Throughout the last few years of the Howard government, anyone who criticised the government, or suggested that Howard was not the best person to be Prime Minister of Australia, could be sure of being labelled a “Howard hater”. A quick Google finds this trope being used regularly by Miranda Devine, Paul Sheehan and Gerard Henderson, and being taken up by their numerous blogospheric supporters.
This was always silly. Perhaps there were people motivated to oppose the government because of a personal animus against Howard rather than his actions and policies, but if so I never met any. Of course, people who disliked Howard’s policies tended to dislike Howard, and some people who hated Howard’s policies hated Howard as a result, but using a term like “Howard hater” to explain opposition to the government is like explaining the effects of opium by reference to its dormitive qualities.
The real motive underlying the use of “Howard hater” as a term of attack was the recognition that he and his government never commanded enthusiastic support from most Australians, merely a judgement that they were better than the alternatives on offer. Once this changed with Labor’s (long overdue) choice of Kevin Rudd as leader, the government was doomed.
Tonight’s Four Corners suggests that much the same was true of Howard’s colleagues. While only Costello and a couple of his closest supporters came across as Howard haters, most of the rest showed a notable lack of enthusiasm, and willingness in retrospect, to blame Howard for the government’s defeat. Tony Abbott’s undiminished loyalty just enhanced the contrast with the rest of the crew.
In terms of policy, the most startling revelation was Joe Hockey’s claim that members of the Cabinet voted for WorkChoices, including the abolition of the “no disadvantage” test, and were then shocked (or pretended to be) that people were disadvantaged. This news ought surely to sink resistance to Labor’s reforms, and may indeed have been intended to achieve this purpose.