The Newspoll is in and again the message is clear – voters not only want John Howard to stay, but would prefer Kim Beazley to become PM ahead of Peter Costello.

As Dennis Shanahan observes, Peter Costello is not only damaged goods: “It is the work of Costello’s supporters that have wrought this havoc on the Treasurer.”

“Costello has had ample reason to believe that Howard would step down in favour of him some time over the past three years, at least,” Gerard Henderson writes today .

Well, yes – but the Treasurer’s supporters have done him no favours. Politeness – proximity – has stopped the Gallery from following this line, but it’s time to look at Peter Costello and the Cult of Suck.

Steve Lewis skims the surface today talking about the Treasurer:

He has been significantly damaged by his reaction to Glenn Milne’s cracking scoop a little more than a week ago. He has earned the ire of colleagues, from John Howard down, over his reaction to revelations of an 1994 undertaking by Howard to hand over the Liberal leadership after 1 1/2 terms. It is difficult to overstate the level of scorn being directed at him, even by those sympathetic to his cause.

What he doesn’t do is talk about his followers – and figures like Chris Pyne, Tony Smith and Mitch Fifield have scarcely emerged with honour from the last few days. Fifield’s defence of his old boss in the Fin Review op-ed pages has been seen as facile and half hearted. Coalition MPs claim that Smith saw what was happening and withdrew.

An accusation hangs heavy over the Government – that Peter Costello has made a major blunder based on the advice of a band of over-ambitious young MPs who are wet behind the ears. Concern is being expressed about the Cult of Suck – the boys’ club that surrounds the Treasurer.

It was fine for Costello to josh with Smith and Fifield when they were on his staff. Leadership bids, however, are serious matters.

Norman Abjorensen writes in The Canberra Times today: “To be a leader, it is necessary to have followers; to be the leader, one must have more followers than other leaders. It appears axiomatic, but Peter Costello and others seem to have missed the point.”

He says “The obvious question that is being asked is that if Costello cannot carry his own party, how can he be expected ever to carry an electorate? This is a question, one suspects, that is being asked among his parliamentary colleagues – from the Prime Minister down.”

The Treasurer has accomplished little in the policy stakes. Just take a look at the pages in the Tax Act. Up until now, Peter Costello’s domination of parliament has kept him in the race. He is a sitting target now. Even the Beazley opposition should be able to keep winging him.

A group of ambitious young MPs has made a major mistake. Peter Costello has made a major misjudgement. The Treasurer’s supporters are naive. They have made their champion look petty, petulant and pathetic.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey