Full marks to the subs at the Sydney Morning Herald for the headline on their report today on Peter Costello’s leadership remarks: “I won’t challenge and I’m not unpopular”.

Liberal leadership speculation is really becoming the stuff of comic opera.

John Howard’s chosen form of words – “I’ll stay as long as my party wants me” – isn’t humble. Instead, as Judith Brett has pointed out, it is a very pointed challenge. “Dump me, you b-stards, I dare yous!”.

Poor old Dollar Sweetie just isn’t as deft with his words. It showed in his presser yesterday:

Journalist: Mr Costello at the weekend you laughed off some questions about leadership speculation. Noted in the media today there is continued talk that you might be tapped on the shoulder if things get worse and that (inaudible). Would you care to rule out once and for all taking over in any circumstances before the election?

Costello: Well I have said that already Michelle.

Journalist: (Inaudible).

Costello: Absolutely, I said that last year. I think, you know, and I am not going to do it on a daily basis. I said it last year, the situation is the same. I said last year that I would go to the election as the Treasurer and I will.

Journalist: Is that, is it still your position that you rule it out?

Costello: Absolutely. You know, I am not going to go through this on a daily basis. What I said last year and what I have said every single day since and what I say today is the same…

So, Malcolm, Brendan, Tony… If the PM quits in the next few weeks, you’re welcome to the top job. Peter Costello plans to go to the next election as the Treasurer.