Tiger by the tail

Political parties Australia

In the long run, the enemy of my enemy isn’t always my friend. It’s a mistake that’s proving costly for the Liberals

TWENTY years ago, during a long, leisurely lunch conversation about the Liberals and their history, John Howard expressed the view to me that the party no longer attracted the sort of people it once had. He spoke frankly – at the time, his chances of a comeback looked close to zero – and I pressed him on the issue.

There were solid people in the party when he joined, he told me, solid citizens. People like his heroes, Robert Cotton and John Carrick. It was their example that attracted him, and that was what had typified the old Liberal Party.

It was the mid 1990s. Howard and his colleagues had been out of government in Canberra for eleven years, and prime minister Paul Keating had just launched another attack on the “spivs” in the Liberal Party. Howard said he wasn’t sure just what Keating meant by the term, but he did concede that “a different sort of person” had become attracted to the party. These people, he suggested, wanted something rather than wanting to offer something. It was a big difference…

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