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John Howard and the 'strong leader' thesis.

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John Howard and the ‘strong leader’ thesis. John Howard’s Decade Conference National Museum of Australia, 3-4 March 2006

James Walter, Monash University

Abstract John Howard has been an unusually dominant leader, and much has been said about the political skill that ha s enabled him to achieve this status. This paper starts by reviewing current commentary on Howard’s dominance of his government and of the FPLP. It notes that the t rend to executive dominance (and to leadership centrali ty within that trend) and the apparent collapse of eff ective opposition is not unique to Australia: how muc h of Howard’s pre-eminence can be attributed to institutio nal and contextual change and how much to his person al achievement (and have observers sufficiently noted the d istinctions)? The patterns revealed by this exploration are then considered against the analytical templates emerging from the literature on those who ‘steer by powe r chances’, and particularly the essays of the Australia n theorist, the late Graham Little, on ‘strong leaders.’ If, as this analysis suggests, Howard does fit the ‘strong leader’ typology, what can be said about the tension betwe en such leadership (with its tendency to concentrate power ) and democratic practice (with its checks and balance s designed to prevent just such a concentration)? Does H oward’s record give us an incentive to initiate the renovation of institutions that will serve as a hedge a gainst leadership dominance?

As the tenth anniversary of John Howard’s prime ministership was celebrated, commentators uniformly remarked upon his authority as leader: ‘h e is seen by most Australians’, ran one typical summary, ‘as providing strong leadership in uncertain times…’ 1 Every poll attests to the accuracy of this perception. Here, I want to el aborate upon what that strength has meant in terms of Australian governance, to analyse Howard’s characteristics against a model of strong leadership that long preceded Howard, to canvass th e place of strong leaders in liberal democracies, and to suggest some of the benefits an d costs of Howard’s practice.

Howard’s authority Howard has dominated his party and his era because he has been a creative and aggressive proponent of a distinctive world-view. Judith Brett has shown how Howard, scorning the intelligentsia, determinedly committed to plain spe aking, has fashioned an enormously powerful message that professes to speak for the ‘o rdinary battler’, and to advance the interests of ‘the mainstream’ and a common heritage against vested interests (‘elites’), internal division, international challenge and fore ign hostility (Brett 2003). How did he do it? He recognised four things. First, that Labor had ab andoned popular nationalism in its pursuit of economic reform, and its insistence on what ‘we’ must do to prosper in a global market. In response, Howard skilfully took over the Australian Legend, once the preserve of radicals and the ALP, insisting that there was an ‘essential’ Au stralian heritage to be defended, and turned its values—the fair go, mateship—into a story of co nservative individualism. Second, he articulated what a disconsolate electorate was feel ing: that Labor’s reform was top down, a series of injunctions voiced by the knowledge elite with which the rest of us were to comply. Instead Howard turned the reform message from a mantra about the imperatives of the market into a story about how careful change would deliver more jobs and more choice. And he demonised the unrepresentative elites said to have captured the Labor party—he would govern ‘for all of us’. This was at once a message of unity (he spoke for ‘the mainstream’) and a way of marginalising opponents. Third, sensin g that the climate of uncertainty engendered by change had generated disabling anxieties, he realised that if targeted and organised, these emotions could be mobilised to adv antage. The naming of specific ‘elites’ as the enemy of ‘mainstream’ aspirations (and the rhet orical association of those elites with everything Howard sought to overcome) gave anxiety a target and political action an


objective—the restitution of conditions in which we could be ‘comfortable and relaxed’. Fourth, the sheer aggression with which Paul Keatin g had sought to box in the coalition parties by defining issues (Asian engagement, recon ciliation, the republic) in ways they could

not accommodate could be turned against Labor: this was the prelude to the ruthlessness with which Howard would later, as Prime Minister, revers e the valencies of political discourse to disable the ALP (Brett 2005) in, for instance, deba tes on immigration and asylum seekers (Marr and Wilkinson 2004) and the ‘history wars’ (Macintyre and Clark 2003). Brett, no

apologist for the right, argues persuasively that H oward is the most creative conservative political leader since Menzies. Paul Kelly, in his Cunningham lecture (Kelly 2005) and in recent newspaper articles, 2 has provided a cogent overview of how Howard has consolidated power though his prime ministerial project: using public sentiment as his frame of reference (and justifying prime ministerial power as serving the public will); embr acing a narrow vision of ministerial responsibility; running a tight, secretive and coll ective cabinet as an instrument of his authority, of obedience and unity; imposing more re strictions on the public service and augmenting political control over policy. None of t hese elements is new. Howard builds upon trends already evident in the practices of his pred ecessors, but has carried them to a new level. (His cabinet, for instance, is said to be the most unified since Menzies’: it has certainly been that whose processes have been the most difficult t o penetrate). But the introduction of one new dimension—the prime minister as national security chief—has significantly enhanced his authority: ‘In the hands of an astute leader such a s Howard it represents a fusion of greater political authority and electoral popularity’ (Kell y 2005: 16). Alongside his clever utilisation of the levers of governance, Howard has profited from a period of unparalled economic growth, and the rel ated perception that he is the leader who has ‘“brought home the bacon”—a glowing 83 per cent of voters who rated the economy as the main issue believe he has managed the economy well or quite well.’ 3 It is widely argued that economic management is the key reason why ‘Australians have re-elected the Howard Government three times to give it 10 years in offic e.’ 4 Both of these elements—the perception that the eco nomic growth indicates that government is in ‘safe hands’, and the shift toward s prime ministerial dominance—should be seen in a broader perspective. In relation to the f irst,

These have been boom years for the world economy, the best decade for global growth since the 1970s. Among the 28 other advanced economies, as the International Monetary Fund defines them, eight have grown evem faster than Australia since 1995, in terms of output per head, and all but five have been close behind. 5 As for the second, across many democratic polities it has been observed that, in government, the complexity of modern decision-making has shifted the emphasis towards charisma, authority and decision and away from collegial cons ensus (McAllister 2004). The prime minister has thus become far more than the ‘first a mong equals’. Party structures have declined as a repository of influence, and hence th e prime minister’s power over political careers (and hence as the driver of party disciplin e and object of loyalty) has been much enhanced. The prime minister has become ‘central in how responsible government operates; he or she may choose to include or exclude particul ar actions under the doctrine, thereby determining [a] minister’s fate … [T]he prime minis ter, rather than the parliament … determines how the doctrine is implemented’ (McAllister, 2004: 5). Arguably, globalisation plays a part: ‘parliamentary systems are becoming more presidential in character, style and operation, as the environments in which they operat e become more uniform’ (McAllister, 2004: 8; and see Marsh, 2003). The trends all point towards a centralization of power in the prime minister, ‘but the change is gradual and in s ome cases outweighed by the personalities involved … In short, the personality of the leader is greater than the strength of the trend’


(McAllister, 2004: 26). The personality of Howard, then, is a determinant in the success of his prime ministerial project.

The strong leader as a personality type. Some political scientists have long sought to relat e particular characteristics to the success or failure of leaders. An influential early exponent o f the psychological analysis of leadership was Harold Lasswell, initially at the University of Chicago. He was interested in why some people seem motivated to seek power, and proposed that the core of the political personality was a tendency to use power to overcome actual or t hreatened loss of values (including self-esteem) (Lasswell 1948). Lasswell’s successors went into more detail, proposing that particular constellations of power-related traits w ere characteristic of different leader types (Stogdill 1974), and elaborating on the motives dri ving an investment in power (Winter 1973).

Following in this tradition, an Australian politica l scientist, Graham Little (1985), has illuminated mainstream politics with a sophisticate d model of what he called ‘political ensembles’ linked to ‘political climates’ that favo ur the success of one type of political ensemble rather than another. Little’s typology of ‘political ensembles’ crystallised around ‘strong’, ‘group’ or ‘inspiring’ leaders. These las t two categories are not germane to our concerns here: Howard is universally seen as a stro ng leader. Little offers us a way to understand both leadership proclivities, and their appeal. According to Little’s theory, each leader, and each ensemble, has a characteristic way of addressing relations between ‘self’ and ‘others’—indeed, ensembles are formed because they share a common assumption about how to address this relationship, and recognise a leade r who expresses their common project. ‘Strong’ leaders see self-other relations as compet itive, and favour structure and firm direction as a way of managing this dilemma. Insist ent on defending structures and institutions, they are nonetheless given to treatin g differences as an occasion for confrontation and assertion rather than negotiation. They attract followers by sweeping aside uncertainties in identifying threats, and promising to fight the necessary battles on their behalf. In a world of conflicting ends, such decision clarifies and mo bilises.

Little’s contribution was to remind us that leaders hip success depends on a resonance with followers’ needs, and to focus our attention o n the way shared world-views (in the case of the strong leader, the world as competitive, nee ding structure and direction) are at the heart of what makes a group coherent. Further, political climates will tend to favour particular leaders (and the dominance of particular ensembles) at particular times—for instance, in hard times, times of challenge, where aggression seems a n appropriate measure, ‘strong’ directive leaders may be favoured (Thatcher was one of Little ’s models); where the mood is more expansive, the temper up-beat, an ‘inspiring leader ’ may gain the lead (Whitlam at the end of the post-war boom). How well does Little’s argument illuminate Howard’s success?

Howard—who came to power arguing that he would create the conditions where people could feel ‘comfortable and relaxed’—was a fighter from the first: driving liberal ‘wets’ from his party (and expunging its Deakinite social-liber al heritage); overthrowing the top echelons of the public service; turning the debate about nation al identity into the notoriously combative ‘history wars’; sweeping Labor appointees on public authorities aside; questioning the motives of leaders of the ‘Aboriginal industry’; insisting on the unity of the common culture against multicultural incursions; and taking the battle to those ‘elites’ who, he said, stood in the way of social progress. Howard has a consistent vision, a fantasy of battle that underscores his self-belief: he self-identifies as a Churchillian warrio r: ‘I am the bloke who ultimately wins the battle, and in political terms that is Churchill’.

He was the natural leader, then, to prosper from th e ‘securitisation’ agenda provoked, first, as illegal immigration was construed as an a ttack on national sovereignty (Marr and


Wilkinson 2004), then immensely amplified by the September 11 attacks (Howard was in Washington at the time), the ‘war on terror’ and th e Iraq invasion (Garran 2004). He was, in effect, a crisis leader who began to identify threa ts, articulate the need to fight, institute divisions between ‘them’ and ‘us’ and rally ‘the tr oops’ well before international events accentuated the negatives. When they did, as Mark McKenna argues, his natural propensities could be fused with the need for combat leadership, and Howard emerged as the ‘wartime’ leader that had, as McKenna shows, long been his fa ntasy ideal (McKenna 2003).

In his conduct of politics, Howard has been various ly described as ‘dogged and determined’; as a ‘canny, controlling prime ministe r’; as having become so dominant in his party ‘he can hang on as long as he wants’, ‘he own s the party’. Guy Rundle’s description of him as a ruthless, pragmatic opportunist, prepared to do whatever it takes, is an element that must be acknowledged (Rundle 2001). But the compulsion to seek battles, to steer not just by power chances but also by crises, is not pragmatic and more than simply tactical.

We know this sort of leader: hard working, driven, controlling and moralistic. Little’s essays on the ‘strong leader’ (Little 1985; Little 1988) have shown the underlying psychological constellation and how it fuses with p olitical style. These are the compulsives, given to work and worry, seeing the world as threat ening and order as only to be maintained by strength, inclined to dominate through moralistic r hetoric, externalising anger and hostility onto selected enemies, refusing compromise or surrender as an admission of weakness, insisting on realism and decisive action. Preoccupied with adver sary politics and warring tribes, the strong leader’s message is yet one of unity in the face of those who would divide us. Such a leader transforms policy problems ‘from a matter of calcul ation of results to a matter of emotional loyalty to ideals… [His] view of reality must be ac cepted else the cause fall apart’ (Barber 1972 6). And Little adds, ‘A good deal of moralizing is u sed against the foot-soldier who dares to put initiative against sheer obedience; initiati ve is for higher ranks, like big crimes’. Little, writing long before Howard’s ascension, captures th e essence of his style. Further, as was remarked earlier, observers of the institutional tr end towards enhanced prime ministerial power, argue that it can be ameliorated or augmented by a leader’s personality (McAllister 2004). Howard, the ‘bloke who wins the battle’, has signif icantly expanded prime ministerial power (Kelly 2005). And the ‘securitisation’ of politics attendant on border protection, the Iraq invasion and the ‘war on terror’ has been an additi onal accelerant—at the time of writing, as his ascendancy was being celebrated, few could see anybody who could now challenge his control.

Strong leaders and liberal democracy. There is ambivalence about leadership within libera l-democratic politics. This is because the concept of leadership can operate in considerable t ension with both the liberal and the democratic strands that contribute to liberal democ racy. A liberal perspective values the rights and freedoms of individuals, while a democratic per spective values collective decision-making processes such as majority rule. Strong lead ership does not seem to be a strong theme in either perspective.

Leadership involves risks, not only for the incumbe nt (think of election aftermaths and the obloquy usually visited on the losing leader), but also for followers (power can be misused, derailing the group’s intentions; power mi ght even be turned against us). The quandary can be expressed this way: we need leaders, since without their drive and ambition, nothing might be done and society would atrophy; yet, though there have been wise leaders, a proportion of the people who aspire to leadership m ight be driven less by the social good than by the desire for power and deference (see Lasswell 1948); how then can we ensure the benefits of leadership, and—as demanded by liberal- democratic principles—defend against the misuse of power?


In effect, liberal-democratic systems mainly addres s the issue of leadership by trying to constrain it. They impose checks and balances (r ecognition of rights, separation of powers, political pluralism, constitutionally defined limit s on government) that, at least in the area of state power, are intended to constrain collusive gr oups and overweening individuals. Quite apart from well-understood formal institutions (the checks ands balances above), there is a range of conventions underlying political practice that might be deemed to contribute to the same end. The need to win power through parties—entailing the acknowledgment of collective beliefs and negotiation—is part of this. In Westminster systems, the reliance on collective (cabinet) authority rather than prime mi nisterial power; the distinction between partisan objectives and public service advice; the system of accountability, vested in ministerial responsibility, all contribute to the s ame end. A polity that does not embody such constraints is liable to be one in which leadership excess can flourish (see Glad 2002). Neither Australia nor other Westminster polities have yet r eached this pass. It might be argued, however that changes in party politics, prime minis terial dominance, and public service neutrality signify not only the transition in gover nance that Kelly (2005) describes, but also an erosion of the limitations on leadership caprice. I s it the case that in accelerating the trend towards executive power, the strong leader can erod e democratic practice?

Howard’s strength: what are the costs? Howard’s strength and persistence have had a profou nd effect on changes in Australia over the past decade. He has had a sense of purpose, a p hilosophical framework and a commitment to change that has driven the country towards prosp erity, and an individualist view of achievement that has undercut class divisions. He h as used his hold on executive power to reinforce his party at a time when parties generall y have lost traction, and redefined liberalism in the process. He has, on occasion, taken tough de cisions even though they were unpopular, and seems to have garnered respect, even if not aff ection. Many believe that they are better off now than they were ten years ago, and he has su stained remarkably high approval ratings. His supporters have much to celebrate, and much has been written about the extent of his achievements (Cater 2006). It is also the case that many, ‘think Australia is now a less fair society, they question the PM’s honesty, and they s ee him as a divisive leader who wrongly took Australia into war in Iraq.’ 7 Indeed, according to Hugh MacKay, Howard has made people relaxed and comfortable

… by the process of them becoming disenchanted and disengaged from politics. People are no longer engaged in the big issues. It’ s really a case of leave it to him, leave it to the Government … They’ve become literally and metaphorically backyard obsessed … We’ve become a more fearful society—because it’s a more fearful world … By explicit and implicit messages, he’s allowed u s to become a less compassionate and more prejudiced society. 8 But it is, of course, characteristic of a strong le ader both to name fears (which he will combat) and to encourage followers to ‘leave it to him’. Le aving it to the leader, however, is precisely what democratic institutions were intended to avoid . In fact, despite his electoral majorities and the measures of prime ministerial approval there are also significant indications of entrenche d public disquiet. By the late 1990s, 74% of

survey respondents had little confidence in federal government; 84% distrusted both major parties; and there had been a 30% drop in confidenc e in government over the preceding 13 years (Papadakis 1999; Marsh & Yencken 2004: 28-30). A survey of ‘middle Australia’ (Pusey 2003) showed that there is more consistent s upport for old economic institutions than

for the new market based and deregulated institutio nal arrangements advocated by political elites; and that, overall, reformers have not won c onsensus for ‘the new consensus’. Peter Saunders has summarised an extensive survey of social attitudes by remarking on, ‘ a sense of


alienation and powerlessness in which a gulf has op ened up between the values and priorities of ordinary Australians and those in positions of p olitical power and influence’ (Saunders 2002: 264). Arguably, those transitions in parliame nt, parties, the public policy process and the role of the prime minister that Howard has ampl ified are at the heart of this disquiet. In relation to parliament, Howard has ingeniously used his majority, secretive cabinet processes, and an interpretation of ministerial res ponsibility that shifts the onus for mistakes from the executive to the public service, to impede transparency and evade accountability. Even when—during his first three terms—opposition majorities in the Senate could embarrass the Government, and force disclosure, information w as withheld as much as possible and ministerial and backbench discipline was remarkable. Once majorities were gained in both Houses, the capacity of Senate committees to ensure some level of scrutiny was intentionally diminished, and only pressure from his own backbench ensured concessions on some matters of public sensitivity. The dominant parties are now capital intensive, pr ofessional, centralised and dependent on the projection of leader effectiveness . Party branches, conferences, policy committees and the like have been supplanted, and t he capacity for ordinary members to feel they can be heard has withered away. The networks of advice and support, capital generation and communication centre on the leader rather than the party at large. Party transitions have been complemented by changes in the role of the pri me minister. Ian McAllister, reviewing the state of play, remarks ‘that prime ministers an d opposition leaders have replaced many of the roles historically played by political parties in ensuring the efficient operation of the parliamentary system’ (McAllister, 2004: 2). Weaker voter attachments enhance the role of the leader. With partisan de-alignment, party leade rs ‘stand in’ for parties in representing issues, integrating interests and mobilizing opinio n. As parties of mass organization with local branches have declined, voter attention has shifted from the local to the national stage, with parties shifting their emphasis from local to natio nal leaders in parallel. There is less focus on policy, and more on the personality of the leader. Leadership effects on voting outcomes are now widely recognized. All of this gives the leader a licence and impact unmatched in former party structures. Turning to the public service, there has always be en argument over the supposed separation of politics from administration and the capacity for ‘frank and fearless’ advice from a reasonably impartial public service within Westmi nster democracies. In Australia, a reasonable case can be made that the federal bureau cracy complemented the parties in a post-war policy project that responded to what the elect orate demanded: relatively equal life chances (Brown, 1995; Encel, 1970, Walter 1999). Ministers were told not only what they wanted to know but also what they needed to know. There is li ttle doubt that the public service within Westminster polities has become more compliant of late, and in the Australian case, more politicised.

Reforms to the Australian public service, intended to make its leadership more responsive to the government of the day, began unde r Labor governments in the 1970s and 1980s. Whitlam (ALP, 1972-1975) introduced expanded ministerial staff (Walter, 1986). Under Hawke (ALP, 1983-1991), a key measure was the shift of career public servants at the top levels to contract appointments (Keating, 2003a). H oward, since 1996, has simply continued where Labor governments began. But that departmental secretaries now serve at their minister’s pleasure was signalled by the sacking of a number i mmediately upon Howard’s assumption of office, and a later controversial dismissal of (and unsuccessful legal appeal by) a well-regarded career officer who was effective, but not to his mi nister’s liking. The perception that public-spirited career civil servants have been replaced b y political appointees is inevitable. When very senior public servants (Beale 2004; Podger 200 5) and the authors of public sector reform themselves begin to express concerns, as does a for mer secretary of PM & C and advocate of


reform, Michael Keating (2003b: 94), it is time to wonder whether ‘responsiveness’ has mutated into the sort of ‘politicisation’ that impe des both the transmission of unwelcome advice and the ability of public servants to ensure due pr ocess—and the integrity of the system. The picture is further clouded by the increasing au gmentation of partisan ministerial staff. Originally introduced to maximise sources of advice, to provide alternative options and critical dissent rather than to impose concurrence- seeking behaviour (see Walter 1986), ministerial staff have come to have the opposite ef fect (see Keating 2003b; Weller 2002). Their ability to intervene in departmental processe s; to mediate between the political and administrative domains; to drive, sieve and skew ad vice; to insist upon what the minister wants as opposed to the public interest or the inte grity of government has amplified concern about public sector reform. It has provoked not onl y extensive review of ministerial staff

(Holland 2002) and calls for accountability measure s (Holland 2002; Keating 2003b; Weller 2002; Tiernan & Weller 2003), but also a reconsider ation of and demand for greater security of tenure and strengthening of the independence of departmental secretaries to act as a counterweight (Keating 2003b). The Howard government has not heeded these calls. What have been the effects on leadership behaviour ? One indicator, in relation to the

Howard Liberal-National Party (L-NP) government, is the prevalence of commentary on the fraught issue of truth in government. Most such com mentary is provoked by incidents that call to mind the way Howard and his ministers handled the so-called ‘children overboard’ affair (2001), the use of intelligence in the presentation of the case for war in Iraq (2002/3), instances of adverse and peremptory confrontation of dissenti ng public servants (for instance, the pressure for Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, to rectify his comments on terrorism in 2003; the attack on the credibility of former pu blic servant, Mike Scrafton, in 2004) and denial of timely knowledge about the abuse of Iraqi detainees (2004), or about the activities of the Australian Wheat Board in its dealing with Iraq (2006). Some of these issues have been analysed in detail—see for instance Patrick Weller’ s book on the children overboard affair (Weller 2002), or the Parliamentary Joint Committee report (2004) and the Flood report (2004) on intelligence in relation to the case for war in Iraq. In most cases only disclosures by the press

and in senate committees brought the truth to light : doyenne of the Canberra Press gallery, Michelle Grattan remarked, ‘If it had been left to the PM, we’d never have found out’. All these cases raise the issues of information, co mmunication and truth and of the proper role of the executive. Even if one accepts t hat the government wholeheartedly believed in what it was doing, it is clear in such instances that it was economical in what it would divulge, chose evidence that suited a preordained p urpose rather than heeding more cautious advice, used ministerial staff to filter informatio n and to police the party line, refused to hear evidence that would contradict its stance (thus bei ng able to claim it ‘didn’t know’ when evidence ran against it—the tactic of ‘plausible de niability’) and expected concurrence from its public servants rather than frank and fearless advice. This is not a scenario of evidence based decision-making, contestability and adjudicat ion between alternative options, but of funnelling everything in terms of what a leader is seen to want, and manipulation of information to forestall debate, predicated on the conviction that we should leave it to the leader.

Conclusions Arguably there has been a confluence of challenging times, emerging institutional tendencies and personal preferences that has fostered Howard’s particular style of strong leadership. The underlying proposition is that as institutions beco me less effective, leaders may tip the balance within what I earlier called the leadership quandar y, pursuing what they regard as imperative at the expense of democratic conventions. This may, as suggested above, foster actions that


recklessly engender cynicism (and undermine confidence in democratic institutions); tactics that create a vacuum where accountability should be ; and practices that deny transparency. Has this argument been taken to an extreme? On the one hand, pure types will be rare: a leadership typology is a guide to how certain cha racteristics may play out rather than a rigid mould, and different ‘strong leaders’ may accentuat e different parts of the syndrome (Thatcher, emphasising conviction, appeared arrogant; Howard, emphasising the unremitting effort, ‘all achievement is against the grain’, pro jects ordinariness and humility). On the other hand, on many issues Howard’s government has been flexible, taken advice, and listened to opinion, demonstrating responsiveness and reason—a government doing what ‘you’ want. New issues emerge on which there is no prior positi on: in some instances (such as water management) a whole of government approach creates opportunities for outside advice and creative solutions (see, e.g., Kelly 2005: 9-10). B ut there are core ideological issues— privatisation of public assets (especially the sale of Telstra), family support, user pays education, welfare reform, deregulation of the labo ur market (and demolition of union power), commitment to the US alliance (and the ‘war against terrorism’)—where neither contrary evidence nor adverse public opinion will d issuade Howard. He is prepared to defer, to await a better climate, but he will never give u p. And it is in these battles that his ways of drawing interests together and building support are marked. First, he eschews the ‘tribalism’ of old politics and couches his message so as to be ‘heard’ by diverse interests: his avowed

aim, to create coalitions across the ‘mainstream’. Economic reform, for instance, appeals to the self interest of cosmopolitans (with skills, fl exibility, capital to invest), but can be framed to persuade aspirational voters that opening up of choice will provide pathways out of their current less advantaged positions. Second, he evide ntly calculates that there are those he can afford to ‘lose’—church leaders, welfare advocates, academics, small ‘l’ liberals, indeed many of those Brett dubbed the ‘moral middle class’ (Brett 2003) that was once the Liberal Party’s core (see ‘tribalism’ above). Third, these are represented as marginalised ‘progressive elites’ trying to shore up old approaches that serv ed their purposes, threatening the interests of ‘all of us’. Here, Howard draws on scapegoat stereo types, affirming the ‘goodness’ of the mainstream and displacing negative affect onto marg inal ‘others’. So he reaches down to the ‘battlers’, refocussing their understandable anxiet y about reform as an ‘objective’ fear of malign minorities, encouraging them to mobilise beh ind a strong leader who will fight these special interests.

At the emotional level, Howard tells a story of the sunny uplands where we might be comfortable and relaxed and our shared values can f lower, but it is underpinned by the orchestration of fear—fear of those who would block the realisation of our dreams and (from 2001) our security, sovereignty and even survival. 9 The times have suited him—just when his ‘fight-flight’ outlook was beginning to pall, as op inion polls turned against him in 2001, international circumstances swung in favour of ‘the garrison state’ (Lasswell 1935; Lasswell 1941) and Howard was handed a script that coincided precisely with his world view, a world view now in accord with the political climate he fa ced and attuned to his skills as a conviction politician:

A conviction politician uses his or her philosophy … to bind the troops together, to highlight differences with rivals to the point wher e their views are unthinkable … A Strong Leader’s philosophy must be simple and relia ble … made to strike hard and stick. The intention is not to contribute to a deba te; the intention is to overcome and then marginalize contrary views out of existence (L ittle 1988: 42). Politics, however, should be about debate—about the vigorous negotiation of different views, competing interests and alternative options. When t his is denied, we get a fatal narrowing of

all that might contribute to informed opinion and s ensible policy—a public service incapable of telling the government other than what it wants to hear (Podger 2005); advisory agencies


micro-managed and peopled only with the like-minded (as Malcolm Fraser has argued); media chorusing received opinion (and excluding dis senting voices); cowed researchers pulling back from what their evidence might suggest (academics fearful that peer evaluated research will be excluded by a ‘community’ represen tative or by ministerial whim; public instrumentalities—such as the CSIRO—expected to tailor findings, e.g. on climate change, to policy preferences); and all reinforcing what the s trong leader already knows and curtailing the generation of new ideas.

It is this, we can speculate, that may finally unde rmine the strong leader: he comes to power with a set of convictions about what should b e done already in place; he fights unremittingly to see his agenda realised, as Howard has done with extraordinarily skill over ten years; but he remains focused on the past (from which his ideas derive) and the present he seeks to control, 10 ending in ‘a crisis of ideas’ (Kelly 2005: 10). Th e ideas of opponents have been marginalised or rendered unthinkable; but his own resources are, finally, exhausted. Can Howard’s continuing energy and engagement surmount this predicament?

1 Karen Kissane, ‘A Lasting Impression’, Age, February 20, 2005 2 Paul Kelly, ‘The Sweetest Anniversary’, Australian, February 25-26, 2006. 3

Kissane, op. cit . 4 Tim Colebatch, ‘The money man’, Age, February 22, 2006. 5

Colebatch, op. cit. 6 Barber was commenting on his designation of ‘active- negative leaders’, a type addressing the same constellation of traits as Little’s ‘strong leader’. 7

Kissane, op. cit. 8 Quoted in Michelle Grattan, ‘Howard’s way: more wealth and confidence but less tolerance’, Age , February 21, 2006. 9

See this exemplified in ‘Transcript of the Prime Min ister, The Hon John Howard MP, Address to the National Press Club, Great Hall, Parliament House, Canberra, 7 October, 2004’, at , accessed October 9, 2004. 10

See, especially, Judith Brett, ‘Howard: man of this moment’, Age, February 22, 2006.


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