The present Liberal leadership speculation fuelled and driven entirely by the media is a classic case of the media feeding on its own nonsense. Talk of those close to the Prime Minister’s office and third party informants speculating for the first time about Howard’s departure is by any measure tenuous, even by the fragile thread from which political journalists so often hang their stories.

Experienced political journalists well know that John Howard most certainly would never soliloquise, least of all discuss with staff what might be on his mind about the timing of his eventual resignation. One of Howard’s political strengths is that he rarely if ever repeats a strategic mistake. Having unwittingly hinted in 2000 at a time frame which was for some years to haunt his premiership it is not a mistake Howard has ever repeated and nor will it be one he will again make in the future.

He has deliberately sought to remove the matter as an issue by creating the impression that it is not one he has even considered. Why, one might reasonably ask, would Howard resign before Christmas, or for that matter any time before the next election? He has never felt more confident about winning a general election than he does the next.

That from a man who has never embarked on an election imbued with a sense of serene confidence. By most measures, he is in such matters a cautious and apprehensive person. The billions of dollars that Howard threw at the voters over just two days in the midst of the last election, to the great horror of Costello who thought his surplus was being unnecessarily squandered, is testimony to that.

Howard now has absolutely no doubt he can defeat Beazley, that the Labor Party will not recover from its present disarray before the election, and that the strength of the economy has placed an almost impenetrable floor under the Liberals’ vote. Howard also well knows that his industrial relations reforms will cause him no electoral harm so long as the economy remains strong, and that it most certainly will for the current electoral cycle.

John Winston Howard loves being Prime Minister in a way that has not visited many Prime Ministers before him and he has no intention of surrendering that great love any time soon. Howard is in many ways at the pinnacle of his career and success with the next election assured. For whatever good reason would he fold his tent and retreat to Wollstonecraft to dally in the garden while Janette hangs out the washing?

Age has not dimmed Howard’s appeal to the electorate. On the contrary: it has strengthened and enhanced it. The backbenchers who are apparently claiming to be relaxed about Howard departing in favour of Costello prior to the next election are reflecting no more than present supreme confidence that the government will be returned whoever the leader.

When Howard announces his resignation it will come without hint or notice. As is the wont of most long-serving, successful and parting leaders, he will savour the moment with the great unwashed clinging to his garments while wailing and lamenting at his going. Howard’s departure will in some measure be influenced by his view of his legacy. As with Menzies, in many respects he sees himself as the Liberal Party. As with Menzies, Howard will see his legacy in what he has achieved, not in the creature that in the future will be the Liberal Party.