In The Weekend Australian Magazine, Paul Kelly interviews the Prime Minister, in an interesting portrait of the very ordinary/extraordinary man who has dominated the political landscape of Australia since 1996.
There is a online preview that can be read here.
Left-wing readers will reject the interview because it does not probe many of Howard’s mistakes, but in it, I think, some of the secrets of Howard’s success shine through.
If there is one single factor that you could use to explain Howard’s success, I would say that it is his work ethic. He works phenomenally hard. And he works smart. This aspect, working smart, seems to be something he has improved with age; the early Howard would have been more involved in every aspect of his government; now, Howard seems to be more willing to allow his ministers freedom. (Not that that is always a good thing)
That helps to explain why Howard is so lucky; in politics, as in most other fields of endevour, you make your own luck sometimes. It’s funny how, the harder people work, the luckier they get.
But there is something else that is the key to understanding Howard’s success; this man has a most extraordinary self-mastery.
It would have been so easy after his October victory to let rip and let his joy run amok. Instead he kept control. Kelly notes:
Howeard doesn’t like talking about himself and always prefers to talk about Australia. Witness his speech at Sydney’s Sofitel Wentworth on October 9 on the night of his remarkable fourth election victory. Howard, amid the sheer euphoria, stayed in control, desperate to avoid any hint of triumphalism. He presented himself, instead, as a servant of a great country. Mark Latham, by contrast, has spent too much of the past 12 months talking about himself.
Since then, he has kept a tight grip. Not all the front bench has been so restrained, but when they stray too far off the reservation, they are herded in by the Prime Minister. His authority in Cabinet must be incredible. When was the last time a leak from the government came from a collegue?
Combine that self-control with his patience, and his ability to get his way in the long term. It is little wonder that he has outlasted all his rivals and dominates.
I thought he was finished last year. I thought he missed his chance to bow out and retire undefeated- but then I am not the first, nor the last, to be wrong. I have to admit I am no longer sure he will retire in this term, either. Given his health, which remains excellent, why would he? Who would propose to force him out? He could well be in office in 2010 if he can continue as he is now.
That thought does not fill me with total enthusiasm. Kelly notes:
This brings us to the conundrum of Howard’s prime ministership. Howard governs from his template of mainstream Australia, not from the heights of lofty policy or the laboratory of neo-conservative ideology. As time advances, he seems less prepared to take the tough or unpopular economic decisions to guarantee Australia’s position down the track. What will he do with full control of the Senate? When I put it to Howard the widespread fear that, like Malcolm Fraser, he won’t seize this chance, he snaps back: “Just hang around and see.” It is an arrogant and unconvincing response.
But Howard’s vision of what he should and will do with the Senate is different to what Kelly (and I) would like to see. I have no doubt he will achieve what he sets himself out to achieve. It is just that it is not what I would like to see.
But until and unless someone else can come up with a more convincing tale of where Australia can go, we will be going Howard’s way. It is the safe and comfortable way. It has the nation’s confidence. It is evolution, not revolution.
However, in the main, this is a very good portrait of John Howard, and reveals a lot about the man and how he goes about his job. A pity it is not online- it is well worth the read.