Friday, September 28, 2007

Crossing Continents

John Howard
Down and out down under?
I've ended up in quite a few conversations over the last week about the prospects for a general election in the near future where the Labour party looks to be in the ascendancy. No surprise there, except that all but one of them have been with Australians and related to their own forthcoming election which must be held no later than January 19th.

Things are not looking good for John Howard's Liberal/National coalition with Kevin Rudd's Australian Labour Party in the ascendancy, despite eleven years of economic growth and a generally positive feeling about the state of the country.

Howard supporters point to the fact that he has bounced back from worse positions in the past, and in this I do hope their optimism is justified. For a long time Howard has been the one Conservative leaning world leader who has had any real stature on the world stage. Sure it's a country with a small population, but under Howard they have punched above their weight on the world stage despite their own involvement in issues like Iraq. Also, he's been far too astute a politician to allow the type of cheap shots, so beloved of the left, that have plagued the likes of George W Bush, to land on him.

Only of late have the likes of Sarkozy emerged who may be able to challenge to be the face of the international centre-right, and even in Sarko's case it depends on him not being led astray by the likes of Merkel with their old fashioned Christian Democratic Conservative traditions.

What I found interesting in the discussions was that every time I've heard the state of Australian politics is mentioned in the British media, the same list of reasons for Howard's poor poll showings is trotted out, especially by the BBC. It is all down to Iraq, immigration and climate change apparently. It is certain that my own polling is unscientific but I've got a feeling certain outlets are reporting the news as they would like it to be rather than as it is, and some polling data supports this.

Iraq was mentioned by the people I spoke to as was occasionally climate change, but they seemed to very low down the list, and not issues that counted entirely against Howard. Immigration policy actually seemed to be generally thought of as a plus point for the Liberals, perhaps somewhat ironically as much of Australia's controversial immigration control was a legacy of the last Labour administration. Other issues were raised, but the overriding sentiment was simply that it was time for a change, with no particular issues of ill-will towards Howard policies. Even those that declared themselves anti-Howard seemed to be so more on issues of personality than policy.

More scientific polling of the issues in play seems to suggest that the traditional big three, of economy, health care and education are what are exercising Australian minds most, along with a controversial industrial relations act. A quick look at this latter item, locally called WorkChoices, reveals a fairly sensible set of laws, such as mandating secret ballots for industrial action, akin to the changes in this country in the eighties which though controversial at the time are now pretty much mainstream thought no matter what Bob Crowe may fantasise. Only the Environment, of the British media's key issues, features highly as an issue, and then only at the same level as national security, an area where Howard scores well.

It should be also be noted that the media's top issues are all classic 'seal clubbing' issues where poll numbers are likely to be overstated, but ones where I'm sure when the election is called, our own media's antipodean outposts will be able to find plenty of 'typical Aussies' to put these issues at the top of the agenda.

As to why there has been no discussions locally about election matters closer to home, sadly there just seems to be stunningly little interest beyond the odd expression of loathing for Brown, disappointment with Cameron and derision for Ming.

While I'm sure where I live is no more typical than any other place I do know people of quite a cross-section of political views, and perhaps the most remarkable thing I've noticed is that I haven't met a single person who does not detest the Prime Minister. Where are the masses of the Gordon Brown fan club who give him such high poll ratings? Or are the alternatives really that bad?

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