Malcolm Turnbull has put his hand up and Peter Costello has withdrawn from the leadership race – two tiny positives for the party in the bleakest crisis in its 62 years.

Costello would have been stymied as opposition leader. For a start, he would represent all the policies just so decisively rejected by the electorate. Secondly, he is unpopular. Thirdly, his only conceivable role would be to defend the past, not look to the future.

Turnbull, only in parliament since 2004, is largely untainted by the Howard-Costello baggage.

But history is against him, as no first term opposition leader has ever made it to The Lodge.

Even worse, the party has a history of devouring its own, even without the civil war that is bound to break out in the wake of Saturday’s defeat.

John Hewson was the best prime minister the Liberals never had. When he accepted the leadership in 1990, after just one term in parliament, he sought and received assurances from the party organisation that he would be given two terms to get the party back into government. He did not believe this could be done in 1993, but when he lost that election he was cut down.

Who moved against him? The gormless Alexander Downer who made such a fool of himself and the gutless Peter Costello who never walked his tough talk about Howard.

Turnbull might want the job for novelty’s sake, but it’s unlikely to lead him to The Lodge.

The departure lounge is probably filling up now as senior ministers like Costello, Downer, Minchin and possibly Abbott are unlikely to hang around for the drudgery of opposition.

After the leadership caper, the by-elections…

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey