John Howard and Peter Costello pulling levers of the media to sell different stories about who is the greater fiend – no, this isn’t the days of pre-2007, those years of endless in party feuding. But the last week has felt a bit like one of those over the hill bands getting back together for an ill-conceived reunion tour.

John Howard has been on the publicity circuit to promote his new book Lazarus Rising, which is incidentally the name of a 2003 sci-fi novel about deep-space Marines fighting creatures such as “super-sized skinks.”

But the only super-sized skink in Howard’s mind appears to be his former deputy, and today’s vitriolic spray from Peter Costello under the headline ‘Failure in 2007 was all Howard’s doing‘ demonstrates once again that the feeling is mutual.

Costello holds no punches, accusing Howard of being a mean old miser who takes all the credit for the good things and none of the blame for the bad:

He could have shown a spirit of generosity. And it would have enhanced his reputation. But it is not the nature of the man.

Howard wants to claim all the achievements of the Coalition government and does not intend to share the glory. He will not take responsibility for the defeat of the government in November 2007 or losing the seat of Bennelong where he had been the incumbent for 34 years. He will not take responsibility for what the whole of Australia knows – that he stayed too long.

The title of his book is designed to hide the obvious truth. This Lazarus is not rising. This Lazarus was terminated by the voters of Bennelong in 2007.

And on the subject of Howard’s much discussed retirement plan:

He couldn’t go in December 2006 because Kevin Rudd was elected Labor leader and he would look as if he was running from Rudd.

He couldn’t go when his cabinet advised him to leave in September 2007 because, according to his family, it would look as if he was running from the voters.

George Bush described him as a man of steel. He sent troops into combat. But he couldn’t carry out his planned retirement because he might have received a few taunts from his enemies?

He would have received a lot more plaudits from his real friends. Or perhaps he never did intend to stand down.

C’mon Peter, tell us what you really think.

SMH’s Phillip Coorey called Costello’s spray a “stinging reply to Mr Howard’s biography.”

For The Age’s Michelle Grattan, it was a “swinging attack on Mr Howard” in which “Costello uses ridicule and sarcasm in his assault against his old boss.” Those who recall Costello’s brand of hard-hitting parliamentary performance (and who could forget?) could hardly argue with words like “ridicule” and “sarcasm.” Peter Garrett certainly wouldn’t.

Yesterday at The Drum, Norman Abjorensen grappled with the reignited spat by likening Howard to the King and Costello to Hamlet:

Hamlet is of course correct in laying the blame for the 2007 defeat of the Coalition at the door of the king (and of course the blundering intrusion of Rosencrantz, critical of the king’s record of economic reform, is the very same leader who took the Liberals in Victoria, through his own “reforms”, from political pinnacle to political rabble in the space of a single decade).

But would a Hamlet-led government have fared any better in 2007? We shall never know. Hamlet will continue to insist it would, the king just as adamantly will reject such a proposition.

In other news emanating from the Lazarus Rising/Lazarus is Not Rising publicity tour, Howard at the book launch yesterday backed Barry O’Farrell as NSW Premier, Janet Albrechtsen at The Australian gave the book nine right handed thumbs up out of 10 and long time Howard advocate Andrew Bolt attacked the man who threw shoes at the former PM during Monday night’s episode of Q&A, and in trademark style shoehorned in a barb against the Left.

In just 30 seconds, the anti-war shoe-tosser from the Hunter Valley confirmed every negative stereotype of the Leftist ideologue, right down to his hippy hair.

So the band is back together; if, by back together, we mean still venomously opposed, perhaps more so than ever. Time has changed their tune a little, but not much. Freed from inner party dynamics, the volume has been cranked up and although the reunion tour is rolling out, the stars of the show, of course, will not be sharing the stage.

Peter Fray

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