Abject. Pathetic. Humiliating. However we describe Peter Costello’s surrender yesterday, the implications are clear: John Howard will lead the Coalition to the 2007 federal election and – barring an economic collapse – win a record fifth term.

As Costello’s biographer and chief cheerleader Shaun Carney pointed out on Saturday, the Treasurer spent last week chewing the Rob Gerard sh*te sandwich, an affair that damaged him more than his supporters admit.

Today, Carney was putting the best possible face on events, even suggesting that circumstances might change if the Government’s poll ratings fall further mid-term: “But all of the recent opinion polls suggest that the Government is in trouble. If they continue to run that way in the first few months of next year, the Prime Minister’s aura of invincibility will start to evaporate…”

Yeah, sure. Just like it did when the Government suffered cyclical mid-term downswings after its previous four election wins.

Costello enjoys the support of, at best, less than a third of the party room. If he challenges he must lose and fight on from the backbench. His entire political career has produced no evidence that he has the backbone for a prolonged guerrilla campaign against the supremely entrenched leader.

The alternative remains that the PM will elegantly stand down sometime this term, handing over the reins to the man he intensely dislikes and whose opening act will be to dance on the Howard political legacy as he builds his own prime ministerial myth. Unlikely.