For his decade as Prime Minister John Howard has regularly fobbed off questions from journalists with the response that he is not a political commentator and that he will leave the judgments to the journalists.

Circumstances, it seems, have changed with the PM this morning taking to the op-ed page of The Australian to play the role of political analyst. New Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd is obviously having an impact with his pre-holiday tour of the country. The Liberal Party apparatchiks must be unhappy with the reception given to Rudd and Julia Gillard by the Canberra press gallery and want to put a few ideas into their heads before any love affair with Labor becomes entrenched.

The Prime Ministerial message is that Rudd Labor is guilty of “hyperbolic overreach” in demonising the Government as being extremist. “The Opposition Leader’s rhetorical device of choice is the Straw Man,” claims the Howard ghost writer. “He conjures up a bogus image before proceeding to knock it down. He has invested heavily in the charge that I am an extremist and a market fundamentalist. Indeed he goes further, accusing the Government of fostering an ethos of selfishness in the Australian community (“Me, Myself, I”) to the detriment of the common good.”

All this, argues the Howard piece, is nonsense with the Government having “balanced market-based reforms with care for the vulnerable.” Where Rudd claims that a Howard Government has fostered rampant individualism, the PM sees a social contract not drawn up by “technocrats in an inter-jurisdictional working committee” but something written on the hearts and minds of average Australians. “And it is from them” Howard concludes “that my government is happy to take its lead.”

Peter Fray

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