The Liberal Party in chaos? Welcome to the mind of John Winston Howard.

The Liberal Party, in a manner quite unlike the differently structured Labor Party, is very much an extension of the leader – passions, policies, ego, follies, foibles and of course strengths.

One thing quite uncontestable about the Liberal Party’s view of leadership is that the leader is totally instrumental. A leader’s success is measured purely in terms of delivering electoral victories. But once that sniff of defeat is in the air, the past glories count for nothing.

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What we are seeing now is a party in chaos, a party that is desperate and floundering, as is its leader. But the chaos in Liberal ranks is hardly new. It was endemic under Malcom Fraser.

Howard has always had a chaotic bent, and Gerard Henderson has succinctly described the Howard office he took over in the 1980s. Running a government has chanelled that chaos, but it is now showing its chaotic side again as the government unravels.

The 1969 election saw a massive swing against John Gorton, but he at least hung on until the middle of the next term which gave his risible successor, Bill McMahon, a chance to at least try to impress the electorate. But many Liberals already knew that the end was nigh, and if McMahon’s prime ministership was relatively placid, it was peace through resignation.

If Howard holds on to his job, it will be a similar peace – but only for the time being.

The bloodletting will be horrendous.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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