Mr Costello told the group he had set next April 2006 as the absolute deadline — “that is mid-term” for Mr Howard to stand aside. If not, Mr Costello would challenge Mr Howard. Mr Costello said a challenge “will happen then” if “Howard is still there”. “I’ll do it,” Mr Costello said, also saying he was “prepared to go to the backbench”. Mr Costello said he would “carp” at Howard’s leadership from the backbench and “destroy it” until he won the leadership.

— Michael Brissenden, “Costello caught out on leadership comments“, 14 Aug 2007.

We thought when that story came out that it was just the wine talking. Costello never challenged Howard, never went to the backbench, just sat quietly while John Howard drove his party at high speed into the brick wall called Kevin Rudd. Costello didn’t even strike when Howard canvassed departing.

As we’re now seeing, though, Costello is hell-bent on doing exactly what he said he’d do, but to Malcolm Turnbull, a man he despises every bit as much and possibly more than John Howard.

Costello most definitely caught the fire this week. These are the bald figures on media mentions in the last 48 hours:

This was the week when Australia received its first set of negative accounts in eight years — it’s most important economically since the collapse of Lehman Brothers heralded disaster for the world economy. And the new Coalition Treasury spokesman is barely on the radar compared to the backbencher Costello. And even Turnbull significantly lags him — especially on TV.

If Costello had been singing from the same hymn sheet, it might not have looked as bad, but he was all over the place, demanding the Coalition reject the Government’s IR bill, talking about the ETS, suggesting more infrastructure spending, and talking crap about nuclear power.

And just as his silence last year made him appear interesting, the more he talks now, the clearer it becomes that he’s a lightweight. That stuff on nuclear power was nonsensical.

Mal Washer — one of the most sensible backbenchers in the Liberal Party — is bang on the money with his complaint today that Costello is destabilising his own party. In fact, he’s been doing it since he announced his memoirs last year.

What a miserable, bitter and small-minded man Costello must be to get his kicks from being a professional wrecker. They really hurt you, didn’t they Peter, when they refused to countenance you leading them while you were in Government. And Turnbull’s tax efforts from the backbench in 2005 obviously stuck in the craw, didn’t it.

Now you’re going to make them pay and the rest of us, along with your party, because the chances of having an effective Opposition diminish every time you open your mouth. Today’s Morgan poll has the Government increasing its 2PP lead to 61.5-38.5. Surely it must peak soon — the GDP number might do the trick — but some of us thought that when it was 57-43. On those numbers, Peter, both you and Malcolm would be looking for new jobs after an election. Maybe that pleases you.

This sort of thing could possibly have been indulged when times were good and the only tough decision was how to spend all that revenue from the resource sector. During an economic calamity, it’s the last thing we need.

The Liberals now look like they’re in for another version of the Howard-Peacock feud that cruelled them in the 1980s. At least that one was semi-ideological in character. It’s unclear what ideology Peter Costello holds, beyond that bizarre religious wingnuttery to which he enthusiastically subscribes. And worse than either Howard or Peacock, neither of whom ever missed a chance to go for the leadership, Costello had the chance to step up to the plate last year and declined for a second time. Turnbull put up his hand, and won. He and his frontbench, whose efforts to hold the Government accountable are being deprived of oxygen by Costello’s antics, deserve better than this.

There’s only one way out for the Liberals and that is for Costello’s closest supporters — Tony Smith, Mitch Fifield — to make it clear to him that he must leave politics, or step up to the frontbench. It might help if Nick Minchin made it clear that the Right was unhappy with his antics as well.

In the meantime, we’re witnessing one of the lowest, most selfish and spiteful acts of political bastardry in many a year. To think that this bloke was ever considered Prime Ministerial timber.