If you listed John Howard’s political virtues they would have to include political savvy. Political savvy (or, more disparagingly, guile, cunning, wiliness or chicanery) is a peculiar virtue indeed. On advice from sixteenth-century political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli no longer do politicians defend The Good or higher ideals and virtues like justice. Now, the best we can hope for is a political leader whose primary aim is defending the state — and not just defending the state, but defending it by whatever means possible. Once our Prime Minister is charged with this task, emotive language, appeals to self-interest and lying become praiseworthy. Defending the state by any means possible implies retaining power by any means possible. Hence, political savvy becomes a virtue.
Howard’s ability to tap into the desires of what he defined as the aspirational class was an instance of his political savvy at work. But the aspirational class was more than a rhetorical category. An Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report released yesterday shows that when the children of the nineties became the students of the noughties their parents enrolled them in private schools.