John Quiggin hypothesises that John Howard’s new-found enthusiasm for tax-and-spend policies may be based on “a fundamental change of view about what the Australian public wants from governments, one in which more and better services rank ahead of tax cuts“, rather than just on electoral pragmatism born of desperation. JQ goes on to speculate that this might in time lead to a coherent, broad-based, principled Coalition policy position that might be summarised as “Universalism + Choice”.
But Howard and principles is just about as oxymoronic a juxtaposition as anyone could imagine. Clearly Howard is going to retire some time during the next term if he wins. His sole focus is on securing a fourth term for the Coalition by hook or by crook, and therefore his own place in history. Any broader principle underpinning tax-and-spend that might have crossed Howard’s mind even momentarily will be of little or no interest to a Costello-led government. In fact just about the only interest once Costello takes over will be how long it takes him to jettison Howard’s more expensive 2004 election commitments.