ON the first day of campaign 2007 John Howard and Peter Costello sought to dictate the terms of this election, the formula they have used with success since their 1996 victory.
They have made the correct move. This is not to argue it will save the election. Indeed, the election may be beyond salvation. But Howard and Costello will fight by putting tax reform on the table, and for 11 years tax has been their strength and Labor’s weakness.
In Kelly’s world, what matters most about policy isn’t whether it’s good for the nation, or a nation’s citizens and denizens – what matters is, will it give the government any shot of being re-elected?
This exercise is the latest in governing by surplus politics, the technique that defines Howard’s years in power. It ruined Labor in the 1998, 2001 and 2004 campaigns. Under this technique, Howard and Costello commit the bulk of the surplus across the next four years, thereby forcing Labor to agree with Howard’s agenda, leaving few funds for its own agenda, or commit to wind back Howard’s programs – in this case his tax cuts – to finance Labor’s alternative policies.
Never mind whether this makes any sense economically – the two most important things when you’re assessing government policy is – will it keep them in office, and will it make it impossible for the Opposition to govern effectively if there is a change of Government?
Claims that Howard should have spent the revenue on better services are ludicrous in political terms. Health and education are Labor issues, no matter how much funding Howard provides. Howard and Costello must play to their strength: the economy, tax and jobs. This is the only avenue to their election victory. If they cannot win the election on their strengths then, by definition, they cannot win the election.
Playing to Labor’s strengths would be crazy and merely expend most of the surplus in social areas where Rudd dominates the politics and where Howard could lose a fortune for zero electoral gain…
Forget policies that actually improve the lives of ordinary citizens, if they involve spending in areas where your opposition is considered more competent. If you can’t come up with policies to match theirs, or better them, just run down those budgets – like health and education – and spend the money where it will get you the most votes for your taxpayer buck (that fortune Howard could lose for zero electoral gain didn’t come out of his own pockets).
“Editor at Large” – it’s Government Gazette speak for inconsequential lickspittle.