Poor Costello – used for the last time

Tuesday, 20 November 2007 

At least Rudd had the decency to look uncomfortable on Rove.

Sitting next to Costello on Today Tonight, Howard’s rictus grin stayed stuck on, even while he talked about how Labor would wreck the economy. Actually on the politics, neither of them was that bad, they sounded sincere when they talked up the Labor scare.

When they didn’t sound sincere was when they talked about each other. The awkwardness is a result of Costello’s past bad mouthing of Howard and Howard not getting rid of him for doing so. For a decade, Howard has been riding the vacuum of a government that slumps disastrously every few years but does not have any means of changing its leader. Costello, the sham challenger, was the way Howard could present the party with an alternative, without having to worry him actually being one. There is no better deputy for someone Araldited to his seat that someone incapable of taking it.

That meant as the defeat for the party became obvious, it led to a staged implosion rather than a challenge. So Howard had to stabilise the party by promising to retire but being careful to leave it to the party who would succeed.

Howard’s appearance with Costello on Today Tonight is only for one reason. It is to counter the damage from a Labor party that has finally discovered after two months, that Howard’s solution to the party’s problems may have been bad news electorally. Rudd’s ‘what’s the point?’ to anything Howard says now makes personal the Liberals’ policy vacuum. So Howard had to drag Costello to the camera with him to reassure the electorate that there is a future for the Liberals and in doing so had to defy political reality by asserting that Costello would be appointed unopposed.

It doesn’t really work, of course, because the need for a change is not a fresh face thing. It is policy. Costello’s very lack of a political alternative that meant he couldn’t challenge Howard for the leadership now means he can’t give the sense of a new agenda Howard so desperately needs.

By using Costello, Howard may have done a little good to hanging on to the PM’s role but has at least finished off whatever was left of Costello’s chances by making sure he was associated with the defeat. The party will now be evenly split between those who associate Costello with Howard hanging on to the bitter end and those who blame Costello for allowing him to do so.

How strange to write about the careful machinations of a decade, that in a few days, will be swept away.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 20 November 2007.

Filed under Political figures

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