Four Corners tonight began by describing election evening at Kirribilli House in 2007. After 11.5 years as PM a stoic John Howard on election night: ‘I am dead meat’ he said as watched the disastrous electoral returns on TV. Then off to the Wentworth Hotel to give a gracious speech that accepted defeat. Since then Howard has maintained a dignified - and appropriate - silence.
Was Howard’s leadership responsible for this defeat? Should Costello have replaced him? This is not a complex issue since Costello never had the numbers. The ‘1.5 terms’ issue and the Ian McLachlin affair - with the promised written transfer of power to Costello originating in 1994 - was irrelevant regardless of the unofficial agreement.
Yes Howard had immense power and status in the Liberal Party. It is difficult to discard a successful politician in favour of one who is less likely to win power. This is true at both the Party and electoral level. Costello did not have the numbers and hence, early on, could not challenge.
Once there was agreement to get rid of Howard within the Party – after the APEC Meeting - it was too late even were a change to be seen as more effective. Change at this stage was doubly impossible. Howard would therefore have to stay for the 2007 election.
Now the Liberals have publicly expressed their regrets without bitterness - even from Costello. There was none of the angst forecast by Miss Kim at Larvatus Prodeo. The Liberal Party has more class than this bunch would ever come close to appreciating.
For the Liberal Party it is now important to be an effective opposition and to offer an alternative to Labor’s populist rabble. Of immediate concern: The Liberals should not be bullied into supporting foolish changes to the WorkChoices legislation that will reduce the flexibility of labour markets. Longer term they should offer the possibility of careful leadership free from puerile ideology and symbolic gestures.