All eyes last night were on Four Corners – other, perhaps, than Wayne Swan’s, who was busy making sure that you can browse the Economist’s A-Z Guide to Economics on a Blackberry. But have we actually learned anything?

Big Joe was full and frank on the reasons why his colleagues didn’t roll the Short Man:

John Howard had a significant personal core vote across the nation. If there had have been a knifing of John Howard as Prime Minister we would’ve been reduced to a small rump of seats in the Federal Parliament because our core voters would’ve gone and voted for Labor outraged at the way that we had treated Australia’s most successful Prime Minister.

Judith Troeth was full and frank on Peter Costello’s great shortcoming:

I think he hasn’t taken the opportunity to cultivate anyone but a small band of supporters, ministers and Cabinet ministers and I think perhaps he treated other people with a degree of disdain and I think that led to a degree of unpopularity which would put into doubt his qualities as leader.

Costello’s backers are now scathing about his failure to challenge, but that’s all history. John Howard’s lost his seat. Peter Costello’s giving his away. They are both yesterday’s men.

In contrast to Costello, Dr Brendan wooed and schmoozed his colleagues. It’s delivered him the leadership – but what has it done for the Liberals?

Peter Brent has an analysis up at Mumble Politics that might say more about the current state of the Libs than 50 minutes of worthy current affairs television:

[Dr Brendan’s schmoozing] worked a treat, but he was aiming to be Howard’s successor as PM, not opposition leader. Political life, and the middle ground, have changed, but the bitter Howard rump remains estranged and unreconciled. And they are Nelson’s support base. This keeps him away from the new middle and keeps them emboldened.

Let’s leave family out of this

John Howard might be gone, but his former colleagues are still scared of him. Or his wife, anyway.

In December, Pam Williams published a devastating axe job on “the royal family” – John and Janette – and their deleterious influence on the election campaign in the Financial Review. Crikey understand the b-tching and moaning about the royal family was reprised the week before last at the Liberal Party love-in before parliament resumed.

Last night’s Four Corners ran the Today Tonight interview in which Howard’s formula over staying or going seemed to change, when his family supplanted his colleagues:

ANNA COREN: Why do you want to continue? I mean, what makes you tick?

JOHN HOWARD: Well, there are still things I want to do. And in fact I’ve talked about my position with my own family at length last night.

COREN: What did you say to your family?

HOWARD: Well, they want me to continue to contribute. They support what I’m doing.

But no one appears prepared to talk about the royal family on record – and especially not on camera.

Where’s Johnny?

“John Howard is keen to speak publicly overseas — it’s at home that he wants to remain silent for the time being,” Malcolm Farr comments in the Telegraph today.

The Age’s Tony Wright goes one better. He details how the former PM has been off launching his career as an international guest speaker at the Awards for Excellence ceremony in Nigeria.

Howard will talk to ABC Television later this year for a series on his years in government – but it’s surprising that there’s been so little attention to an event in Washington that will place him centre stage in just over a fortnight.

On 5 March, leading think-tank the American Enterprise Institute will honour Howard with its Irving Kristol Award for “individuals who have made exceptional intellectual or practical contributions to improved government policy, social welfare, or political understanding”. The former PM will deliver the Irving Kristol Lecture that evening.

The AEI’s pre-publicity puffs Howard as “one of the world’s most successful democratic politicians”. Crikey hears the former PM is “depressed”. Will he offer any insights into where it all went wrong?

Peter Fray

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