Saturday, November 10, 2012

‘Dead heat’ Tony has hope | Daily Telegraph Miranda Devine Blog

‘Dead heat’ Tony has hope | Daily Telegraph Miranda Devine Blog

AT Tony Abbott’s 55th birthday party at Manly last Sunday, John Howard sang the praises of the opposition leader who, “brought the party back from the dead at the 2010 election”.

It was encouragement Abbott sorely needed in the midst of sagging opinion polls, and an ascendant prime minister coasting on a barrage of misogyny allegations against him.

Friends had noticed the Opposition Leader looking gaunt and tired lately as political foes and the media turned to nitpicking at everything from his “relentless negativity” to his swagger, which is reportedly coming though in focus groups as a turnoff to uncommitted voters.

But a sunny Howard, 73, who once was derided as “Mr 18 Percent” before becoming Australia’s second longest serving Prime Minister, had nothing but praise for his protégé and anointed successor.
For one thing, Abbott’s vintage was a good omen, he told the crowd of 300 seated for lunch in a marquee in the grounds of the seminary-turned hospitality college, where Abbott once studied to be a priest.

“Around 55, 56 has a good ring about it in the lineage of former Liberal leaders who ended up prime minister.

“Bob Menzies was 56 when he came back as prime minister in 1949 and [ahem] somebody else was 56 when he became prime minister so, Tony, you are in very friendly territory there.”

Now writing a new book to follow his best-selling autobiography Lazarus Rising, on the history of the government between 1949 and 1972, Howard said his research showed how remarkable was the “dead heat” Abbott had achieved at the 2010 election.

The only time since Federation when a one-term government was defeated was the Scullin government in 1931.

“And do you know what brought about that defeat? It not only took the occurrence of the Great Depression, it also took the splitting of the Labor party whereby senior members of the Labor party, Joe Lyons and several others, left, joined the opposition Nationalist party and formed a new party called the United Australia Party.

“To give you an idea of how improbable that is, it’s rather like Wayne Swan and Penny Wong leaving the Labor party and joining with Tony Abbott and other members of the Opposition, and Tony agreeing to stand aside in favour of Wayne Swan so he could become prime minister.

“Now … it took all of that to bring about the defeat of that [Scullin] government. But without any of those circumstances, Tony achieved a dead heat at the last election.”

Surrounded by a female-weighted support team of wife Margie, two of his three daughters, Frances and Bridget, two sisters, Christine and Pip, and parents, Fay and Dick, Abbott basked in Howard’s approval.

“I can see in Tony a wonderful Australian asset,” said Howard, “and that is a strong, united, loving family, because at the end of the day there’s nothing more wonderful that anyone can be a part of...”
Of Abbott’s time in Cabinet: “There was no better read person around the cabinet table when I was Prime Minister. Whenever something came up about philosophy or history or values or human behaviour you could always rely on Tony to provide an observation that was relevant ... I count him as a close and dear friend and I admire the work he has done.”
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