The Peter Costello media bandwagon is off and running again. The 12-year-old story about his prime ministerial ambitions, his off-again, on-again pursuit of power, is filling the vacant minds in Canberra once more.
Amid the speculation, the real story is this. Costello still has delusions of occupying The Lodge. But he won’t accept the Liberal leadership unless it is presented to him by the parliamentary party, without reservations.
He doesn’t want a knock-down, drag-’em-out contest with Malcolm Turnbull or anyone else. He showed no stomach to have it with Howard either. He won’t organise the numbers and he won’t campaign for the job, openly or in the background. He wants to be drafted in the manner of Charles de Gaulle coming back from political exile to lead the Fifth Republic.
The condition of his return will be a blank cheque on the appointment of shadow ministers and the framing of policy. (More or less what Rudd insisted upon).
In the meantime, he will write his memoirs and later this year publish his version of how Australia achieved the world’s strongest economy and he became the world’s greatest treasurer (pace, Paul Keating!).
The book is designed to be more than a political biography: it’s a manifesto. It is central to his subliminal campaign to address the Liberal Party, the media and the electorate.
The success of this vanity depends on Brendan Nelson continuing to be an unelectable disaster and an atmosphere of such choking despair that all eyes in the Liberal Party room turn to one man of destiny to lead them out of the wilderness – the 50-year-old MP for Higgins.
Will it fly? Within the disorganised dregs of Her Majesty’s federal Liberal Party anything is possible.