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Greg Sheridan on Peter Costello as dishonourable wrecker

Notwithstanding the views of Peter Coleman, Greg Sheridan today presented a devastating criticism of Peter Costello – the former Federal Treasurer and close collaborator of Michael Kroger:

It is very difficult to find an interpretation of the facts over the past few years that does not indicate that Peter Costello was the one who played the wrecking, and the dishonourable, role in the Liberal Party.

At least 30 per cent of the Government’s problems came from Costello and his party supporters repeatedly briefing the press and others against Howard.

There are numerous public examples of this, such as the bitter comments Costello made to Howard’s biographers, or the famously leaked dinner with senior Canberra reporters during which Costello detailed how he would destroy Howard. Similarly, Costello’s party lieutenants for years briefed journalists on leadership challenge timetables and why Howard must go.

All of this had two perverse consequences. First, more than any other factor it crippled Howard as a medium-term leader. It forced him to make the leadership compromise commitment that he would hand over to Costello midway through the next term.

This minimised the government’s freedom to manoeuvre. It diminished Howard and was a drag on the Liberal vote. Two non-political members of my extended family told me they would vote Labor because they didn’t want Costello to become prime minister. Costello, you see, was always unpopular.

But the long Costello campaign had an even worse effect for the Liberals. It reinforced Rudd’s central message; that it was time for change, especially generational change.

Costello had three honourable options.

The best, for the party and the nation, would have been to serve honourably, and not to constantly campaign semi-publicly, with occasional public tantrums, against his leader.

Honourable option No2 would have been to resign from parliament just after the 2004 election. He would have had a great political career and the party could have made other succession arrangements free from Costello’s rancorous destabilising.

Honourable option No3 would have been to challenge Howard, if Costello really believed a Howard prime ministership was damaging to the nation.

This would have done great damage to the government but, because Costello would have got a risible vote, it would have come to an end. Costello could have resigned, having suffered an honourable defeat.

Costello’s past conduct only looks worse in the light of his abandonment of the party now. The first term in opposition is always pretty dreadful for a party. It has to hold itself together and stay plausible. The Liberals would have benefited from the leadership of a former senior minister with credibility in the key area of economic management, who could have kept them credible and maybe even distantly competitive.

[ … ]

Finally, until it was far too late to change, the vast majority of the federal parliamentary Liberal Party thought that Howard was by far their best chance.

History will look kindly on Costello’s occupancy of the Treasury, but poorly on his political conduct.

In sharp contrast, John Howard was a man of principle and a gentleman.

I disagreed with quite a few of his policies and directions.

But all things considered, I view him as one of our truly greatest leaders, and a man who has helped make Australia brighter, richer, and stronger.

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4 Comments

  1. We lost because of WorkChoices, Kyoto and the Use By Date factor. (Mostly WorkChoices.) People stopped listening to Channel Howard and the Labor scare campaign was way scarier than ours. Howard took full responsibility for the defeat. Further discussion is pointless. He was fully responsible! You could blame the senior Party (Downer, Minchin, Costello, Brough etc etc) for being too chicken to roll him but no one wanted to be Brutus when push came to shove.

    Howard’s great achievements (paying off the Labor debt, big increases in real wages etc, roaring economy) will endure but the ending was inglorious.

    Costello’s ending is likewise inglorious but he can read the numbers as well as anyone else and WorkChoices was to his ideological liking and he saw clearly how the Howard battlers voted it down and the government out. He knew he would be branded with it at the next election and he gave up hope of office within 6 years.

    It is time for change. I would have preferred Turnbull to Nelson. We shall see how he travels. And who knows, perhaps after a year or two on the backbench, Costello may rise again.

    In politics, no one knows anything and a week is a very long time. That is what makes it fun.

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  2. G’day,

    I agree with you Sean, John Howard was man enough to take full responsibility for defeat. Costello wants out and in my view is likely to go sooner rather then later to take advantage of lucrative business offers. ”

    Nelson is now Liberal leader and in my view is looking better every day. If they have any sense the libs would get fully behind him. Instead they are more likely to be stabbing each other in the back for the next decade.

    ta

    Ralph

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  3. Replying to Sean Walsh

    We lost because of WorkChoices, Kyoto and the Use By Date factor. (Mostly WorkChoices.)

    My view is that the basics of labour market reform were not properly and clearly communicated by the Liberal Party. That those in the Party, and across the Conservative thinktanks whose job it was to explain and sell WorkChoices also did a poor job of it.

    Please check my Labour Market Reform project.

    Regarding Kyoto and the whole idea of Anthropogenic Global Warming, I consider it be total bollocks.

    People stopped listening to Channel Howard

    Although we, the Coalition (Liberal + National Party), were soundly thrashed at the election, and Labor won by a comfortable lead, many people voted for the Coalition.

    This idea that “people” stopped listening is a gross generalisation.

    Based on the most recent count of primary votes:

    Australian Labor Party: 5,090,966 (43.51%)

    Liberal Party: 4,250,692 (36.33%)
    National Party: 651,168 (5.56%)

    Labor can revel in their victory for a while, but their lead is loseable.

    And, of course, the Coalition is quite capable of wrecking themselves thoroughly over the next few years.

    … and the Labor scare campaign was way scarier than ours.

    And the media was a lof softer on Rudd than it was on the Conservatives.

    Howard took full responsibility for the defeat. Further discussion is pointless. He was fully responsible!

    Wrong. And wrong.

    You could blame the senior Party (Downer, Minchin, Costello, Brough etc etc) for being too chicken to roll him but no one wanted to be Brutus when push came to shove.

    How do you know the results wouldn’t have been even worse if Howard was “rolled” – which actually means: If Costello was handed the leadership?

    I’d like to see some evidence.

    Howard

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  4. Replying to Ralph

    I agree with you Sean, John Howard was man enough to take full responsibility for defeat.

    That’s not how I understood Sean’s comments.

    Costello wants out and in my view is likely to go sooner rather then later to take advantage of lucrative business offers.

    It’s a shame he couldn’t “read the numbers” sooner and have quit a year or so ago. We might then have had a much better prospect of success.

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