The Guardian

The Guardian May 16, 2001

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Way out of touch

Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard has been accused of being "out 
of touch" with popular feeling in this country. A strange comment. 
Admittedly, Howard won't say sorry, dismisses the idea of a Republic and 
wants Australians to fight America's wars for her, but hey, nobody's 
perfect. And think what the Howard Government has achieved.

A bank can now post an annual profit greater than the amount they used to 
list as their "assets", while simultaneously closing their branches and 
sacking their staff. Similarly, airline deregulation has led to the 
shedding of staff and bits of the planes themselves.

The country is being de-industrialised, with manufacturers in a stampede to 
go offshore. Our steel industry was effectively closed down when the 
country's biggest company was allowed to pull up stakes and go off in 
search of richer pickings elsewhere.

The Federal Government, alone or in collusion with the States, has flogged 
off the public's property at bargain basement prices to the corporate 

Competition, supposedly the lifeblood of the free enterprise system, is 
protected by a Competition Policy watchdog to see that public enterprises 
do not have an "unfair" advantage over profit-seeking private corporations.

Private enterprise has had a freer hand under Howard than under any 
previous government, and we're all reaping the rewards. Of course Howard 
and the Libs can't take all the credit: some of their main policies were 
actually begun by his Labor predecessors.

Although things are bad, they could be a lot worse. If there is not a 
radical change in policy direction then we can predict that they will 
definitely get worse.

At present John Howard can still appear in public without being stoned or 
otherwise set upon by an angry mob.

The ruling class believes that they have a safety valve in the form of the 
Labor Party. Howard will almost certainly be tossed out in the Federal 
election later this year, and people will rejoice. It will take a few years 
for the realisation to sink in that Labor in office is basically the same 
as the Liberal Party.

By giving people a "choice" between two parties with similar policies, the 
ruling class expects to stay the ruling class "ad infinitum".

But as more people lose their jobs, more people suffer, as the government 
steps up its harassment of the unemployed and others on benefits, as health 
care and education become privileges of the well off, as homelessness and 
poverty grows, that situation will assuredly change.

Howard expects it to change, that's why he introduced new laws to allow the 
suppression of civil unrest, including the use of the army against the 

The masses may be a sleeping giant, but the giant is stirring.

Howard denies that he is out of touch with the country, and instead claims 
to have popular support. It reminds one of that lovely quote from F E 
Smith, the First Earl of Birkenhead and a Tory politician from 1906 to 
1928, when he gave up politics and went into business.

A law reformer, he had a clever way with words, as when he said: "The 
government has turned its back on the country, and now has the impudence to 
claim that the country is behind it."

By sheer coincidence, Birkenhead was also the name of a British troopship 
that struck a rock off Simon's Bay during the Crimean War and sank. Of the 
officers and men on board, 454 were drowned.

The incident became famous because the soldiers, instead of grabbing 
anything that would float and jumping overboard with it, "fell in as on 
parade on the deck while the ship sank.... The discipline of the troops is 
often quoted."

Perhaps it was, but only by the sort of pukka military johnny who thought 
it more impressive that hundreds of men should die in straight lines than 
that they should survive in an undisciplined manner to fight another day.

The British army seems to have had more than its fair share of such types, 
a fact which reached its tragic culmination in the mindless slaughter of 
the Western Front in WW1. As idiotic order followed idiotic order, men went 
over the top in senseless and futile assaults on heavily defended positions 
time and again.

Until they had had enough. A 106-year-old veteran recalled on the tele last 
week how his Australian unit in France was unable to move up the road 
towards the front line because it was full of British troops coming away 
from the front: they had left their positions and jacked it in.

Such WW1 mutinies are rarely reported even now, but their growing 
prevalence as the War continued into its third and fourth year, combined 
with the influence of the Russian Revolution (and the determination of the 
Russian soldiers to quit the war), was a major factor in convincing the 
ruling class of Britain, France and Germany to end the War.

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