Bring back Costello, now!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008 

This is starting to get boring.

Dennis Shanahan continues to try to make something out of extremely little, although his latest speculation on a Costello return did contain the gem that Christopher Pyne has tried to quash speculation about his friend on his Facebook (!) site, with this stirring call to action:

Christopher Pyne thinks Peter Costello’s position is clear and unchanged since November and wishes everyone would move on and get stuck into the ALP. Who arehopeless! (sic)

But despite The Australian’s attempts to make it seem like an unstoppable momentum is building, did one of their journalists let the cat out of the bag? The Australian’s Samantha Maiden talking on Sky News said that Costello’s father-in-law comments on Monday were the first “genuine” confirmation that he was at least considering the leadership. If that is true, what has all of this speculation over the last month been based on?

This speculation is getting boring because it is about Costello, a lightweight politician. It is also boring because it is not about Costello, but how some sections of the media and the political class get their heads around the political crisis in the Liberal Party. Just as the implosion of Howard’s leadership last year was seen as a Costello challenge, now the implosion of the Nelson leadership and the stalemate between the Turnbull and old leadership is turned into a return of the World’s Funniest Treasurer. It is why the likelihood that he will take the job bears little relation to his interest in it.

This use of Costello to avoid having to look directly at the Liberal party’s problems is best summed up by Gerard Henderson, whose writings since the election have shown the trouble he has had with the Howard defeat and the collapse of the sham ‘cultural wars’. In his latest lauding of Costello’s virtues, he dropped this in near the end:

It seems likely that Costello would have accepted the Opposition leader’s position late last year if he felt the Coalition had a chance of winning in 2010. That seemed an impossibility eight months ago. However, the Coalition’s chances look somewhat better now that they did then – despite the afflictions which have occurred under Brendan Nelson’s leadership.

Well yes. The Liberals’ position in last year’s NSW election against an unpopular Labor government was good, despite the afflictions of Debnam’s leadership. Their chances in Queensland in the last election against a tired Beattie government were good – despite the afflictions of Bruce Flegg’s leadership. In WA they are looking in a very good position in the next election against Carpenter’s scandal ridden government – despite … well you get the idea. In fact all around the nation they are looking in tip-top shape, despite the afflictions of pretty well every leader and the party they lead.

The trouble is despite the strong position the Liberals should theoretically be against some unpopular Labor governments, it still doesn’t mean they can win, because just as in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, the problem in Canberra is not a problem of leadership but the party they are leading. The ALP is a lot weaker than they often appear, it is just that they are simply not in the chronic conditions of the Liberals, a condition that was disguised under Howard (while the states collapsed one-by-one) but since November has now come out.

You would have thought that given the way these ideologues were so disappointed with Costello’s impotence during the crisis that engulfed the Howard leadership in its last months (does anyone talk about that these days?), that they might be a little more clued up on how effective Costello would be now.

The first thing that would happen if Costello took the leadership is that all the tired old fallacies of the Howard era would be dusted off, after a year of being battered by reality, and have another airing. It is also quite possible that rather than the ALP having a fit of nerves, that they would be galvanised, as already seen by the ‘dossier’ that Labor is supposed to have compiled. For a brief while, both sides would rerun the same old tired battles and Australian politics would mimic last year’s political tragedy with this year’s farce. This is why, for the sake political clarity, this blog has now joined the campaign to draft Costello. It would be fun to watch.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 6 August 2008.

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