11 Sep. 2007

So What Was All That About?

Paul Kelly has the inside story:
Downer’s report to Howard came at the instigation of the Prime Minister. It is a critical point of the story. After the bad Newspoll early last week, Howard asked Downer to sound out cabinet sentiment on his leadership. Downer spoke to cabinet ministers and reported to Howard in Sydney on Friday before the APEC leaders meeting.

It seems Howard was surprised at Downer’s report... But Howard was never intimidated. Just the reverse...

The significance of these events is that Howard lost either the confidence or the preference of his own cabinet last week. There was a moment when his prime ministership seemed to be in real jeopardy.

This was unknown to the Liberal parliamentary party, which meets today presumably keen to put this period of confusion and pessimism behind it.
So Howard asked Downer to sound out his colleagues, discovered they were predisposed to change leaders, went on the 7:30 Report to stare them down, and even hand-picked a journo at the Stephen Harper presser to ask him a question about leadership, just so he could restate his determination to stay on.

You can criticize the Conga Line for this fiasco, but Howard brought it upon himself.
Beneath the surface there is puzzlement, pessimism, confusion and anger.

One cabinet minister said to The Australian yesterday: “Why did he (Howard) ask for the soundings to be taken if he was not prepared to act on the conclusion?” A good question that is unanswered.
I would assume that Howard's move was triggered by continuing leadership speculation in the media, with solid Coalition supporters like Kelly and Albrechtson calling for him to step down. Lest we forget, it was Rupert Murdoch himself who advised the PM to step down many months ago.

UPDATE: Dennis Shanahan does some actual reporting for a change, with an inside wrap-up of events over the week.