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Life after Howard – claiming the nation’s values

By Corin McCarthy - posted Tuesday, 8 November 2005

In his piece in The Age, “Emperor Howard”, Michael Gordon confirms the conquest of John Howard over his foes. For Gordon, the passing of industrial relations and anti-terror laws mean Howard can act without a direct mandate.

Commentators in America make similar claims about George Bush. We often hear that Bush has transformed two narrow victories into a dominance of foreign policy never envisaged by the American public. Bush’s foreign policy, supported by Howard and Blair appears unrestrained. They seem to set their own executive agenda.

These world leaders - Howard, Bush and Blair - have displayed a remarkable control over the politics of their nations. Yet in spite of their authority these three will be gone in a few years and certainly by 2009. Who will replace them? What comparisons can be made between the respective challengers in their respective lands?


In America they face up to Bush's replacement as a matter of constitutional obligation. Historian Niall Ferguson said recently John McCain could possibly obtain the American people’s trust in 2008. He asserts that McCain could place a break on the neo-conservatives and this will be a requirement for Republican success.

It's a vital moment for Republicans. The next president must define the limits of American power and ambition. Will the Republicans choose Dick Cheney, John McCain, or someone else?

The Democrat challenger, very likely to be Hilary Clinton, must define what he or she stands for post-Bush? The Democrats have to consider their liberal ideals which are undoubtedly out of fashion. In essence they must chose between a liberal ticket and the southern centre-right. In 2008 as in 2004, the Democrats will not close these communities. They must choose between long-term values and the hope of victory. Their plight mirrors the Australian Labor Party’s electoral problems very closely in this regard.

Whether America chooses a neo-conservative, a more realist Republican, or a centrist Democrat, the contenders are already arguing the values and beliefs being fought over. The primaries system also allows for a long-term debate over future direction. Americans will have a real choice, both within the primaries for each party, and then between the presidential candidates.

The wrapping of a presidential candidate in personality traits and values is a marked contrast with Australia’s view of a future prime minister-in-waiting. Here Peter Costello and Kim Beazley have failed to mark out the values on which they have respective claims to the Lodge. What's more, they don’t look like doing so soon.

Costello’s claim to be prime minister comes from his performance in an economics portfolio. This is similar to Gordon Brown the obvious challenger in Britain. The public trust them. They are assets to their governments. However, for both, security concerns and international affairs dominate the current domestic agenda and this diminishes their claims.


They are caught in a bind. They cannot speak too widely on security issues beyond their portfolios and by not doing so, have not been able to demonstrate their respective capacities as future prime ministers.

Howard for his part has mastered "high alert politics". Australians feel as threatened as the Americans and the British. This is breathtaking because it shows how the public has responded to Howard's constant message on international security and terrorism. It appears an absurd claim given there has been no attack on mainland Australia, but the public has taken it on trust. This public acceptance makes Costello's job to prove himself even more difficult.

For the Australian Coalition a transition is a bigger challenge than for the British Labour Party. The public really doesn't know Costello's values, nor is there a perception that he is capable in the new environment of heightened security. Costello never appears to be the considered statesman that these times require.

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About the Author

Corin McCarthy was an adviser in opposition and government to Craig Emerson MP. He also advised Labor’s 2007 election campaign on small business issues. He has written widely on these issues in The Australian and On Line Opinion. He currently works as a lawyer in London advising on major infrastructure projects. These views are his own.

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