and Howard remade Australia by stealing the other party’s
supporters,” writes George Megalogenis towards the end of his new book, The
Longest Decade
But how has John Howard done it? And has he done it on talent alone? These are
some of the man’s own thoughts, from the book:

To be a successful political leader, in my
opinion, you have got to identify with a certain strand or current in
Australian life, or several. And you can say that, you can certainly say that
of Menzies, you can say that of Hawke, others can make a judgement about me,
but I guess I’ve had some success in doing it. Keating, I couldn’t quite see. I
mean who did he identify with, he identified with the arts? Not really. I mean
he did.

Howard says “I have a view that some of these cultural issues that Keating
grabbed hold of when he became leader were not things that he felt all that
deeply about. I don’t recall Keating saying a great deal about the republic or the
flag or Aboriginal affairs before he became leader… it struck me that a lot of
it was as much a way of galvanising people in his own party as it was an
expression of his authentic beliefs.”

We’ve heard
all this before – although it’s interesting to have it in Howard’s own words.

Megalogenis is breaking ground is with these lines that ran in The Weekend

The Longest Decade also includes an interview
with Mr Howard, who says the previously Labor-voting blue-collar workers who
had become self-employed as a result of economic deregulation were “a
natural fit for me”.

“A lot of those people are socially
conservative. They don’t like all this trendy stuff (such as a republic and
Aboriginal reconciliation),” he says.

“A natural
fit with me.” Commentators and academics such a Judith Brett have said this
before – but has Howard? It’s a lot more definitive a comment than “The times
will suit me.”

So the
times have suited him. Or have they? Megalogenis has this spectacular outburst
of Keatingisms:

When John Howard says, “I’m not John Howard,
I’m a hedgehog”, is he John Howard or is he a hedgehog? The Canberra press gallery says, “No, no, he’s
told us he’s not John Howard, he’s a hedgehog”. So he’s a hedgehog. The fact
is, Howard never changed, he was always the same suburban reactionary.

probably a matter of core and non-core. Howard – ever so humbly – compares
himself to our two other longest serving prime ministers, Hawke and Menzies. They –
Menzies in particular – didn’t have the enormously sophisticated opinion
polling, message-tweaking communications and spin machine that Howard has.

So the
times have suited him. For the first time, he’s boasting. Modern Australians
are “A natural fit with me”. Actually,
enough Australians in enough marginals fit. A key demographic, assiduously

And while
the times might suit John Howard, he is always hard at work to ensure he fits