John Howard continues to insist that the conditions for a change of government in Australia have not been met in 2007. These conditions, he says, are that the government should have failed to control the economy in a satisfactory manner, and/or that the prime minister should be seriously disliked. Neither of these is the case today, says Howard, and they have been at the time of every change of government since the war.
But any close examination shows that they haven’t. It can certainly be argued that in 1949 Ben Chifley, while well liked, was seen to be mismanaging the post-war economy by hanging on to petrol rationing too long and by his attempt to nationalise the banks.
Certainly it can be argued that in 1996 the voters wanted revenge on Paul Keating for real and imagined misdemeanours. And in 1975, while the circumstances of the dismissal broke all the established rules, the economy, while starting to recover, was still fairly dire.
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But in 1972 things were pretty sunny, and although Billy McMahon was undoubtedly a figure of fun, he was hardly hated. Howard says that divisions within the Liberal party made the difference, which may be partly true.
But how about 1983? Malcolm Fraser, while never loved, was generally respected and the economy, under Treasurer John Howard, was chugging along; it was not in great shape, but there were probably fewer people hurting then than there are in 2007.
The change came because (a) people were bored with a tired and stale administration and (b) Labor offered a more desirable alternative — as it did in 1972 and, according to all the polls, as it does today.
Howard’s attempt to invoke history fails as dismally as everything else he has tried in the last year.