My fellow blogger Chris Berg has repeatedly made the correct point that too many have tried to blame John Howard for the Liberal debacle of the last week.
I came close myself the other day, saying the Howard had been extraordinarily successful but that if he’d moved more quickly on an ETS the Liberals could have put this issue to bed while in Government. Instead, they suffered through one election weighed down by climate change and have since chewed up two leaders on the issue. Tony Abbott will be the third when he leads the Liberals to the mother of all defeats in 2010.
But Berg has a good point, and for a reason well-demonstrated by today’s shenanigans.
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One of the really serious problems about the Abbott-Minchin putsch is that it takes the Liberal Party backwards – back beyond Turnbull, obviously, back beyond Nelson, and back, even, beyond John Howard.
Howard understood that the politics of climate change was moving against him and tried to shore up his position, encouraged by Turnbull who wanted Kyoto ratified. That’s why he promised to implement “the world’s most comprehensive emissions trading scheme”.
It was part of a large pattern. Howard had moved to soften his Government’s image, especially on asylum seekers, introducing a slew of changes to remove the most draconian aspects of his policies, especially under Amanda Vanstone. He allowed conscience votes on controversial issues like RU486, allowing his protege Tony Abbott to be humiliated.
That’s not to say Howard turned into an old lefty as the end neared, but he was a pragmatist. He even tried to soften Workchoices when it became clear it was a disaster.
Brendan Nelson continued some of that work. Nelson’s leadership was mostly something of a joke – a lachrymose but very funny joke – but he did very good work in dragging the party onward from the Howard era, especially on the Apology, and on killing Workchoices.
Turnbull pursued the shift to the centre as well, knowing that he needed to drag the party to the point where it was accepted as a legitimate part of the climate change solution, not the problem.
Abbott and Minchin will reverse all that. Workchoices seems like it will be back under a different name. The CPRS and probably any ETS will be attacked. The old guard – the likes of Bronwyn Bishop – may well return to the frontbench.
It will undo all the work John Howard, Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull did to keep the party moored to the centre of Australian politics. The work of three or four years, since before the last election.
“We can’t go to the next election being, if you like, browner than Howard,” said Tony Abbott earlier this year. Strange that he has so obviously forgotten that logic.