Almost a
decade after John Howard first swept to office on the slogan “For all
of us,” there’s still confusion about what his message meant.

Perhaps Sunday’s riot in Cronulla will put some of that confusion to rest.

issue are two different interpretations of “Howard’s battlers,” the
supposed key to his electoral success. Some commentators still identify
them with the disadvantaged working class of places like the western
suburbs of Sydney. But in reality his distinctive support base is the
lower middle class – those who, gripped by what Mark Latham aptly calls
“downward envy,” take out their angst on the less fortunate.

Sydney rioted earlier this year, in Macquarie Fields. That, like the
more recent riots in Paris, was a genuine product of social exclusion.
Discrimination and bad policy don’t justify mob violence, but they
provide an essential context for understanding it.

The “poor
white trash” of Cronulla, on the other hand, have got advantages in
life that the people of Macquarie Fields can only dream about. They’re
rioting against the idea of having to share any of it with those who
have less money or darker skins.

They’re the key component of
Howard’s support. They’ve given him four election victories; in return,
he’s given them permission to think that their racism is noble and

It’s not. It’s toxic. John Howard and his cheer squad need to say so, loud and clear.