Prime Minister Gillard’s latest defiant comments on her leadership — that she’ll definitely take the party to the next election, that there are plenty of other jobs she could take if she so wished, and that her motivation for getting into politics (education reform) is as strong as ever — have a hollow ring.

To be fair to the PM, there’s no reason to doubt the last point — her performance in the education portfolio under Kevin Rudd’s leadership was strong and clearly motivated by reforming zeal.

Likewise, the second last point. Pollies, even those as controversial as Gillard, always find lucrative board roles, consultancies or ambassadorships to keep their retirement interesting (though I doubt an Abbott government would give her much more than “Special Envoy to Northern Siberia”).

But her insistence that she will lead her party to the next election looks like a losing bet.

Several readers thought I was joking on Tuesday when I suggested Labor would put in a “nightwatchman” PM to take Labor the next election. Far from it. The strategy of losing government, but retaining as many seats possible, is a sound one. But though I suggested Simon Crean as a contender, a much more obvious candidate was there all along.

Wayne Maxwell Swan.

Indeed, long-time Swan inquisitor Andrew Bolt today devotes an entire column to explaining why the world’s luckiest, err, I mean best, treasurer, is a shoo-in.

Swan would certainly have a strong message to take to a 2013 poll. The unemployment rate, despite thousands of lay-offs, is still hovering around the “full-employment” mark of 5%.

GDP growth, recorded last month at an annualised 4.3%, is stellar. And yesterday’s CPI print was a tiny 1.2% (headline) or 1.95% in underlying terms.

Besides the Euromoney “best finance minister” award Swan picked up last year, and the “beautiful set of numbers” this year, the Treasurer has two other advantages.

He’s male, so he can win back the angry misogynist vote. And he’s from Queensland, so he might pick up some of the angry Rudd-worshipper vote.

It would not be enough to win the election, of course, but like any good nightwatchman, Swan could probably prevent his team collapsing completely, and then leave somebody else the job of rebuilding Labor after the election.

Then again, while a day is a long time in politics, the 15 months or so until the next election could prove to be very a long time in economic history. Britain’s shocking pace of economic contraction, the downgrading of Germany’s prospects by Moody’s, and Spain’s near-intractable debt situation mean Swan’s beautiful numbers may soon be shredded by a hurricane of global bad news.

Moreover, the low inflation rate seen yesterday, though seen by many as good news, has a lot to say about the debt deflation process going on behind Swan’s “beautiful” numbers — namely that house price values continue to slide and the equity withdrawal that mortgage holders previously used to keep up levels of consumption will not reappear for a generation or more.

Going to a 2013 poll with a house price collapse, plummeting commodity prices (already off 15% for iron ore and 30% for thermal coal in the past year) and “low inflation” swinging to deflation would tip the balance in the argument over whether it was Swan’s shrewd management of the economy that got us through the financial crisis, or just dumb luck.

We shall see. But for once I agree with Bolt — Swan looks like a credible contender to bat out the twilight hours of this government.

*This article was originally published at Business Spectator