There’s been a lot of ink spilled about John Howard being a lying rodent. While that’s generally plausible, I’m starting to think it’s not really an accurate description. Before I’m dragged off and put in a straitjacket, let me clarify - Howard certainly does lie; routinely, hugely, and on purpose. If you talk to one of his disciples and raise an example of his inveterate lying, you may get an indulgent response along the lines of “come on, not even WE expected him to keep that promise – that was just to win the election”. Ah, that difference between “truth” and “trust”.
No, it’s much more precise to describe him as a treacherously greasy suckweasel. Not to be disrespectful to weasels, it’s just a turn of phrase. When Howard isn’t lying, claiming to have not been told, obfuscating, dog-whistling, buck-passing, including lots of fine print, excusing inexcusable Ministers, or invoking sporting/ANZAC clichés, he’s often telling the truth. Of course, it’s a lawyer’s greasy version of truth, so expect it to involve a lot of smoke, mirrors, weasel words, and a completely different meaning to that ascribed by some of the more simple-minded or sycophantic members of the National Press Gallery.
Let’s take a couple of his statements about the Senate majority and industrial relations as an example (source SMH, 26/6/05).
"We will use the majority we have," Mr Howard said to applause."We'll use it ... soberly, wisely and sensibly. We won't use it capriciously or wantonly or indiscriminately, and I make that solemn promise on your behalf to all of the Australian people."
Suggested translation: Our legislation will be targeted specifically at groups we’ve wanted to kill for a long time. Party donors won’t be hurt.
"The last thing that any political leader or party in this country should ever do is to assume that they have a licence from the Australian people to indulge in any kind of over-zealous way their ideology or their enjoyment of power," Mr Howard told a breakfast of business delegates.
Suggested translation: Howard will leave politics when the political wind blows against him, and the last (final) thing he wants to do is zealously indulge his ideology against his political enemies.
Which leads to the question of Howard’s planned timing on leaving politics. I suspect he’s putting this off for as long as he can get away with it; he knows that as an ex-PM he’ll be irrelevant, and regarded as some kind of curious social throwback. There are any number of issues which could politically kill him before the next election, including an interesting sleeper issue of electoral boundary redistribution. This one’s been raised by the Poll Bludger (aka William Bowe, see www.pollbludger.com), who has an enviable record of electoral number-crunching and prediction; I’ve included some of his commentary in the comments section. The upshot is that the good ship Bennelong may not be sailing in the Liberal fleet for too much longer.
So, does a suckweasel know what to do when aboard a sinking ship?