The coming 2007 election is being viewed, with some justification, as a rerun of the Don’s Party election of 1969. (That is, almost there for Labor, but not quite).

Certainly there are some similarities — an attractive new leader against a tired old government – but an even better comparison might be the 1961 election which saw the Menzies-led coalition scrape in by a single seat after 12 years in office.

The comfortable majority from 1958 that all but vanished was due to an unpopular policy – the so-called “credit squeeze” introduced to tame the inflation tiger, but resulting in a brake-screeching economic halt that bankrupted businesses and sent unemployment soaring.

Howard, in for a similar period as Menzies then was, has his own unpopular policy in WorkChoices, and on present indications, that will cost him votes and seats.

Menzies, of course, learned his lesson, went easier on the levers, and when things were looking sweet in 1963 called an early poll which he won comfortably.

With hindsight, Menzies might have bolstered his reputation by resigning after 1961 (he was then 67), but he hung on for another four years in a world that was becoming increasingly alien to him.

It is tempting to see history repeating in 2007, but John Howard might not have the option that Menzies had. An increasingly plausible scenario is for the coalition to scrape back but Howard losing Bennelong.

That poses an interesting one for the Liberals. Costello would deliver more of the same, which the electorate had all but rejected.

In terms of what the voters do not seem to like – increasingly harsh IR laws – Costello is a harder man than Howard.

It’s getting more interesting by the day.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey