I was interested to see Tony Abbott vowing to recreate John Howard’s golden era the other day. This seems to buck the general format in elections whereby the opposition claims they’ll be a new government with new priorities and the government claims they’ll ruin everything just like they did last time they were in office. I’m inclined to think this format is probably fairly effective simply because it’s so popular but it’s hard to tell because, as I said recently, I think there are an anomalous number of anomalies occurring in the political cycle recently.
The main difference between the Howard legacy and the Hawke, Keating and Fraser legacies is that the Gillard government has repudiated most of its 2007 positions and implicitly conceded the competence of the Howard government. By contrast the Howard government maintained the incompetence of Paul Keating until the day Kevin Rudd was sworn in, likewise when in government Keating never described the Fraser government as anything less than atrocious. With this bipartisan respect for the Howard government the government can’t really create a fiction of some sort of dystopian nightmare that occurred last time the Liberals were in charge, but this doesn’t necessarily mean Abbott should be embracing it so.
Being tied to a former leader can be a real vice. Think Margaret Thatcher’s line about being an excellent back seat driver and the problems it caused for John Major. The idea of a puppet master pulling strings behind a curtain could undermine Abbott’s authority as a leader in much the same way Bill Shorten and Mark Arbib have undermined Julia Gillard.
Why a small target leader of the opposition would publicly nail himself to the mast of the longest serving Prime Minister since Menzies alludes me. Do I think it will seriously damage his chances of election? Absolutely not, but I can’t see how it’s helpful