Thursday, December 06, 2007

Gone - but the damage is done.

John Winston Howard.

He put selfish personal ambition above all else. Above his party, his country, the people.

He started by dragging his party to the far right, he ended by just about destroying it.

He made lying by public figures acceptable, he made it acceptable to take no responsibility, he made it acceptable to blame others, he led the charge in our plummeting standards of decency and honesty, he made it acceptable to claim credit for good things that in reality were beyond any ones person's control.

He encouraged a climate of selfishness, paranoia ('be alert not alarmed'...'we do not want these kind of people here'), of bigotry and racism.

He took the country to war against the wishes of the majority, he subjugated Australian policy to that of the far right administration in America.

What his admirers called his never-say-die attitude is correctly criticised in others as bull-headed stubborness.

He had no ideas of his own, his mindset being firmly stuck in the fifties. So he hijacked others' policies.

He gave us a thuggish, incompetent, mean-spirited cabinet.

He frittered away our money on vote-buying handouts while the country's infrastructure fell apart.

And his main claim to success, the economy and low interest rates, was almost entirely due to world events and nothing to do with Howard or Costello. He just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

What a legacy.

Personal ambition.

His fifties mindset took the conservative movement lurching to the far right - just as Thatcher did in Britain. After a brief period of flirting with that, the electorate came to its senses and moved back to the centre. His promises for an orderly hand-over of leadership were exposed by his refusal to step down and the disintegration of his party is the result. As with Thatcher's Tories it will take a long time for the party to recover from his excesses, unless Labor is so bad that the Coalition gets back in by default.

He needed to feel important, needed to play with the big boys on the world stage. A role in the South Pacific wasn't enough. He needed to be at 10 Downing Street, at BigW's ranch, at Buckingham Palace with the Queen. At the photo opportunities, who will ever forget his puffed out chest and schoolboy grin, like a groupie with a pop star.

Don't be fooled into thinking it was for the good of the country, it was all about John Howard and his selfish ambition.

The lies

The list is long. Never-ever a GST, children overboard, core and non-core promises, troops in Iraq while he was denying that a decision had been made to join the invasion forces. It goes on and on.

"I don't want people like that in Australia. Genuine refugees don't do that..."

The culture of a society is heavily influenced by its leader. JWH gave respectability to lying by public figures, by the peoples' elected representatives. He lied simply to gain votes - we're back at selfish ambition again. Say anything, fabricate anything to win a few more votes.

"Not me"

Lack of accountability, lack of responsibility, were made respectable by JWH and others followed his example. How many times did we hear 'no-one told me' from the PM and his ministers. How many times was a scapegoat from the public service sacrificed to protect them.

Plummeting standards

It started, I suppose, with the Miniserial Standards debacle - the much-touted set of required standards being gradually weakened to fit what was actually happening. It went on into the endless lies, the misrepresentation of facts, the blaming of someone else, the appeal to bigotry and racism in the hunt for extra votes, the mean-spirited attitude to others.

Claiming credit

His big claim of success was the economy - the good times were all thanks to Howard he claimed.

What arrant nonsense.

There is no argument that the good times started to roll at least two years before he came to power, thanks to the previous government's IR changes plus world economic events. It was in full swing by the time Howard took office.

An aside - who was it who largely broke the power of the unions? Hawke and Keating - remember the pilots strike? Remember the BLF? Howard's contribution, through Peter Reith, was black-clad, balaclava-hooded goons with German Shepherds against Aussie workers on the docks.

World interest rates were at all-time lows - zero percent in Japan, one and two percent elsewhere, and naturally our rates went down too. That was not the work of John Howard. Our rates were not as low as the others, but he never came clean that we still had higher rates than most countries.

He claimed credit for the mining boom in the run up to the 2007 election in a bid for important WA seats. In reality John Howard had nothing to do with it, the windfall was caused by China, and other countries such as India too, booming to a level never before seen.

Balance of trade deficits reached new records time after time. The key reason was that our exporters couldn't get the product out to people who wanted to buy it. The infrastructure of roads, rail, ports can't handle it, so exports are a fraction of what they should be. Where did Howard put our money? Not into infrastructure for the country's future but into small hand-outs to people to buy their votes and into the pork barrel.

For more than eleven years, John Howard led us on a voyage driven by greed and fear, into parochialism and paranoia, selfishness and racism, bigotry and corruption, and other dark places in the Australian psyche where we never should have gone. It was a mean and ugly trip and, as I've said before, history will judge him harshly.

Update at the end of 2010.
JWH has published his memoirs and he's still at it. There was never an agreement with Costello, he acted in the best interests of (not himself but) the country, the election loss was not his fault but others' and he was responsible for the good times we had (in reality living on credit with a bill to be paid eventually, as we've seen over the past couple of years). That the voters of Bennelong didn't even re-elect him as their MP was the fault of someone else too.