Finally! Ten days after the press gallery was dazzled by all the rabbits pulled out of the Budget hat, the Liberal leadership is back on the agenda with an opinion piece in The Australian by Dennis Shanahan (known around the gallery as the ‘Court Reporter’).

“There has been a decisive shift in the leadership tensions between John Howard and Peter Costello,” says Shanahan. “The treasurer is taking the pressure off demands that the prime minister hand over the government to him next March.”

“After 12 years as the deputy Liberal leader, Costello still wants to be the leader, still wants Howard to go before the next election and still wants a smooth transition. But, after allowing his supporters to establish a deadline for that transition by next April or face a challenge, Costello is not being tied to such a specific deadline.

“He will be accused of blinking but his intentions have not changed; it’s his tactics, once more, that are shifting…”

So, Peter Costello? Wimp or just waiting? Let’s give the treasurer the benefit of the doubt. He rose to prominence during the most barren period of the Liberal Party – and its predecessors – has ever seen. He appreciates the lessons of 13 years out of power.

Costello has given the PM the loyalty John Howard never gave to Andrew Peacock. The prime minister may be praised today for his political skills, but Costello remembers the years in the wilderness, the bitterness of the disappointments and how the main reason the Liberals were out was internal destabilisation – with John Howard as agent provocateur number one.