The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter Hartcher has the sharpest analysis of Peter Costello’s game plan today:

The clear implication is that Howard gave his word and then
reneged on the deal. Such a stark public clash could be interpreted as
the opening of a leadership challenge. But, curiously, Costello does
not seem to be shaping up to break decisively with his leader.

Costello
was careful to avoid any appearance of being a wrecker. He seeks to
portray himself as the man of virtue and fair dealing; it’s the other
guy who’s wearing the black hat…

The Treasurer does
wounded well. This morning, as he arrived at the Cabinet meeting,
Costello went from smirking to tremulous in moments.
Having staked out the moral high ground yesterday, Costello sounded almost priggish:

My parents always told me if you have done nothing wrong
you have got nothing to fear by telling the truth. I told the truth.
Now the public was entitled to know it. I have told the truth.

Yet black and white and Peter Costello seem to go together. Less than a fortnight ago, on Radio National,
Julia Baird asked him of his student days: “Is it true that you asked
Graeme McClain, who was the Evangelical Union’s Vice President once,
which political party would God join?”

Costello ducked the question, but is displaying a similar strange sort of idealism today. Back to Hartcher:

Costello does not have the numbers in the party room to
mount a serious assault on Fortress Howard; if a vote were held today
he might garner 25 votes, fewer than a quarter of the party room.

Nor does he wish to be cast as the man who wrecked a decade-long conservative ascendancy.

On
the contrary, he is crying out for recognition of his enormous
contribution to the success of the Howard Government, as a loyal
deputy, a powerful parliamentary performer, a competent treasurer.

So
this is not immediately about power; this is about establishing
legitimacy for his claim to the throne. It is an opportunistic
staking-out of the high moral ground, a chance to put some pressure on
Howard, and an opportunity to win broader recognition of his case for
succession.

Let’s switch from muscular Christianity to the muscular world of wrestling – also beloved by the Treasurer.

The
Smirking Assassin cannot hope to throw the Great Pedestrian merely by
blinding him with the sand of a past promise. But he can try to keep
him on the back foot and make him more likely to throw in the towel.

Peter Fray

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