In his own electorate of Bennelong at least. The previous entry referred to yesterday’s story in The Sydney Morning Herald which explained the strategy that led to Howard losing not only the election but his own seat, only the second Prime Minister in Australian history to achieve that double. Rather like Bradman getting a duck in his last test match, which also happened, except I would never say that Howard to quality Prime Ministership was as Bradman to Cricket… Far from it.
Today’s Herald has a follow-up: Chinese whispers that built to a roar:
…after all the months of caution, control and campaign courtesy, she is finally ready to say what she really thinks about the former prime minister.
“Mr Howard has always presented himself as a courteous man, a civil man, a man with a great sense of history,” she says. “But I’d have to say what struck me and what struck a lot of people in Bennelong and elsewhere … was a sense that Mr Howard presided over a government where there was diminished respect for our institutions. Be it the rule of law, the separation of powers, or the importance of institutions such as the universities, or the ABC and the CSIRO. And I think there is a message there.”
Late on election night, when the reality of her win began to take shape, she received a text message from the new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd: “You are a giant-slayer.” The size and shape of McKew’s giant did much to dictate the manner in which she took him on.
As revealed in the journalist Margot Saville’s new book The Battle For Bennelong, McKew was anxious from the start not to align herself with “Howard haters”. She politely declined the assistance of the “Not Happy, John” squad, for instance.
“‘Not happy, John’ did not begin to sum up my views of the neglect of the Howard government. It was negative. It was also a protest campaign,” she says. “I wanted to be very careful that I was dealing with people who weren’t driven simply by a kind of vicious animus towards Mr Howard; I find that quite destructive, to tell you the truth.” Instead, she developed a pitch of her own. I went after Liberal voters. I knew I could only win them over if I could present them with a better set of arguments. I knew I had to present a positive case.”
Along the way, she auditioned and retained an army of volunteers, among the most influential of whom were the Chinese-born members of MSG – the Maxine Support Group – who lobbied and letterboxed and translated and worked their fingers to the bone on her behalf.
McKew says the Chinese community – which constitutes nearly 14 per cent of her new territory – has a “deep sense of history” and has not forgotten Howard’s remarks in the 1980s about Asian immigration, or the long hesitation before he, as prime minister, condemned the views of Pauline Hanson during his first term in government…
I agree entirely with the first part I highlighted there, as that had been my own feeling from very early in the Howard years. The second highlight is totally true of just about every Chinese (and their friends) that I have met in the past decade. You would have had to search very hard at M’s Chines New Year Party earlier this year to find anyone who did not feel exactly that…
During 1996-7 when I wrote letter after letter on the subject of Pauline Hanson to pollies of all hues, receiving the blandest of replies from Howard on “political correctness”, that Howard line that proved handy later to justify his most outrageous “culture wars”, the most passionate replies came from the National Party’s Senator Bill O’Chee — who essentially said he totally agreed with me — and Senator Ron Boswell, who seems a thoroughly decent person. The Labor responses I received at that time were a bit like dead fish…
On the broader issue of why Howard lost, not just in Bennelong, Jim Belshaw is very good:
Despite the power of supermarket politics, politics is still about ideas, about vision, about the future.
Mr Rudd did not win because he was conservative, although he may well turn out to be a great Liberal PM! Mr Rudd did not win because people thought that his Government would be better at service delivery.
As I see it, Mr Rudd won because the Australian people wanted new approaches, felt that the Howard Government had become tired and stale.
During the election campaign. Mr Howard said that the Australian people were pragmatic, interested in results, not philosophy. That’s partially true, but it missed a key point.
Once Mr Rudd convinced the Australian people that the ALP and Coalition were really pretty much the same in service delivery and management terms, then ideas and vision started to come into play. And here Labor won hands down.
No matter how many corporatist ideas prevail in politics, politics is not the same as selling soap. If you cannot match it in ideas, you will fail.
Bob Ellis is probably a good example of the kind of Howard-hater Maxine McKew avoided. His heart is always in the right place but he is no stranger to either invective or hyperbole, even if he does have a good turn of phrase. Read at the link his piece on the ABC’s Unleashed site.
…The whole era feels like a dream now, and its end like having a brain tumour removed, and wondering if you’ve survived the operation. The War on Terror seems to have evaporated, like a skywriter’s message in the heat of the day. A scientist tells us twice as many Australians in the last ten years were killed by lightning strikes as by terrorist attacks. No union thugs are kicking in dress shop windows, no Sudanese gangs running riot in Melbourne, no radical clerics building bombs in Lakemba, no industries going broke because Rudd wants to reduce emissions. But millions of people believed a lot of these things until only a month ago…
His much-mimicked voice, like a vegemite sandwich in a globite suitcase unopened since 1951, conveyed thoughtful decency in a near-hypnotic way. He never failed to give the impression, like the bedside manner of a trusted GP, that everything was under control AT THE SAME TIME as saying there were bogeymen, hobgoblins, gremlins coming in the window.
Greatest of his Oscar-worthy achievements — so well captured in Keating the Musical — was his ability to convince us that he himself resembled a typical male Australian when he was nothing like one…