John “I’m Staying PM” Howard is off on a belated search for the vision thing that will prove the pundits and the pollsters wrong in predicting he can’t win the federal election later this year.

A tough and defiant Mr Howard announced his quest on the ABC’s AM program this morning after declaring he has no intention of stepping down so another leader can try and cut back Labor’s 14 point lead in the AC Nielsen poll in today’s Fairfax press.

“I intend to spend a lot more time laying out what we are going to do in the years ahead,” Mr Howard said, before showing that promising a vision for the future is easier than providing details of that vision.

Consider this interchange between the Prime Minister and the ABC’s chief political correspondent Chris Uhlmann:

Howard: Well I suppose the best way you do that is you demonstrate that your plans for the future are better than the other person’s. That’s how you do it.

Uhlmann: But what are they prime minister?

Howard: I beg your pardon?

Uhlmann: What are those plans for the future?

Howard: Ah well, they are to use, I don’t have time on a short interview like this to detail all of them, but they are essentially to use the prosperity that we now have to deal with the difficulties some people still have and also to build a stronger and more prosperous future and I think we have to shift the balance of the debate and the projection to those things rather than spend all our time saying how well we have done over the last 10 or 11 years.

There was not as much as a hint in Mr Howard’s answer that he has any new and concrete ideas about the kind of Australia he hopes to help build if re-elected. All his answers in the AM interview revealed is that he now accepts that the voting public is after something more than being told how well the Government had done over the last 10 or 11 years.

The Howard search for what that “something more” might be is just beginning, and finding it will be difficult given the constraints imposed by a vigilant Reserve Bank wary of increased government spending.

But without outlining some appealing new direction it is hard to disagree with the harsh judgment of Sunday Age columnist Jason Koutsoukis yesterday:

Just weeks away from a federal election they seem destined to lose, these are dark days indeed for the Liberal Party.

Out of government in every state and territory, losing power in Canberra will leave the Liberals very nearly bankrupt. And not just financially.

After 11 years of being run by a policy contortionist, it’s difficult to see why the Liberals want to be in government.

They don’t stand for paying less tax, not for less regulation, not for smaller government, not for protecting civil liberties, not for investing in universities, not for the arts or sciences, not for a fair go in the workplace, not for states rights, not for an open economy, not for less welfare, not for caring for the planet and not for respecting international law.

About the only thing it does stand for is John Howard. A man who in nearly 13 years never had the courtesy to invite his own deputy over for a meal — an act of selfishness almost unparalleled in Australian politics.

No wonder people are itching to toss the Liberals out.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey