The Liberal leadership issue is now a dog’s
breakfast. In his recent barking, Costello has painted himself into a corner
from which it’s hard to see that he will emerge without a bloody nose, at best.
In the timing of his remarks and in his memory failure that for the last several
years he had denied that there had been a deal, he has displayed particularly
poor skills in managing the issue, poor judgment, immaturity, arrogance and
desperation.

He is now being pressured to “call it on” but he looks
particularly stupid as he just doesn’t have the numbers, and may never have them
if he continues to do his level best to convince people that he would not be a
capable leader.

Costello may like to believe that he has “trapped”
Howard and may succeed in forcing Howard to, at least, announce his intentions,
if not force him into a more specific commitment. But he doesn’t know John
Howard. All the stupidity of the recent days has just firmed Howard’s resolve.
He is taking the high ground – the leadership is not his to deliver, and to
attempt to do so holds the party and electorate in contempt.

Howard knows, for
now at least, he is in an unassailable position – he has won four elections on
the trot (which nobody would have dreamed of, including him, in 1994), he has no
real competitors within his party, nobody in the opposition is laying a glove on
him, he has successfully embedded the media, and has effective control of both
Houses of Parliament.

While he wouldn’t necessarily want Costello to go, and
would hope the matter could be patched up – after all, there has never been any
love lost between the two of them over the last ten years – he’ll wear it if he
has to.

The only options are – to patch it up (treat it as a
lover’s quarrel and kiss and make up), for one of them to call it on, or for
somebody to attempt to mediate by banging both heads together. While the first
option would see some continuing press speculation, the issue would essentially
go away for now. Neither wants to call it on – Costello certainly can’t, but
Howard just might if he is forced to, and I don’t think there is anyone with
sufficient standing to mediate – and how do you mediate this muddle
anyway?

They should try to patch it up and get
back to the main game that matters to the rest of us.

Peter Fray

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