If — when — Peter Costello leaves politics later this year, they’re going to look pretty silly at The Oz. Even as their gallery journalists have repeatedly flagged that Costello is leaving the building, The Oz’s editors seem desperate to get him to finally muster that modicum of courage that has been beyond him all these years and have a go.

“Costello has cause to find his courage” its editorial declared last Tuesday, in that special tone of clenching seriousness that is the preserve of editorial writers and funeral directors. The same day, Malcolm Colless (who clearly has ambitions to replace Piers Akerman when eventually the latter is found slumped over his keyboard, choked on his own confected outrage), urged the former Treasurer to glory.

Suitably inspired with delusions of Costello growing a spine and restoring the conservatives to their rightful place on the Treasury benches, The Oz got Newspoll — Australia’s most respected poll, don’t you know — to add some questions to last weekend’s polling on who was best to lead the Liberal Party.

The results emerged today, for Coalition MPs to consider as they assembled to debate emissions trading and other matters of note for two days in Canberra. Not entirely unexpectedly, the result was Costello first, Malcolm Turnbull second and the guy with the hair third.

Ironically — although we’re only talking Morrissetian levels of irony — Costello’s not actually here in Canberra. Instead, he’s having a break. From what, it’s not clear — maybe the rigours of recalling the details of all those profligate budgets John Howard imposed on him. Perhaps he’s realised that, given how popular he has become simply by saying nothing, he’ll become a superstar by actually disappearing completely. In any event, he’s skipped freezing Canberra in favour of somewhere in the Pacific.

Readers can make up their own minds about what that suggests about Costello’s desire for staying in politics.

Adding questions to polls is expensive. Methinks this is about as good an investment as that $14,000 News Ltd gave to the Nationals last year. Still, it has bought us another splendid example of Dennis Shanahan’s poll-spinning at work. With all the emphasis on Costello this morning, you have to look long and hard to find out that the Government’s primary vote spiked 4%, that the 2PP gap is back out to 14%, and that Brendan Nelson remains the preferred Prime Minister of 14% of those sampled. And Kevin Rudd increased his satisfaction rating.

Along with further evidence that the majority of Australians want us to do something about climate change regardless of what other countries do, it suggests that despite the whingeing from the likes of Crikey about the Green Paper, the Government is playing the emissions trading issue well. Shanahan and Glenn Milne — in a rare display of unity — have both suggested that Nelson is being particularly brave in trying to drag the Coalition back toward greenhouse denialism. It’s pretty clear the bravery is of the Yes, Minister type.

Which I guess explains the support for Costello, really. When you’re as desperate for the Coalition to succeed as News Ltd is, and a moderate — and Packer mate — like Malcolm Turnbull is the alternative to the hopeless incumbent, maybe pushing Hamlet Prince of Malvern makes sense. You never know your luck.

Peter Fray

Inoculate yourself against the spin

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and protect yourself against news that goes viral.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today to get your first 12 weeks for $12 and get the journalism you need to navigate the spin.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW