation of an imminent reshuffle somewhat down the ladder, following the announcement of Minister for Sports and Arts Rod Kemp's retirement (don't you love a country that chucks sport and art into the same basket?). Kemp is expected to be moved (or move) to the back bench, while Amanda Vanstone is also rumoured to be demoted, following reports that Gary Hardgrave has held meetings, organised by the Office of Prime Minister in Cabinet, with senior bureaucrats from DFAT. Mysterious stories circulated not long after the last reshuffle suggesting that both Kemp and Vanstone were on the chopping block, but they disappeared just as mysteriously.


At 2:07 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allow me to plug my latest post, which argues that Akerman must be up to something if he's touting a March/April election - which is totally out of the question.

William Bowe

At 9:37 am, Blogger Minotaur said...

I defer to your superior analysis and highly recommend the above post.

Ah, the notion of a by-election in Bennelong. What fun.

At 2:02 pm, Blogger Bagel Blogger said...

I disagree, Our favorite guy is doing his last tour of Duty.
Why not have an all expenses paid holiday and be seen to be praised as a 'great leader'.

This is his swan song, bring on the hunters.

For my take of his trip and his immediate future palns feel free to check out my blog;
Australian Prime Minister John Howard's fast approaching retirement

(another shameless self plug)

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