John Howard has become the Alfred E. Neuman of Australian politics. He bounded down the steps of his VIP jet with a cheeky grin as if he did not have a care in the world.

The old fellow even carried his own bag and kept the minders out of sight (as pictured on the front page of today’s Fin Review below). The image was a Prime Minister capable of doing things on his own, a PM keen to get on with the job of running the country.

 

The fit and sprightly picture was not a new one. Every day we are reminded that age has not wearied him. Australians have got used to their tracksuited leader striding out every morning.

But on this visit to the war zones of the world Mr Howard did give us a new look. A brown leather bomber jacket replaced the sports coat as he mingled with the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Not exactly the style of a modern youth but at least an advance to a look of the 70s.

Off the plane and in to a television studio with Kerry O’Brien where the smiles continued as Mr Howard feigned a little anger with Santo Santoro and gave us a dash of self-deprecating humour with a reference to needing him like a hole in the head. An entry in our cliché collection for sure but at least an appropriate one.

There was no sign of the twitching shoulder which marks John Howard under pressure. Try as he might, red (haired) Kerry could not ruffle his good natured composure. All in all a fine day’s performance.

But what’s in the briefcase, that’s the real question. Let us know what John Howard carries in his big black bag. We’ll publish the best guesses and present one lucky respondent with a superb Samsonite 900 series vanquish leather laptop briefcase. Send your list of contents to [email protected] . We’ll chose a winner by Friday’s edition.