Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Would Be Prime Minister Who Never Actually Mounted A Challenge

It’s almost an anticlimax. After all of the speculation over the last eighteen months about a possible leadership challenge by Peter Costello, and indeed the frustrated ambitions for the best part of a decade before that, it’s almost a disappointment that he has finally announced his retirement from politics. There is almost a sense that we have been denied the thrill and spectacle of the blood-letting associated with a leadership contest, and the often associated collateral damage to the party itself. But, it is not to be.

Despite considerable criticism at times that he was destabilizing his own party by keeping his options open, it would now appear that many people were working themselves into a lather for nothing. The timetable for pre-selection always meant that Mr. Costello would have to make his intentions known well before the next election is due. And even though he has dragged it out until the last possible moment, there has been no lasting damage e to his colleagues. In fact, it could be said that keeping them all on their toes has been good for them, although the truth is that much of the consternation was not of Mr. Costello’s making. It was simply the product of feverish speculation on the part of his colleagues, his opponents, and outside observers. All Peter had to do was to sit back, keep his own council and watch it all happen. All along, he insisted that nothing had changed since his remarks on election night in 2007, and now we see that he has been true to his word.

In making his announcement to the Parliament yesterday, Mr. Costello observed “It is just possible that both sides of the dispatch box are happy with the announcement I’ve made.” It is an ironic observation, but at the same time I suspect that will be some of his supporters who are sorry to see him go and lament the missed opportunities of things that never came to pass. Would he have made a good Prime Minister? Perhaps, but the fact is that it is a question which by its nature will forever be unanswered. In order to be judged a success or otherwise as Prime Minister, first you must become Prime Minister. Peter Costello was denied what he believed was a gentlemen’s agreement, and never had either the opportunity or sufficient support to force the issue. Harsher critics would say that he didn’t have the political courage, but that would perhaps be unkind.

So now, the way is clear for Malcolm Turnbull to lead the Liberal Party in his own right, without the shadow of Peter Costello looming over him, a true changing of the guard. Coincidentally, the latest opinion polls have also indicated improved support for the opposition, providing Mr. Turnbull with even more impetus. However, there is still a long way to go before he must confront the voters, and unless the Senate provides the Government with the opportunity for a double dissolution, that won’t be for about another eighteen months.

Peter Costello will be remembered as the treasurer who introduced the G. S. T., while enjoying the period of prosperity which flowed from the resources boom. He will also be remembered as the would be Prime Minister who never actually mounted a challenge. I wonder if he will come to regret that, especially if Malcolm Turnbull actually manages to win next year.

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