Thursday, December 15, 2005

Relaxed and Comfortable, by Judith Brett

Another Quarterly Essay, this time from Judith Brett, who has written extensively on the Liberals and Liberal Party culture. Reading the author blurb on the back, I’ve just realised that I’ve actually read all her books (she’s only written two). Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People was the first Brett book I read, which I really enjoyed. The other book is Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class, which is a must read, as the book covers Liberal Parties (not just Robert Menzies’ Liberals) from federation to today.

This Quarterly Essay aims to show us how Howard’s detractors, mostly those from what we would call the left, have failed to understand why Howard is so successful. She claims their criticisms of Howard have missed the mark. Howard is not, as many would argue, some new insidious form of right wing politics. Rather, he is a continuation of Liberal Party philosophy.

To convince us that her argument is true, Brett gives us quite a few quotes from Bob Menzies, then quotes Howard’s more recent utterances. The similarities are striking. From my own recent readings of Robert Menzies, from Jenny Hocking’s books on counter terrorism and communist author Frank Hardy, Howard seems to me more and more like a re-emergence of Pig Iron Bob.

(I’m betting at the moment that Howard will not quit in 2006, and will go on to win another election in 2007. The IR laws he will have bedded down by then. The sky won’t fall in for the majority of Australians. With the new Welfare to Work changes, heaps of people will be taken off pensions and put on the dole. Now, I ask you, will people have a problem if 'dole bludgers' are asked to take on jobs with new contracts that reduce conditions? No. Also, there will be every year lots of new people entering the work force, and they will take up the new conditions. Will they know any different? No. By then Howard will have been in power for about 12 years. Can anyone see Peter Costello, a complete wimp and loser, challenging? Sorry for the digression here!)

This is a pretty bland and depressing essay. Not bland because of the author, but because of what is described. The most fascinating, and depressing, part of the book is where she summarised four of your typical Howard voters. All of them are pretty uninteresting, unimpressive people. None see much of the world beyond their own front fence. The last typical voter was a twenty-five year old man living with his mother in Keilor. He only worked casual jobs, was relatively uneducated, and spent most of his time at nightclubs. The main thing he had against Howard, he said, was ‘his looks’. ‘But people look past that and say and say well it doesn’t matter if he’s attractive, or if he’s sucking up to all the big people around the world, we’re still voting for him because he’s a true Australian, not matter what.’

Ironically, all of Howard’s ‘typical’ voters have next to zero interest in politics. So, is Howard’s chief victory in seeming like a non-politician? It would be like a pop star becoming the number one artist by attracting a fan base of people who are barely interested in music.

Chris recommends this book. Not particularly tasty fare, but nonetheless it’s probably good for you.

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