Does anyone not want to be like John Howard? With polls suggesting most Australians are heartily sick of the Prime Minister, the two men who want his job seem desperate to demonstrate that they’re exactly like him.
Yesterday it was Peter Costello’s turn to explain that absolutely nothing would change when he became Prime Minister. Much of the coverage of the Treasurers’ debate focussed on Costello’s promise of “continuity” – understandably, given the slim pickings otherwise on offer at the National Press Club.
Kevin Rudd’s copying of the Prime Minister – we look forward to him developing a nervous twitch if elected – is for political benefit.
Costello’s copying is to prevent political damage. He is trapped by the bizarre “buy one get one free” Liberal leadership deal. While commentators seem to have blithely accepted this arrangement – now complete with an “agreed agreement” between the Prime Minister and Treasurer – as politics-as-usual, it remains one of the most eccentric decisions by a major political party in decades.
One of the consequences is that our tsunami-surfing Treasurer cannot merely negate the impression of any current differences between himself and the Prime Minister, he must also maintain that even when he is Prime Minister there won’t be any differences.
That must stick in the Costello craw – Gordon Brown never had to do promise to ape Tony Blair. And you can bet what Paul Keating’s reaction would’ve been to the suggestion he mimic Old Silver. Costello will need to make sure he selects a Treasurer every bit as supine as he has been for the last decade, otherwise he won’t have a hope of continuing Howard’s impressive record on pork barrelling and tax bribes.
The “agreed agreement” may yet play a more significant role in the campaign. It is not altogether clear that the electorate likes it.
Dennis Shanahan today acknowledged polling suggesting a growing number of voters aren’t enamoured of a handover. Expect a riposte from News Ltd’s Costello supporters in the next few days.
But if the Government is returned, this is exactly the issue that will plague them from election night onwards. At what point would Howard – confirmed as the Liberal Party’s greatest leader – hand over to the electorally toxic Costello, the man who sends the worm into freefall?
The transition is already off in the never-never of 2009.
Bob Hawke reneged on the Kirribilli Pact on the basis that he thought only he could lead Labor to victory. As the 2010 election nears, why wouldn’t Howard invoke the same logic, for the good of his party? He has humiliated Costello repeatedly, without consequence. No reason why he wouldn’t do it again.
Especially if nothing would change under Costello anyway.