Wendy Wedge is a political spin expert with an excellent insight into Howard’s brutally ruthless and divisive upcoming campaign.

For all those people who hate the PM for being narrow-minded, mean-spirited and inflexible the bad news is that he has both.

Back in the dark days earlier this year when Libs were panicking and media outlets were writing him off, the Prime Miniature worked on the basis that every week created the possibility of clawing back part of the vote deficit he was facing.

It all started when he abandoned all pretence at fiscal responsibility by throwing money around in a way that would make even an unreconstructed Keynesian in the middle of a Depression feel a tad uncomfortable.

But throwing the Budget into deficit to buy off disgruntled voters is crude in comparison to the latest exercise.

Now, rather than just desperately clawing back, he is embarking on an extremely calculated campaign – replete with symbolism – which might just get him over the line.

It started with the celebrations for the “Australian flag birthday” when he talked about the Aussie flag in terms which might even have embarrassed a right wing US Republican pledging undying love for the Stars and Bars.

He also had Tampa. When confronted by the problem of Beazley trying to be bi-partisan he pulled one of the oldest political stunts in the book – rush in legislation which forces your opponent to move away from the bipartisan position.

Next was the RSL Conference with more flag wagging and careful positioning as in tune with the Anzac heritage.

He has even presented an award to artist, John Olsen, in a bid to round out his image and as a sophisticated art lover. As Crikey didn’t attend the Olsen function we are unable to report on whether he told any cricket stories in presenting the award.

But if posing as a friend of the arts was not enough, still to come are:

A visit to the US sufficiently brief to appear Prime Ministerial without losing time from the Australian campaign.

A walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge for Citizenship Day in which a very Howard vision of Australia gets promoted. Unlike the reconciliation walk across the Bridge you can bet that no Ministers will be discouraged from participating.

CHOGM and the visit of the Queen in carefully selected areas where Australian republicans are not strong.

$40 million plus in taxpayer funded advertising spending to promote the Libs.

The dirtiest election campaign in decades. Don’t be surprised if poor old Kim gets accused of being a paedophile. They tried it on Keating and would probably be happy to try it again. In Keating’s case being seen having a coffee in the eastern suburbs with his son was enough to generate a whispering campaign fuelled by senior NSW Libs.

, 05and there are no doubt others we have not yet seen.

Symbols, wedges, good luck – they all combine to confirm the fact that no-one should ever under-estimate him.

Indeed, if you were Peter Costello, you wouldn’t want to rely on the fact that he will step down sometime during the next term should he get re-elected.

Of course, the carefully laid out campaign tactics – even embracing the arts – merely illustrate the fact that little Johnnie doesn’t change at all.

Unfortunately for the ALP there is nothing the Fat Boy has done to suggest that he can cope with a campaign quite as calculated as this one.

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Peter Fray

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