In theory, Howard’s latest YouTube clip ticks all the right boxes. Sick/disabled child? Check. Aussie sport? Yep. Hairy orangutans? You betcha – and all presented on that Intertubes thing that the young people love so much.

Naturally, the segment actually manages to distill everything that’s currently failing for the Liberals into a few minutes of concentrated wrongness.

YouTube inevitably takes Howard about a zillion miles from his comfort zone: as soon as his head appears in that little box, you can’t help contrasting him with the other presenters on the screen, most of whom could be his grandchildren. How would Chris Crocker go down in a suburban RSL? Well, reverse the situation, and you can see why the PM should leave the internet alone.

Worse, the clip simply reeks of desperation. You don’t have to be a political sophisticate to think there’s something a little odd about handing out money to baboons on the recommendation of an 11-year-old boy you met at a rugby match. The PM no longer comes across as mean and tricky. He’s just another YouTube desperado, willing to undergo any humiliation in return for a little bit of attention.

If anything, Howard’s clench-jawed enthusiasm for the monkeys (“They are unusual creatures, aren’t they?”) simply highlights how little the Liberals get the environment.

On the weekend, hundreds of thousands of Australians marched against climate change. The Liberals chose not to send Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull to join them. Instead, they released a clip of the Prime Minister cavorting with gibbons.

Yet the mainstreaming of sentiment about global warming involves a sense of the problem as systemic. That’s why the attacks on Peter Garrett as some kind of extremist were always so misplaced. Most people – even economic conservatives – recognise the need for a new approach to the environment, and, by painting Garrett as an unreconstructed zealot, the Liberals probably did Rudd a favour.

By contrast, Howard’s orangutan intervention as a personal favour to a sick child comes across as fundamentally patronising. It’s a model of conservation from the 1950s. You tear down the forests as a matter of principle – but you occasionally make a big fuss about a particular animal that looks kind of cute.

The PM’s an old political gunfighter and, once upon a time, the comparison with Clint Eastwood might have been a compliment. But this mash-up of A Fistful of Dollars and Every Way Which Way But Loose is a stinker.

Peter Fray

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