Our leaders have no ideas, contends Christian Kerr

Trees die for this? With all the crap being printed on the Labor leadership, even yours truly is tempted to go out and buy some Birkenstocks and join Friends of the Earth.

Take all these comparisons about the Howard recycling. Shaun Carney, usually one of the better pundits, even pointed out in The Ageyesterday that today week “marks the 10th anniversary of one of the best things to have happened to the Liberal Party since its inception: John Howard’s return to the leadership”.

Jeepers creepers! What’s that got to do with Labor’s current position?

One of the great tricks of punditry is to quote precedents in the way lawyers do. That’s sheer gall. Law is carved in stone. Politics is fluid. Punditry is guesswork. Educated, informed guesswork, but guesswork none the less.

Now, yours truly’s approach to politics combines the cheerier parts of Hobbes with Enoch Powell’s “All political careers end in failure because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs”, but can we please drop the pseudo-science? At the current rate we’ll soon have someone trying to tell us that because Petro Georgiou is a bright and competent Member for Kooyong he could outstrip Ming’s record as PM.

This is how the Australian political landscape looks in January 2005:

We have our biggest taxing government ever, the Howard Government. It gets re-elected because it gives back some of that money as very carefully targeted largesse for a favoured few and runs competent scare campaigns – be they on immigration or interest rates – that frighten enough of the punters who are losing out into voting for them.

It has no intention of changing. Finance Minister Nick Minchin virtually fessed up to this modus operandi yesterday at the Young Liberals conference when he questioned how the government could continue to deliver its “commitments” if billions of dollars were lost from tax cuts.

John Howard has been masquerading as a reformer ever since the defeat of the Fraser Government 22 years ago – and Andrew Peacock’s first stint as opposition leader.

Looming control of both Houses of Parliament must scare him sh*tless. Now he’ll actually have to deliver something – but the only indications we have of an agenda are hints of electoral changes that will favour the Coalition and new IR laws that might curb union excesses and help business, but probably at the expense of individual workers. Presumably there’s some repacking of media legislation in there, too – but no doubt our communications framework will remain strictly corporatist.

How can Labor challenge this? With Kim Beazley? With the man who invented the small target strategy? The bloke who when he cooked up a policy served us Noodle Nation? What can he do?

We need to remember – again – why Labor took the Latham gamble 13 months ago. He wasn’t chosen for his people skills. He got the job because he had some interesting policy ideas. It was too bad that the other voices shouting in his head drowned them out.

What does Beazley offer? Certainly not policy. He has a few personal enthusiasms. They’re not the sort of Captain Whacky obsessions that drove Paul Keating down the path of political perdition – but that’s about it on the thinking front. Beazley is nothing but A Safe Pair of Hands – for opposition.

Kevin Rudd doesn’t appear to have had any ideas beyond looking competent and responsible on TV and after Medicare Gold why waste time delving any further into the Gillard vision – but what’s the role for Labor in the twenty first century?

Well, let’s go back to end of the last one. Then, there seemed to be two Labor thinkers who had some ideas on that subject. Mark Latham and Lindsay Tanner. One from the right and one from the left. Neat. Even better, one of them didn’t seem to suffer from a personality disorder.

Tanner suddenly deserted the battlefield. That might have been understandable with Simon Crean as commander in chief, but you can still be shot at dawn for desertion.

It also shows a failure of strategy on Tanner’s part. He had the shadow communications portfolio from the 2001 election until the 2004. Communications = IT = futurology. He could have spoken on almost any subject but still kept it packaged in his portfolio. He didn’t.

That means Tanner doesn’t stand a chance in the leadership stakes now. You can’t go AWOL and get welcomed back. He’ll have to do some time in the stockade – but at least he can do something more productive than peel potatoes.

The Bomber’s back, it seems – but simply circling in a holding pattern.

John Howard doesn’t have any ideas. Peter Costello is a wimp. And relaxed and comfortable will, one day, become just plain boring.

Remember those old screeds on the land of the long weekend and the great Australian stupor? At the moment there seems to be an underlying assumption that Australia’s economic performance is, well, an underlying assumption. A given.

It isn’t – and one day, sooner or later, we’ll need some new ideas to secure it. Where will they come from?