It’s safe to say that John Howard is not remembered fondly by the left.

The man who brought us WorkChoices, led a culture war against the intellectual classes and uttered the phrase “we will decide who comes to this country … ” was a stalwart of old-school conservatism (with a dash of populism thrown in to appeal to the western suburbs).

But there’s one thing that Howard did that most on the left — and many on the right — agree was good for Australia: he tightened our gun laws. In the wake of the Port Arthur massacre, he stood up to the gun lobby and forced the states to introduce tight restrictions to gun licencing and a ban on semi-automatic weapons. Thanks to Howard, we now have one of the lowest homicide by gun rates in the Western world.

The world noticed — and his swift action to address gun violence has gone down in history as a proud part of Howard’s legacy.

Tony Abbott is currently struggling to build a legacy for himself. He knows what he doesn’t stand for, but it’s hard to work out what he does.

Yesterday he strong-armed his party into voting against a conscience vote on same-sex marriage. He could have been the prime minister who made it possible for people to love each other equally before the law. If he had, he would have been remembered fondly by the two thirds of Australians — from both left and right — who support marriage equality.

But this is a PM, an ideologue, who would rather be remembered for what he stopped than move an inch from his staunchly conservative, and increasingly isolated, position.