Giving up political power would not
be an easy decision. After you have run the country, how do you find another job
anywhere near as satisfying? The personal interest in leading a fulfilling life
must strongly push you in the direction of staying on.

So it has proved for John Howard.
Forget about all the talk of the best interests of the Liberal Party and doing
what the colleagues wanted. That might all be true but it is coincidental. The
Prime Minister wants to keep going because he is fit and well and likes what he
is doing.

A moment or two reflecting on his
immediate predecessors would have helped in reaching the decision to stay on.

Paul Keating in retirement concerned
himself with the exact shade of duck egg blue for the ceiling of his office
before pathetically trying to influence the public debate with memories of his

Bob Hawke returned to being a door
opener for wealthy businessmen while providing the gossip magazines with
pictures aplenty.

Malcolm Fraser pulled up his
trousers and pretended he was not just the failure who achieved nothing the last
time a government had a Senate majority.

John Howard looks at Keating, Hawke
and Fraser and knows there is nothing better for him to do than what they do so
staying on looks the best option.

Whether it will seem such a good
idea in 18 months’ time is another question. Prime Ministers who gracefully
retire as winners are a rare breed. Most die in office, are defeated in a palace
coup or face the indignity of losing an election.

Keating and Fraser were in the
category of election losers along with Sir William McMahon and Ben Chifley.
Hawke joined John Gorton as the victim of a coup. Harold Holt and John Curtin
died in office.

In the last 60 years, only Robert
Menzies and Frank Forde went at a time of their own choosing and for Forde, that
was after eight days. Arthur Fadden was the one off who lost the job via a vote
in the House of Representatives.

Howard hopes to be a Menzies and
eventually retire at a time of his choosing but he must first now win the next
election and that will be no easy feat. With this Parliament well past the half
way stage, Kim Beazley should be happy enough with how his Party is faring.
Labor is comfortably ahead of where it was at the same stage of the last
electoral cycle.

On the measurements of Newspoll,
Labor is four percentage points in front of the Coalition. The graph above shows
it is also doing four points better than in 2003.

And this advantage comes after 18
months of basically good economic news for the Howard Government. Now that
interest rates seem likely to rise again, Howard will find it hard to eat into
this lead.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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