Crikey understands that Janette Howard effectively vetoed Liberal Party efforts for serious online campaigning last year.

“Howard’s wife and closest confident, Janette, had become so entrenched in the campaign structure that few dared to challenge her opinions,” Pam Williams wrote in her Royal Family feature in the Fin last year. “Her views were imposed in even minor matters such as lighting and the colours in advertising brochures…”

So Crikey gathers. Even now the Liberals are still showing deference to the Royal Family, the former PM, his wife and a small, close circle of friends and family. They appear reluctant to let daylight in on magic. Even magic of Ron Weasley standard.

Forget the hype. Monday’s Four Corners was tame. Liberals are too scared to go on the record.

Despite this, Glenn Milne commented on the weekend:

Howard himself now counts it as a blessing that he lost Bennelong, as well as the election. He’s told those colleagues he has spoken to that he’s glad he did not have to go through the ignominy of returning to Parliament to take his place on the backbench last week.

Needless to say, these colleagues weren’t impressed by Howard’s obvious focus: himself, rather than the party he left so devastated in defeat.

Howard’s own division of the party, the NSW Liberals, is in such a state they cannot find a state director.

Liberal insiders claim federal director Brian Loughnane’s fingerprints were on Williams’ report in much the same way as Labor’s national secretary at the time of the 1996 defeat, Gary Gray, had his dabs all over Williams’ election post mortems back then, making excuses for failing to stand up to the leader in the face of defeat. They say he is tied to Brendan Nelson’s shaky leadership (his wife is on Nelson’s staff).

Instead, as Crikey first reported back in January and The Age repeated earlier this month, deputy director Linda Reynolds is being set up as the fall guy.

In the dying weeks of John Howard’s government, his own formula on what would determined if he stayed or went changed from the confidence of his own party to the support of his family.

The Liberals were too scared to plot against the Royal Family then.

Even though they should be free of their spell an enfeebled party is still too scared to let daylight in on magic.

Peter Fray

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