Don mentioned Menzies.
Menzies could be the luckiest Prime Minister Australia has ever had. He had been largely ineffective before the Second World War, and during the war and in its immediate aftermath, he had to face Curtin and then Chifley. Both had been widely admired for their leadership in the war years.
However, in the 1949 Federal election, Menzies was given two free kicks right in front of goal, both courtesy of the Labor Party. The first was when Menzies promised to abolish all food and commodity rationing which had continued after the war, and Chifley would not match this. The second was Chifley’s determination to nationalise the banks. Naturally, this caused a bloodsome uproar with the banks mounting a massive “No” campaign. Menzies, of course went right along with this and helped the banks and his own prospects by telling voters of the terrible consequences if it did happen; some of which may even have been true. The election was a landslide win for the Coalition.
As if that wasn’t enough, the ALP came up with more free kicks. One, which had ramifications for at least the next twenty years, was the great Labor Party Split of 1955. Enough has been written about this and there’s no point in going through it here.
The major result was the formation of the Democratic Labor Party which succeeded in getting a huge amount of the Roman Catholic vote, aided by people like Melbourne Archbishop Daniel Mannix who said from the pulpit that the ALP should be cast aside. The vast majority of preferences from the DLP went to the Coalition, so that the DLP was often referred to as the Deputy Liberal Party. Menzies, of course, went along happily with this since it helped him the kick the “Commo” can which he did effectively.
The next free kick was the ALP Leadership. Menzies comfortably disposed of Bert Evatt three times and Arthur Calwell twice. Evatt was a brilliant scholar but politically inept, and Calwell was just completely outclassed. Menzies, a superb orator and quick thinker, played them both off a break.
Meanwhile, Menzies carefully got rid of the members of his own party who might have challenged him. He disposed of Richard Casey, Percy Spender and Garfield Barwick, and effectively anointed Harold Holt as his successor. In his time, the economy was sound, unemployment very low, and Australia rode comfortably along on the sheep’s back. Menzies had this in his favour, and was never seriously challenged until he retired.