February 22, 2007 | Graham

Why Howard and Blair are at odds on Iraq

There is a simple reason why John Howard is sending extra troops to Iraq and Tony Blair is withdrawing them. There are votes for Howard on Iraq, but none for Blair.
Blair’s constituency is by-and-large anti-war. While there are some left-of-centre hawks, like Nick Cohen, they are significantly outnumbered by the peacenicks. Blair’s backing of the American action in Iraq was much braver than John Howard’s.
For Howard, the biggest political reason for backing the Iraq war was the support that he solidifed from blue-collar conservative voters.
When politicians are in trouble, as Blair and Howard are (although Blair has already announced the time-table for his own withdrawal), the sensible strategy is to first shore-up core support, which is what both are doing.
That part of middle and upper Australia that supports Howard doesn’t do so because of foreign affairs policies. It votes for him on economic issues. It’s the blue-collar conservatives who are motivated by Iraq and refugees. By running on foreign affairs Howard alienates some of the upper-demographics, particularly those in the educational and caring sectors, but he gains the solid loyalty of a group that more often than not votes Labor at other levels of government. So far it has been a winning combination.
I suspect that this group is not being properly captured at the moment by surveys. Either that, or the middle class has succumbed to Rudd’s charm in huge numbers. For Howard, keeping all his constituencies together is a delicate balancing act. He’ll be hoping that an additional 70 soldiers is a large enough token of goodwill for one group,while not sufficiently large to upset the other groups.

Posted by Graham at 4:53 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. I suspect that this group is not being properly captured at the moment by surveys.
    … You’re kidding, right? Your theory is not matched by any facts, so the theory is wrong?
    I think there’s _some_ truth to this – I think this was Howard’s original plan. I don’t think it’s working any more. If we’re going to just pulling theories out of nowhere, then I’d suggest the number of people who would say “Oh, Howard is fully behind Iraq, that’s a vote changer for me, I’ll support him” is very, very, very, very small.

    Comment by anthony — February 23, 2007 @ 11:57 am

  2. Graham, Howard’s constituency is by and large anti-war too. The war is deeply unpopular in Australia, as Howard himself has acknowledged. He of course tries to spin that into political bravery, even though it’s actually political gutlessness.
    Also, I’ve been wondering where the anti-war Right can possibly go when the Howard Government has narrowed choice on foreign policy to ‘agree with Howard, or be a terrorist sympathiser’.

    Comment by Gianna — February 26, 2007 @ 10:23 am

  3. Gianna, if you look at the latest Newspoll on the issue you find that while only 30% of Australians think that the troops should remain in Iraq for as long as necessary, 53% of Coalition voters think this (against 35% who disagree): http://newspoll.com.au/image_uploads/0205%20Iraq.pdf.
    So, Howard’s constituency believes that the troops ought to stay there. They are tied on the issue of whether the war was a good idea in the first place (same poll).
    But the real issue is: Who will change their vote on the issue? My guess is no-one who didn’t use that to determine their vote last election. And Howard needs to make sure he gets his share, and from this poll, he’s doing that.
    Not sure who you mean by the “anti-war Right”. Owen Harries? Malcolm Fraser? John Valder? I don’t think that either of the latter two vote for Howard, and I’ve got no idea about the first, but none of them is likely to worry about anyone suggesting they are supporting terrorists. Probably goes for anyone else of that view on the right.

    Comment by Graham Young — February 26, 2007 @ 11:25 pm

  4. What do I mean by anti-war Right? Just the obvious: not all of the Right supports Howard’s military policy. As indicated by your poll showing only just over half of Coalition voters do. Just over half may well be a technical majority but it’s hardly unanimous support.
    So, does Howard expect half his voters to like constantly having their reasonable concerns on Iraq dismissed and being told they are terrorist sympathisers?
    (BTW your link to the Newspoll doesn’t work.)

    Comment by Gianna — February 27, 2007 @ 7:30 am

  5. I’ll try the link again http://newspoll.com.au/image_uploads/0205%20Iraq.pdf (the problem last time was the full-stop on the end).
    If you look at the Newspoll results I’d probably fit in the 44% of the vote who don’t think that the war was worthwhile, but I’d hesitate to call myself “anti-war”. To take it further, if I’m typical of what you call “anti-war”, then I don’t have a problem with Howard saying that withdrawing the troops without stabilising Iraq would be a victory for the terrorists. It’s a reasonable argument.
    Most people won’t make their voting decision based on Iraq, but some will. Some of them will be voting Labor as a result and some Liberal. Some of those Liberal voters wouldn’t vote for Howard if it wasn’t for his stance on the war.

    Comment by Graham Young — February 27, 2007 @ 10:38 am

  6. Yes, Howard pandered to blue-collar racists, painting Iraq as a front in a war against scary dark people. He got a huge boost from the Bali bombing. But given time, even the most demented haters on the right have to realise that we are fighting a war for no good reason, against people we have no quarrel with, wasting our resources and many of their lives.
    This is bullshit:
    “I don’t have a problem with Howard saying that withdrawing the troops without stabilising Iraq would be a victory for the terrorists. It’s a reasonable argument.”
    It’s a terrible argument. We aren’t fighting “terrorists”. Most of the people we are fighting are nationalists who simply want their country back. And it has never been a good argument that you should continue to do a very bad thing just because someone you don’t approve of would like you to stop. Fighting a war to spite Al Qaeda has to be the stupidest reason you can come up with for it, particularly since our being in Iraq is a terrorist magnet!
    Still, it’s nice to know that there are homegrown drooling rightwing chickenhawks, and the States doesn’t have the monopoly of teh stoopid.

    Comment by Dr Zen — February 28, 2007 @ 8:32 pm

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