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John Howard was damned if he went and now is damned because he stayed

By James Baker - posted Friday, 12 March 2004

Australian airwaves are abuzz with Federal Liberal leadership conspiracies and rumours of conspiracies.

The reason for the gathering mutterings is the alleged feeling among supporters of Peter Costello that Prime Minister Howard should have retired from politics at his promised 64th birthday reconsideration of the matter.

In June last year the Prime Minister made a decision to stay on, and at the time he made that decision it was the right one. Why? Because that was then, and this is now.


Mark Latham’s seemingly stratospheric, if unexpected, rise in popularity has led to the usual herd mentality reflection that John Howard should have made way for the more youthful Peter Costello.

But as we so often do in life and politics, we look at decisions taken in history through the prism of today.

Just think back to the polls of last year.

In mid April 2003 the highly regarded Newspoll had only four per cent of Australians thinking Mark Latham was the best choice to lead the Federal Labor Party. 36 per cent of Australians thought Kim Beazley was the best man to Lead Labor.

But even more telling, and probably more influential in the thinking of senior Liberal strategists, was another poll in early May that put the relative appeal of various leaders in context.

That poll showed that John Howard was far and away preferred as Prime Minister to Kim Beazley, by 53 to 37 per cent.


The poll also showed that Peter Costello could easily beat Simon Crean if he took over from the Prime Minister after his 64th birthday declaration - not out.

But that same poll also showed that Kim Beazley would hammer Peter Costello in the preferred Prime Minister stakes, at that time by 55 to 32 per cent.

In an increasingly Presidential political scene in Australia those numbers matter. They’re not everything, but they do matter.

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About the Author

James Baker is the Principal Consultant at Media Savvy Australia Pty Ltd, and a former media advisor to federal and state politicians.

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