Matt Price talks of the dangers of hubris this
morning
– about “dangerously high levels of hubris, way too much for safe human consumption”
recorded recently in Parliament House.

Here’s an issue that might act as an antidote – one
that’s been strangely absent in all the comment on the Howard decade. Just
what’s going to happen to the Liberal Party when he’s gone?

Political
parties wax and wane over the years. The Liberal Party was about to
disintegrate, the pundits told us, after they lost the 1993 poll. Instead –
well, we know what happened. But surely there should be at least one Jeremiah
out there talking about the damage that John Howard is doing to the Liberal
Party by extending his stay at the top.

There
seems to be an inevitable cycle in the life of political parties: success;
extended success; doldrums; defeat; despair then, once again, success.
Occasionally reinvention fits in there somewhere – but not always.

Look at Australia since 1949. The Liberals had
Menzies – success and extended success. They then had Holt, Gordon and McMahon.
Doldrums. The wind was taken out of their sails by Whitlam, then that wind returned
when a mighty storm wrecked the Whitlam government and Malcolm Fraser rode a
massive wave of support that put the Liberals back into office. The wind died
down again, though, and the Hawke years and 13 years of opposition began. But
reinvention didn’t really figure.

Both sides of politics are now controlled by apparatchiks, a cadre
of
political professionals. But the extent to which this class has seized
control of
the Liberal Party over the Howard years is truly astounding. Political
professionals, all too often, are placemen. They do not have
original ideas. Howard
fits this trend. Most of the time he is simply an administrator, a
striver, not a
leader.

John
Howard is enjoying fair winds, but who will follow him? L’etat, c’est him.
Where’s the reinvention. Peter Costello looks more and more just like a stop
gap leader. Greg Sheridan was right yesterday.
“The bigger disappointment about Costello is just how lazy
and shallow his thinking is whenever he’s not speaking from a Treasury script.”

Ideas blow politics along. Politicians then set the sails and steer the
course. And John Howard is leading the Liberals into the doldrums. They may
well be drifting hopelessly when he’s gone.

Peter Fray

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