The Liberals like their leadership served up on a silver platter:

Mungo MacCallum writes: Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at Kirribilli House at the weekend, when the Howard family conferred in depth about whether John should stay on or go. One suspects it went something like this: Tim, Melanie and Richard (in chorus), “Dad, please don’t consider our feelings at all. Whatever you do, please please don’t feel you have to give up politics to spend more time with your family. Please.” Janette: “Well, I’m not moving out of Kirribilli one instant before I absolutely have to, and that’s final.” John: “Yes, dear.”

Andrew Tanner writes: Re. “Nothing happened in Canberra this morning: Beckett on the Hill” (yesterday, item 1). No challenge, no debate, no ticker. The last 24 hours has given the lie to any bluster about an experienced, battle hardened team. Apparently on the conservative side contenders like their leadership served up on a silver platter (well cooked, no blood please). Cripes, are they going to be good enough to be the Opposition?

Jim Jacobsen writes: Good synopsis Christian. Sadly the Liberal Party appears to once again be suffering from the Menzies syndrome. Anyone with any balls or spine appears to have been encouraged to leave a long time ago, leaving only those afraid of their own shadows behind.

Rob Garnett writes: The current hysteria over whether Howard will quit before the election beggars belief. If he quit now he has lost. He’s a failure. If he stays and loses the election he’s a failure. If he wins he is a triumphant hero, he has secured his place in history. Quitting now throws away the only chance he has of immortality and beating the tall blokes. The utter selfishness of the man never ceases to amaze me. It’s not about Australia. It’s not about the economy; it is certainly not about good policy. It’s all about John Howard.

Phylli Ives writes: All this playing fast and loose with the date of the election is making a very strong case for establishing fixed term elections. We need an amendment to Section 26 of the Constitution, and it would probably be passed in a constitutional referendum in the current climate of anger at the uncertainty.

Bob Hawksley writes: Don’t despair. The electors of Bennelong will do the right thing.

Nobody messes with Bennelong’s Granny Smith Festival:

Peter Hill writes: Re. “Election timing: the core issue revealed” (yesterday, item 6). Andrew Elder wrote that “in contrast with McKew, little in Bennelong indicates that John Howard is our local member and wants to be re-elected.” Like Andrew, I am a Bennelong resident, which is why I was initially astounded by that comment. There is a HUGE campaign going on in Bennelong. It has been going on ever since Maxine moved to Epping and promptly stuck that enormous billboard over Epping Rd. Over the last five days alone I have received three letters from Howard as the Local Member and been politely accosted in Rowe St Mall by several Young Liberals wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Howard moniker and handing out, um, stuff, right near the newly-opened Howard campaign office in perhaps the highest-profile position in Eastwood. Then there was the recent Saturday morning when I saw Maxine and her minder at the local North Carlingford shops, only an hour later to see the PM doing his thing at Carlingford Court, then again Maxine at Coles at Epping. Then there was the recent stoush over who got first dibs on the crowd at the Eastwood Public School annual fete. In short, there is no escape from the political fight going on here. I’ve even had the Labor Party knocking on my door at 7.30am simply to tell me where I can see Maxine that day. I can only conclude therefore that Andrew lives in the big part of Bennelong that has been Howard’s since 1974, as the PM is definitely making his presence felt in that smaller part of Bennelong that has never been asked to vote for him before. Given the profile and the active insertion of his opponent into her new community, he’s had no option but to do otherwise. Around these parts, Howard has made it very clear he wants our vote. As for Andrew’s prediction about the election not being held on 20 October because that’s when the Granny Smith Festival is on, I agree. Nobody messes with our Granny Smith Festival, thank you.

Ray Edmondson writes: Re. “Maxine now the favourite in Bennelong” (yesterday, item 15). Maxine McKew may now be the favourite to win Bennelong, though it may be a closer call on the day. On the other hand, what will John Howard be offering as a local member? Could voters be sure he would represent the electorate for the next three years? Consider: (a) if the Coalition is returned and he continues as PM, will he stay in that role for another three years or hand over to Peter Costello mid-term, as Alexander Downer has predicted? And if he does, is he likely to continue on the backbench or as a minister under Costello PM? Hardly likely: surely he’d resign, and there’d be a by-election. (b) If there’s a Labor government, what would Howard’s role be in Opposition? He wouldn’t be Leader of the Opposition, would he (but then again…?). Would he be content to be a backbench local member on the wrong side of the house? Somehow I doubt it. If you lived in Bennelong, why would you vote for Howard at all? Whatever happens, you wouldn’t have him for long. And no matter whom Howard’s Liberal replacement was, would he/she win a by-election against Maxine McKew?

If you thought Costello was smug now, wait until he becomes PM:

Andrew Elder writes: Re. “Costello would have been worth a try” (yesterday, item 13). I have to disagree with Peter Brent about Costello. If you thought Costello was smug now, wait until he becomes PM. He would hit the television interview circuit, reminding people why they disliked him and how clumsy he looked doing the Macarana. Tanya would be on the glossy magazine stands – concerning her vague-sounding but well-paid job with an organisation regulated by her husband. The standard pics with the family would be evenly matched by the no-less photogenic Rudds. For the crucial states of NSW and Queensland, an affection for the Essingdon Bears (or whatever his AFL team is) is no less eccentric than Keating’s fascination with French clocks. He’s hardly a fresh face, so he’d no more enjoy a honeymoon than Elizabeth Taylor. Do you expect journalists who’ve been called liars to gush like star struck teenagers? Such a switch would be regarded by media and public as a joke, an entree to Rudd as main course. He gets no purchase about Labor’s performance in office way back when with all the credibility of Treasury, why would he get it as PM? He might impress people addressing a dinner or the House of Representatives, but is he really that good a campaigner? Rudd had to take Beazley on and beat him: Costello, like Beazley, wants it handed to him. No, the Liberals rose to office under John Howard, they were re-elected under John Howard, and it is Howard who set the tone and the direction of the government in between elections. People want a referendum on the Howard government, and no smart Alex is going to take that away. The Liberal Party won’t die wondering whether Howard could have saved them one last time.

Polls and polling:

Alan Hatfield writes: Re. “And now for next Tuesday’s Newspoll” (yesterday, item 2). There seem to be two different poll results going on at the moment. Which should the punters take most notice of? The “national” polls which current show Labor with a 16%+ lead over the Coalition and most of your contributors seem to be making much of this fact in terms of predicting a Labor landslide on the current poll results. Then I read reports on electorate by electorate polling which seems to indicate that the result is very finely balanced with the possibility of going either way. If the latter is correct (and, to my mind, it reflects the way that voting is assessed) then it completely negates the indications of national polling. And, further, if it is correct, why on earth are we bothering with national polling? What does is really indicate? Am I missing something here?

Queensland, Beattie and Bligh:

Peter Wilms writes: Re. “Anna Bligh will kill amalgamations. That’s why she’s there” (yesterday, item 8). Unless the structure of Queensland local government is any different to that that existed in Victoria at the time of council amalgamation, then what Alex Mitchell has to say about the issue is nonsense. Kennett did not lose the Victorian State election because of the council amalgamations, as intimated, but because he was out of his time. We had had enough of him! At the time of the Victorian amalgamations, I acted as a consultant to the Brighton City Council, which was slotted to become Bayside in conjunction with its poor cousin, Sandringham. It was not seen as a good move for the blue rinse set of the Brighton village! We lost the fight and we lost the war. Ce la vie. The amalgamations were a matter of government decree. The fact is, however, that, in general, they have worked well in Victoria and there is no reason to assume that the same would not be the case in Queensland. Victoria was overlaid with local government that was cumbersome, unnecessary and costly although it must be said that the inevitable increase in the use of contractors is a factor that militates against the process of amalgamation.

Russell Bancroft writes: Re. Alex Mitchell article on council amalgamations and the claim that the issue brought down the Kennett Government. Where is his evidence? Sure, council amalgamations were forced through against the very vocal wishes of a large number of voters, and yes, Kennett lost office in 1999, but where is the actual link between the two? The amalgamations, which affected the whole state, were completed prior to the 1996 election. In that election, Labor gained large swings in its heartland (reversing some of the damage suffered in 1992) and some modest swings in regional areas, but not enough to win any regional seats bar one in Bendigo. In fact, the ALP won back only 3 seats (one, Ivanhoe, coming out of the blue) but also managed to lose the seat of Carrum. Labor made no gains in the Geelong area, where seven councils were amalgamated and no gains in the Ballarat area. In 1999 the gains the ALP made in regional areas can be attributed to a backlash by voters against the contempt the Kennett Government had shown for non-Melbourne Victoria (the Premier describing the regions as the “toe-nails” of the state.) A further factor to take into account is that following the completion of amalgamations, compulsory competitive tendering was foisted on local government. It is this issue, which led to massive job losses and service reductions, which were most likely uppermost in voter’s minds, not the amalgamations themselves.

Steve Moriarty writes: Beattie for Ambassador? Well maybe but unlikely under Rudd. We all know that they are not the best of friends since the Goss days. Beattie will spend some time in the waiting room and then be announced as the Agent General for the Queensland State Government Trade and Investment Office in London. The current holder of the position (who like all Commissioners has a one year contract) is not called the Agent General as those who have gone before him, but has the title of Deputy Commissioner. So this would allow for the position of Agent General to be filled by Beattie.

Education or security?:

Craig Duckmanton writes: Re. “J&J “textbook” outrages teachers’ union and breaches government policy” (yesterday, item 9). J&J have been involved in such school education programs since “Adam was a boy”. As a former employee, I was working on similar programs 15 years ago and had seen other programs going way, way back. In my hands on experience, schools and teachers welcomed the information and materials in what can be a difficult and embarrassing arena for many PDHPE teachers. In addition, the information was only sent to schools after they requested it. If there is a problem, it is with the education departments for not providing schools with adequate resources and therefore schools and teachers end up seeking this from the private sector. I think this program, perhaps, could have been funded from government wallets by reducing the length of our APEC fence by a few meters. Isn’t this a case of getting the priorities right? What is more important … education for future generations OR blanket security for the chosen few… education or security… hmm… what is the more important issue?

The Housemartins weren’t naff:

Alex Sexton writes: Re. “Terror redefined: Osama Bin Laden quotes The Housemartins” (yesterday, item 19). Guy Rundle wrote: “It should be added that none of the members of The Housemartins have been accused of any sort of atrocity, unless you count the last two albums of The Beautiful South.” Actually drummer Hugh Whittaker was convicted of assault for attacking his then manager with an axe. And for the record, The Housemartins weren’t naff. Check out London 0 Hull 4 although I’ll admit the last 2 albums were below par.

A Housemartins tragic writes: Guy Rundle asserts “none of The Housemartins have been accused of any sort of atrocity” in comparing “this terminally naff Hull band” to Osama Bin Laden. Housemartins drummer Hugh Whitaker was in fact convicted and spent five years in prison in the late-1980s. Housemartins & Beautiful South singer Paul Heaton recalls the incidents that led to Whitaker’s imprisonment, “Hugh was sentenced for hitting a guy straight in the head with an axe. It started with Hugh lending the guy a large amount of money, around 10,000 pounds, and didn’t get it back. First he was obsessed with getting his money back. Then he was obsessed with getting back at the guy who stole his money. One year after the loan, Hugh planted a firebomb in the guy’s house. On the second anniversary, he did the same thing, and got away with it. The third year he rang the guy’s doorbell and pretended to be a postman or something. When the guy opened, Hugh stabbed him with the axe in his forehead.” Maybe it depends on your definition of “atrocity”? Unlike Osama Bin Laden, The Housemartins’ Hugh Whitaker has actually done the time for the crime.

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