All the signs are in place for Australian Prime Minister John Howard to resign his leadership of the Liberal Party before the next election which is due sometime before the end of this year, possibly in November.
The signs are not looking at all good for Howard; the latest polls still have him lagging well behind on 44% of the two party preferred vote against Labor’s 55%. And, if a poll conducted only last May is anything to go by, not only would Howard and his Liberal Party lose government but Howard would actually lose his own seat at Bennelong to popular ex-ABC journalist Maxine McKew who is Labor’s candidate there at the next election.
If there is one thing Howard really hates it’s losing; and the ultimate big loss for Howard will be to lose both government and his own seat at the next election. It would be his most inglorious moment that would ruin what he believes has otherwise been a glorious political career as Prime Minister rivalled only by his hero, Robert Menzies. There is no way that Howard will risk that. Losing office at an election would be bad enough but losing his own seat as well would be utterly unbearable for this egotistical man.
Other signs too to not bode well for Howard. His own pollsters, if not actually saying it, are certainly hinting that he should go. Even his close friend and official biographer, David Barnett, is telling him it’s time to move on.
The biggest problem facing the Liberal Party, however, is; who’s to replace him and, is it too late? For years Peter Costello has been yapping at Howard’s heels for the Prime Ministership. If Howard did decide to go he may well hand the reigns over to Costello but, if he did, and the Liberal Parliamentary Party endorsed him, the government could be even more assured of defeat at the next election since Costello is even less liked than Howard. However, it wouldn’t be up to Howard; the Liberal Party would have the final word in who leads if Howard goes and they are unlikely to invest in someone they know already is a loser in the leadership stakes. Health Minister Tony Abbot is even less liked than Costello so he too wouldn’t get a look in. Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is seen as a joke even among his own party. The Liberal Party’s only other hope would be the affable and quite likeable Environment and Water Resources Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
Howard has now only two choices; bow out right now on some health pretext and throw the Party to the wind with its electoral chances or face almost certain defeat at the polls both for his government and his own seat and be the laughing stock of Australia. Either way, he’s a loser.
Australia and the rest of the world, on the other hand, are the big winners.