So, let’s recap the news from the Liberal Party.

Alexander Downer has said he will definitely decide by July if he’s sticking around or leaving politics. During that time he’ll presumably mull over adding Peacemaker of Cyprus to his current title of Lord Downer of Baghdad. But if he sticks around, he’ll want a frontbench spot.

During the week, of course, he had a little tiff with Nick Minchin over his future. They nicely waited until there was some clear air on Tuesday to air this dispute, ensuring no day was free of Liberal drama.

After appearing like he’d forgotten to take his medication in Budget week, Peter Costello has returned to his hermitage, from which can only be heard the steady tap-tap-tap of a keyboard hard at work.

And today Tony Abbott has publicly put his cue back in the rack on the leadership issue, declaring Malcolm Turnbull was next-in-line for the job presently held by Brendan Nelson.

Meantime, Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t bothered to correct the perception that if – when – he becomes leader, he won’t be keeping Nelson’s 5c-per-litre fuel excise proposal.

Nelson himself has been roaming Gippsland, answering every question, no matter what its subject, with the refrain “we’re lowering petrol by 5c a litre.” It must be a leader’s thing. Warren Truss can’t open his mouth without some reference to Gippsland, regardless of what the actual topic of discussion is. Some of segues and long bows being drawn by Truss would find a welcoming home on Today Tonight .

As they say in the classics, FFS.

Admit it, guys, you’re a joke. Not an especially funny joke, except to the Labor Party, which is in hysterics. The country needs a credible opposition, one that will challenge the Government on politics and policy. And all you lot can do is gaze at your own navels and discuss yourselves and one another. See that thing over there called “the Government”? That is what you’re supposed to be talking about – coherently and critically.

And in particular, one of you needs to ask Alexander Downer where he gets off setting his own timetable for ending this ridiculous game of “will-I-or-won’t-I”? July? How about now? And sorry Alex, but barring an unfortunate accident in the next few weeks, there’s no frontbench vacancies, mate.

They haven’t kept one open for you while you make up your mind. In particular, in case you haven’t noticed, the role of shadow foreign minister is being handled by Andrew Robb with the sort of calm gravitas that is entirely absent from your genetic make-up, and apparently from that of most your colleagues too.

It’s not just the remorseless introspection of the Liberals. Their Budget response suggests they’ve learnt nothing from the defeat of the Howard Government. It’s still handouts galore and a focus so short-term they’re going cross-eyed.

This is the legacy of Peter Costello’s decision not to lead his party. However well-founded his resentment that, having let John Howard comprehensively f-ck them electorally, his colleagues would only then decide it was finally Costello’s turn, however unappealing the Moses-like role of leading them through the wilderness for years, Costello’s absence means its amateur hour tonight and every night until the Liberal Party decides to front up to its role as being a credible alternative Government.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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