Change is afoot, but Costello boots himself out the door

Congratulations to the ALP on finally winning Government again … definitely overtones of Tony Blair’s New Labour victory in 1997, with both the slogan (“New Leadership”) and the roadmap ahead (lots of targets and committees) showing uncanny matches – and even the Spice Girls making a comeback (luckily though, no naff song like D:Ream’s “Things can only get better)

Astonishing too, how quickly the knives came out on the other side; almost as though they’d been holding their breath for the last 12 months and are finally letting the anger just … go …

Costello, of course being number one in the perceived dummy spit stakes. But was he justified?

My theory is based on – yet again, an uncannily similar scenario – the Keating-Hawke stoush in 1990-91. Keating, like fellow long-term treasurer Costello, believed his leader had made a pact to step aside at a pre-arranged date to enable a smooth path to the prime ministership. Both leaders reneged on the deal and publicly stared down the challenger, daring them to make a move.

Keating, despite a poor public perception of arrogance (eg. “the recession we had to have”) and with little assured support from the party room, took on Hawke anyway in June 1991 – and lost comfortably, 66-44. Resigning the treasurer position, he went to the backbench and waited. 6 months later, Hawke was falling out of favour and the party looked around for a leader of strength … and who better than the man who had been willing to back his ambition. Keating won another challenge in December to become Prime Minister, and seemingly had won public respect as well, leading the ALP to a 5th term in office (helped by John Hewson’s disastrous 1993 election campaign run on the GST). Of course, the electorate eventually remembered his arrogance and buried him, but by then he’d had 4 years in the top job.

Compare and contrast Costello. A year ago he was reasonably certain to lose a party room vote … but what if he had tried anyway? No doubt he would have gone to the backbench sulking, but with respect for finally standing up to one John Winston Howard (showing the “ticker” that he once accused Kim Beazley of lacking). And 12 months later, with an ascendant Kevin Rudd streets ahead of the shadow-boxing John Howard, might the party and public have turned to the man who had finally shown courage in his ability?

We will never know …

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