Reporting yesterday on John Howard’s visit to the South Australian election campaign, The Age said “Stating the obvious, the PM said at a television policy launch: ‘I want us to win.'” But is that really obvious?

Howard’s commitment to the Liberal Party is unquestionably deep, and I
don’t doubt it would give him a momentary thrill if they were to pull
off an unlikely win in one of the upcoming state elections. But whether
he thinks such an outcome is worth fighting for is another question.

It certainly didn’t sound like it in Adelaide. He told listeners
the South Australian economy was “in good shape”, and described Liberal
leader Rob Kerin as “not a bad package” – hardly glowing praise. As Roy Eccleston said in The Australian, “Hopefully the PM raised the local Liberals some money before he left; he hardly raised their hopes.”

And it’s not just South Australia; throughout the country, Liberal
leaders are in the doldrums, and find that they get little help from
Canberra. Even when they try to imitate Howard’s tactics, they have no
luck. Today’s Australian editorialises
that “It is hard to believe the state and territory opposition leaders
… come from the same political gene pool as John Howard.”

There’s no doubt that Howard gets some political benefit from having a
bunch of Labor premiers that he can shift blame onto. It also makes his
dominance of the Liberal Party that much more uncategorical. One day,
the starving of resources to the state divisions must have an effect on
federal campaigns, but it doesn’t seem to have happened yet, and Howard
may be gone by the time it does.

Peter Brent at Mumble
last year said that when federal Liberals talked about their state
colleagues it was “Schadenfreude dressed up as concern”. That’s
probably a bit harsh, but Brent’s point is that the wheel will
eventually turn: “most probably in five years time it’ll be the self-same
Federal MPs who are an irrelevant rabble, standing for nothing,
incapable of organising a p*ss-up in a brewery, etc.”