Monday, September 15, 2008

Costello: no doesn't mean no?

Despite his protestations, Peter Costello doesn't necessarily mean what he says.

The Herald's Peter Hartcher believes Costello has firmly ruled out leadership, and is set to exit parliament.

Yet there are a few clues that demonstrate Costello is hedging his bets. Cast into the political wilderness after the Liberals lost office, he retreated to the back bench, but has remained in his parliamentary seat longer than expected; longer than he flagged. He has written and just released a book of memoirs, whose prime aim is generally described as being to blame the election loss on John Howard.

And his exact words on his options for leadership? "I will not seek, nor am I being drafted, and I am not seeking it."

He has expressly refused to actively seek the Liberal leadership. But he has avoided refusing to be drafted - so he is leaving his options open. Brendan Nelson is widely regarded as nothing but a seat-warmer; the only other open option is Malcolm Turnbull - who is a devisive figure for the Liberals' parliamentary team, those who actually vote for leader. They could always choose a dark horse. Or Turnbull. But although Costello has made it clear he will not do the numbers, he has not ruled out allowing someone else to run the numbers for him.

Late News: Nelson is to call a spill at the Liberal caucus tomorrow. I would think it is unlikely to resolve anything because nobody is ready to move against him yet. But I could be wrong: Turnbull lost the last leadership ballot to Nelson by only three votes, and oppositions get nervous in their despair.

Update 16-Sept: Nine months - and Nelson's dismal performance - is enough to win over a couple of votes. Turnbull's in. A recipe for disaster, unless he can rein in his arrogance. A tall ask.
What does this mean for Costello? Don't count him out, says the Herald. But in reality, he will slip out, unless Mal botches it big and fast. Which is always possible - much more so than for Nelson.
Fortunately, this is a win for the environment. Nelson flagged recidivism on climate change resistance - which might have been enough to cost him the leadership. Turnbull has been quite progressive by comparison.

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