Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Costello vs Howard: The Gloves REALLY Come Off

Another Emperor has shed his clothes, and all of a sudden, everything has changed. Peter Costello has angrily dismissed John Howard's claim that no leadership deal was made in 1994. Though refusing to directly label Howard a liar, as the rest of us have for so many years, he has essentially described him as one by implication. Costello's implication that Howard used such an informal deal as leverage for an unchallenged party vote for the leadership - an element not mentioned by Ian McLachlan - is even more damaging.

It's odd, this Emperor's New Clothes phenomena. We've all known that Costello has been mad as a cut snake for so long, yet in coming out and actually admitting it, the stakes change entirely.

Howard's statement earlier this morning was poorly judged - as events have proven, he would have been far better served by being totally open, enunciating very clearly that an informal deal was discussed, but that Costello either misinterpreted it or should have considered the deal null and void by later circumstances. It's also impossible to think that the issue was never raised again since the 1994 discussion, and Howard must now survive the damage that each revelation will exact. After ten years of hard-fought stability, there is open warfare between the two most powerful politicians in Australia. The Howard Government may have finally reached its Waterloo.

On ABC Radio this afternoon, Costello's Shadow Minister, Wayne Swan proclaimed that Costello must resign if he cannot resolve the issue immediately. Swan's position is hardly surprising, but a number of commentators are now joining the call. Gerard Henderson for one has said that Costello's proclamation will now force Howard to make a decision one way or the other, something he has been demonstrably unwilling to do thus far. It's really a Catch-22, because Tony Blair's current calamities (well, some of them) can be attributed to his decision to, unlike Howard, admit to a succession deal.

Not that it's clean sailing for Costello, either. Coming out and publicly slanging Howard can be seen as a desperate measure made by a man who knows he doesn't have the numbers. Being petulant about it is hardly a good way to increase them. As I said earlier, there's not a lot of sympathy in the Australian public for people being elevated without public endorsement. As much as it pains me to say it, Howard is popular and, as I said earlier, there seems no great public mood for a change of leadership. If Costello does become PM, will his method of getting there cruel the pitch? Or will he be shoved aside for a Howard favourite such as Tony Abbott? Reader talkback on both and the SMH provide an interesting perspective of the possible electoral impact of these scenarios.

What happens next? Will Costello, like Andrew Peacock and Paul Keating before him, move to the back bench as a sign that his push is real? As Swan suggested, will their enmity prove so large that their working relationship completely deteriorates, effecting such things as COAG? Though the latter's unlikely, we could soon see the former. It's going to be interesting. It's the title bout we've all been waiting for.

I have to admit it - there's a real excitement in the air. Something's finally happening, and it's happening now.

A full transcript of Costello's statement is available here. Unfortunately, I do not have a transcript of Howard's extremely strange doorstop reply to Costello's statement as yet, which went something like `Hooray, it's a beautiful, lovely day and let's all be friends with one another and live in peace' (I'm not kidding). It will be on the ABC PM website forthwith.


At 8:44 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw a TV grab of Costello confirming the discussion...when he got to the 'I took him at his word...clearly did not" etc he didn't seem angry, he paused and smirked. But it was only a short grab. The Howard door stop sounds bizarre alright.


At 9:44 am, Blogger Splatterbottom said...

The discussion sounded more like a statement of intentions rather than a promise. Daydreaming about what might happen if the Libs got into office.

And who would seriously expect John Howard to keep a promise.

This is just a wank in a teacup.

At 10:16 am, Anonymous milltown pete said...

One aspect not yet discussed: Who is the Treasurer-in-Waiting? Surely someone must be strapping on the pads but after 10 years of monumental changes and no rehearsal, who would want the job?

At 1:08 pm, Blogger Minotaur said...

I think that's an extremely good point, Pete - after all, Howard only became leader in the first place because the Liberal Party had spent the previous decade in such a godawful shermozzle that they were down to their last possibility. The succession in all major cabinet positions is pretty unclear. The danger of having such a dominant leader is the massive power vacuum that opens up when they leave.

At 5:43 pm, Blogger Minotaur said...

Just for the record, that Howard quote (available at the PM website), was:

JOHN HOWARD: Well, I have told you my recollection of the meeting and I can do no more or less than that. It's a beautiful day. Let us all be charitable and let us all rejoice in such a beautiful day.

How very strange.

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