Andrew Bolt got in first. He called for John Howard’s resignation the day after the Prime Minister accidently fell over in front of everyone. The headline “Howard Must Quit” may have seemed heartless, yes, but Andrew is nothing if not a pragmatist.
Since then, the list of commentators calling for Howard’s resignation (or an immediate election) has lengthened considerably:
Andrew Bolt: Howard Must Quit, The Herald Sun , 25th July
It is unfair I know. But it’s time John Howard quit. He must quit as Prime Minister not because he’s a failure, but — perversely — because he’s a success. He must quit because he’s done so well he should be red hot to win the next election. Instead, every poll this year agrees he’s leading to the mother of all hidings.
Andrew Bolt: Give Costello a sniff, The Herald Sun, Sept 5
The question now for the Liberals isn’t whether voters want John Howard. It’s why the Liberals insist on giving the voters a leader they clearly reject. Even at this too-late time, wouldn’t it make sense to switch to Treasurer Peter Costello instead? For many months the polls have been unanimous. Not a single credible one of them has predicted anything short of a massacre for the Howard Government at the election. On average, the Coalition has had just 45 per cent support. Newspoll yesterday said it was more like 41. Let me tell you how such figures would look on election night. Howard loses his seat. So does leadership contender Malcolm Turnbull. So do other ministers, including the fine Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Mal Brough. Even Costello is in strife, as is Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews.
Janet Abrechtsen: Pass Baton to Costello, The Australian, Sept 7
This is one of the hardest columns I will write. John Howard has been the finest prime minister Australia has had…But now he must go. It’s not easy saying that. The economic numbers certainly do not warrant it. All the numbers are in the right direction. Unemployment at historic lows. Economic growth at healthy highs. Neither does Howard’s character warrant it. He has been a leader in the true sense of the word. …But after 11 glorious years, this time the bad polls are pointing to something altogether different. Complacency in the electorate accounts for some of it. An entire generation has experienced nothing except economic prosperity. Even when other economies faltered, Australia remained stable. Kevin Rudd is also a key to what is happening. Not his policies, for few differ dramatically from Howard. But he has played the politics right…But something else is happening. It may not be rational. It may not be fair. It’s not about Howard’s age. He is fit, capable and, like that Energizer bunny, he could stay on to fight another fight. But voters appear to have turned off Howard. They appear to have stopped listening. Each new initiative that was meant to deliver a electoral bounce has failed to do so.
Neil Mitchell, on 3AW, Sept 5:
My tip for the next two weeks: John Howard may step down after APEC. Put Peter Costello in, he’ll run his agenda up hard. They’re going to have to do something. I said, I think about four or five weeks ago, “I reckon John Howard’s thinking about stepping down.” Looking at the poll yesterday — and you get a new perspective when you’re removed from the studio — I would not be at all surprised if the Prime Minister decides after APEC, that’s it.
Denis Shanahan, The Australian, Sept 4:
The Prime Minister has no choice but to call an election even though public polling says he faces “annihilation”. It’s his own word, and his only choice. Once APEC finishes on Sunday and parliament resumes, there will be an overwhelming expectation that an election will be called within weeks. The dire news for the Coalition in the latest Newspoll will undoubtedly spur speculation of a December election and a Liberal leadership change. Both remain possible but unlikely, especially Howard stepping down or being knocked off as Prime Minister. It is far more likely the Coalition will enter the valley of annihilation with a November election.
Paul Kelly, The Australian, Sept 5:
The party is not going to depose Howard and Peter Costello is not going to challenge him. Howard’s leadership lies in his own hands. For 12 years he has stayed Liberal leader because he judged correctly that he was the party’s best election winner. That was true in 1995 and it was true in 2006. But is it still true in September 2007? What is the real message of the polls? Is it for Howard to bring on the election? Or is it that the public has closed its mind against him?
Howard has no intention of walking away from this battle because for him that would be an act of panic and cowardice. But if the Liberal Party really believes the election is lost, then Howard must consider his responsibility as leader. He needs, at least, to re-examine his position and decide whether its logic remains valid.
Christian Kerr, Crikey, yesterday:
Crikey understands that John Howard will be considering his future in his few free moments this weekend. There is a strong possibility he will have made a decision before he goes back to work in Canberra and Parliament resumes next week to either resign or call an election. John Howard’s government faces electoral annihilation – to use his word. He even faces the loss of his own seat. Arthur Sinodinos is missed. The Liberal machine is in disarray. Morale and momentum are dissipating in the face of persistent poor polling. Crikey understands that the PM has discussed his future with his two closest advisers: his wife Janette and Graham Morris (senior Liberal sources say he discusses little with his parliamentary colleagues these days). Will he resign?
Crucially, Crikey understands no one is telling him not to.
The Australian editorial, Bored of comfort: Howard’s dilemma, August 30:
We now see Mr Howard struggling in the opinion polls not because of his age or because he has been in office for 11 years but because he appears to have little idea of what to do next. The electorate hasn’t been listening because the Government hasn’t said anything worth hearing. What is the compelling argument to vote for another term of the Howard Government? The big argument put by Mr Howard boils down to a fear of change.
Kath Day-Knight, Sunday 2 September: