It’s barely perceptible, but you can just sense the federal election slipping back towards John Howard. Firstly, there’s the disturbing news that Kevin Rudd is not traveling well in his home state of Queensland, followed by today’s damaging headlines in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane about the final day in federal parliament when Rudd came over as rattled, petulant, hypocritical and sanctimonious.

Whoever advised Team Rudd to go public and blame the Coalition’s dirty tricks department for The Australian’s report of Rudd’s chest surgery 14 years ago without offering any evidence is a card-carrying, gold-plated dill. That’s the trouble with Rudd’s minders – they are ALP clones, petty bureaucrats, unworldly, overly-ambitious functionaries who have a wildly exaggerated belief in their knowledge of politics. Fatally, they’ve fallen in love with the leader.

They’ve become fiendishly protective of the leader’s life, his character, his reputation and his ego. In the hothouse of politics, especially in campaign mode, this is dangerous lunacy. The leader needs objective, practical, dispassionate and shrewd advice, not emotional and sentimental slush from a kitchen full of luvvies.

The Liberal side is remarkably free of this drivel. For example, neither Andrew Robb, ex-federal party director, and Arthur Sinodinos, the PM’s ex-chief of staff, were ever seduced by their leader’s personality or charisma – he’s notably lacking in both – while Senator George Brandis and others unashamedly referred to the boss as “the lying rodent”.

Hard-headed Liberals have fastened onto Howard not because they love him but because he wins elections. In just over nine months, Labor’s image-makers have taken Rudd to extraordinary heights in the opinion polls, in large part by rekindling idealism, something that was glaringly absent during the Kim Beazley, Simon Crean and Mark Latham eras. But in over-cooking the product and over-protecting him from political reality they have created St Kevin. And there’s a big bad man at the bottom of the garden with a club in his hand who thinks he knows just how to deal with the little guy in short pants with the basin haircut.

John Winston Howard is ready to make his final declaration of war.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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