When I lived in Australia for a short period, one of the things I grew very quickly to dislike was Australian Prime Minister John Howard. I was there in the late 90′s just as Britain had elected Nu Labour (New Tory?) and Australian politics felt a bit like a re-run of the 80′s political scene in the UK. No real effective opposition, an arrogant right wing government taking on the unions and having been in power for a long period. I was also able to witness Australia’s compulsory voting system via a national election at the time. Held on a Saturday the voters I was living with had to trek to the nearest school to vote and would face a fine if they did not. They are free to deface the voting slip when they get there but nobody escapes the political process. Australia has an intricate 2nd preference voting system in that if your desired candidate does not receive enough votes then your vote is transferred to a second preference which can result in the most bizarre consequences.
John Howard is an identikit politician. Background as a lawyer (you’ll know he’ll be good at lying), in awe of big business, contempt for ordinary people, that kind of thing. The similarity with Thatcher’s Britain continued in that most Australians I met seemed to hate Howard and yet at election time he pretty much romps home and back to power as enough people are doing OK thank you very much (it’s a truism that how people say they will vote and how they actually vote are usually quite different).
So I’m not surprised that little Johnny Howard, a man that BBC correspondent Nick Bryant describes as the type of politician who would happily cross a road for a fight, is now telling American voters how to vote. A democratic government in the USA would not be the sort of company that Howard relishes.
He has spoken out against the potential democratic candidate Barack Obama and criticising his proposals for an early withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. You have to remember that Australia supported America in Vietnam and sent troops there too whilst Britain’s then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson tacitly played lip service to “the special relationship” whilst refusing to send British troops (something that most of us in the UK wish that Tony Blair had done over Iraq).Mr Obama has responded to Howard’s attck by saying he is “flattered” that one of George Bush’s allies on the other side of the world has started attacking him the day after he announced his Iraq policy.
Apart from highlighting an aspect of John Howard’s personality, it also shows how international politics has become a bit of an old boys right wing club (is that what they meant by “New world order”?) and that political toadies who are happy to cosy up to a republican government can also have a dummy spit if it looks like their playmates are moving to another classroom.