Labor’s Kevin Rudd has won a big victory downunder. The John Howard years are over.
Here are my instant reactions:
The voters wanted change: John Howard won four elections. He was PM for more than eleven years. That was enough. He should have acknowledged the electorate’s desire for change and given the leadership of his Liberals to another. Instead he carried on too long and his policies became unpredictable. While I was there in the summer he was taking central control of a hospital in a marginal seat. It wasn’t edifying.
Australian Labor moved right: Australian Labour Blarified themselves and some. Again and again Kevin Rudd signed up to Howard positions. Labor promises to be a fiscally conservative and tax-cutting government. Howard moved Australia to the right and Rudd won’t shift things back quickly although his party is much more left-wing than him. There will be differences – on Iraq – but the electorate was bored rather than angry (although the workplace reforms were very unpopular).
This wasn’t about the Iraq war. The usual suspects will see this as a defeat for George W Bush’s coalition of the willing. It wasn’t. Iraq didn’t play a big part in the campaign – partly because the very few casualties Australia has suffered in the war on terror are from Afghanistan. Rudd has promised to continue to fight in Afghanistan. [3.30pm: Mark Steyn offers a corrective to those who will interpret this as a verdict on Iraq: "Bush is now a rare survivor of the pre-9/11 western leaders’ club. Of his allies and opponents on the Iraq war, the latter have gone – Schroder, Chretien, Chirac – but so have the former – Aznar, Blair, Howard." Quite.]
Howard lacked Cameron’s X-factor conservatism: John Howard has been solid on economic and security issues – the traditional bedrock of conservative electoral success. That’s no longer enough. Rudd fought hard on environmental issues, in particular. He promised to sign Kyoto as his first act. It didn’t win him the election but conservative parties have to have their own ‘x factors’ now to woo values voters who care about green and justice issues. David Cameron understands that.
Labor unions links didn’t trouble voters enough: The ads from the Liberals warning of union domination if Rudd was elected (like these) seemed a throwback to a bygone era.
John Howard’s years were good years: He strengthened the economy. Paid off the national debt. Moved 40% of Australians on to private medical insurance. Built Australia’s status in the region. I could go on, I am a big fan. But like Thatcher and unlike Reagan, he did not, however, help to build a conservative movement. That’s going to make it harder for the Liberals now.
The Liberals have a long road back: For, I think, the first time in Australia’s history, all of Australian
government is now in Labor hands. Every state and now the federal
government, too. These are going to be tough times for the Liberals.
They are not only out of power at the state level, they are very weak there, too.
All of their talent has been at the federal level and huge taxpayer
grants have financed their Canberra-centred operations. A lot of
rebuilding will be necessary. They’ll probably be in opposition for a
number of years. Australians don’t change their governments often. They’ve only done so four times since WWII. In his gracious speech accepting defeat, John Howard attempted to nominate Peter Costello as his successor. A younger and more dynamic figure might be better for the long road ahead.
Alexander Drake will be providing more thoughtful reflections soon.
Review the campaign’s election ads on the Australian section of PlayPolitical.
2.30am, 25/11: Costello won’t seek Liberal leadership.