When John Howard’s long and eminent political career ended, he became an author of distinction.
His latest book A SENSE OF BALANCE is, in my view, his best work to date.
I enjoyed his previous books LAZARUS RISING and THE MENZIES ERA. The first was his autobiography and the latter was a biography of his mentor. Both are excellent reads.
A SENSE OF BALANCE is quite different.
He describes it in this way. ‘How a sense of balance has defined us as a nation and will safeguard our future.’
It is actually about the crises that Australia has faced during his parliamentary career and beyond. He believes that we have survived because we did not let any crisis upset our sense of balance and this has enabled us to set the basis for a robust future for our nation.
He covers crucial subjects such as the Covid pandemic, election of Donald Trump, Brexit, the rise of China, climate change, the defeat of Scott Morrison, our relationship with royalty, Nine Eleven , 6 prime ministers in 11 years, Republic, Indigenous recognition, plus other matters of significance such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
Despite being a solid Conservative, he attempts to highlight both sides of any debate before setting out his own views in moderate fashion. He gives the clear impression of wanting to create a balanced community debate on all the issues he raises and I hope this happens.
I certainly would like to debate his views on climate and royalty and the Voice Referendum.
The most powerful element of his book is contained in the background to its title – A SENSE OF BALANCE.
While not exempting himself from criticism of some of his own divisive decisions and policies, he laments the way that society is so rigidly divided on far too many issues. He is particularly concerned, just as you and I are, that our divided opinions are now expressed so strongly that they too often convey pure hatred of those who hold opposing views. This is not a healthy situation for the future of our nation.
He particularly laments the fact that his beloved Liberal Party can no longer be described as a ‘broad church’. These were two words he often used to describe the many viewpoints that existed in the ranks of his Party. He actively encouraged the ‘broad church’ but this has now been replaced by hard line factions such as the stark divisions between the Christian Right. and the Menzies moderates and the ‘wets’ and ‘dries’.
He hints in his book that the Liberals may now spend a long time in opposition due to their factional wars and long battle to achieve relevance as they lose ground to Independents.
Howard now has many critics who do their best to demean his legacy but he did try follow the Menzies ideology. I remember the day that Menzies announced the formation of the Liberal Party in 1943. He said on ABC Radio that his party stood on neither the left nor the right. He emphasised that it was a Liberal Party not a Conservative Party. It was firmly in the middle ground of politics. That, Howard acknowledges, is no longer true.
This means that the Liberals must create a modern ideology as they currently don’t have one. Their sole philosophy is ‘Don’t trust the Labor Party as they will lose your money’. That slogan will never again win them an election. Never.
Reading the book made me think of Howard’s two great legacies to Australia.
The greatest was the gun banning legislation he had courageously enacted after the Port Arthur massacre. The threats against his life by gun lovers were very real. His security team made him wear bullet proof vests when addressing meetings about the legislation. Now millions of Americans fervently wish they had similar gun laws.
The other was the simple fact that his eleven years in power were an era of general economic prosperity that was subsequently undone by Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison.
His prime failures were getting us involved in disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which are still unresolved. He comments on them in this book.
I have known John Howard personally for decades, a friendship that continues to this day even though our stance on political issues often differs. When I wrote my book DINNER WITH THE FOUNDING FATHERS, I sent it to him to review before I published it. He graciously responded and found common ground on lots of issue but differed on our views of the validity of the Whitlam sacking in 1975.
Anyway, the key point is this.
Read A SENSE OF BALANCE and debate it on social media. John Howard wrote it in the hope of creating widespread debate. It is worthy of that honour.