In a significant shift from his previous rhetoric, John Howard has rekindled the Liberal leadership fires:
John Howard has declared he is “not planning on going anywhere” and predicts he can beat Kim Beazley at the next election.
In comments that will anger his Treasurer and heir apparent, Peter Costello, Mr Howard said he was “not planning my post-prime ministerial life”.
Asked in an interview with News Limited newspapers if he could beat Mr Beazley a third time, Mr Howard said: “Yes, I’d hope so. Try.”
Mr Costello is said by supporters to be already agitated by Mr Howard’s refusal to signal a handover of the leadership, and could be expected to reconsider his position as Liberal Party deputy.
The balls in Costello’s court, I’d suggest. But I’d be surprised if he runs with it.
Elsewhere: Tim Dunlop makes a similar argument:
In fact, at this stage anyway, the real leadership battle of interest is the one inside the Liberal Party. Well, actually, there is no battle, but the PM’s announcement today does mean Peter Costello is going to have to decide what he wants to do.
I’m not going to endlessly glean the permutations of a challenge versus quitting versus staying put; suffice it to say that whatever course he takes he is going to look like the beaten, second-rater that many already believe him to be (short of an unlikely victory, of course).
So really, for reasons of self-esteem, he needs to mount a challenge, to at least have a go. A noble loss after a doomed tilt followed by a quick retirement might be his best option.
Elsewhere: saint has some extensive commentary.