04 June 2007

Who's the rabbit, Jason?

Jason Koutsoukis' candle for Peter Costello still burns brightly, but it and the cake on which it sits have been left out in the rain.

One of only two cogent points in this article is that a government doesn't have to be hated to lose office. None of the Coalition State/Territory governments of the '90s (with the possible exception of Kennett) were hated. Scroll down for the other one.

The rest of it is the standard wilful blindness and an inability to process what little information he does have.
watching Prime Minister John Howard hunched over his writing pad in the House of Reps last week, he looked like a modern portrait of Ebenezer Scrooge. All that was missing was the green eye shade.

What's missing here at the start of this article is a fresh insight that might encourage a reader to complete this article. Warning, stale imagery ahead! That's a criticism that could have been made at any point over the past thirty years. It was made a lot by Labor in 1996, and a fat lot of good it did them. In 2007, such a statement is so lame as to be unworthy of an experienced columnist in a plum job for a major newspaper. Talk about playing the man and not the ball!
If the PM doesn't want to go, Costello should force the issue and toss him out.

What's missing here is all the polls suggesting that Howard is much more popular than Costello. Why would embattled Liberal MPs want their popularity to go down, rather than up? In 1983, Labor changed leaders just before an election. They dumped their existing leader in favour of someone more popular. More popular with people other than Jason Koutsoukis.

Peter Costello is not Prime Minister for the same reason that Kim Beazley isn't. If Costello had the leverage he would have forced Howard out already. Costello fans are wilfully blind to this, and none more so than Koutsoukis.
Here's a sample of some of the responses I got last week talking to Liberal MPs about the state of play.

You don't think they were cracking hardy Jason, whistling past the graveyard? 11 years of experience of this government suggests that any Liberal MP who gave an honest assessment would be done for, regardless of how safe their seat was.
"Oh, but it's too late," a Costello loyalist told me last week. Actually, it's not. With six months left in this political year, Costello has plenty of time.

Just as Rudd was able to turn things around quickly, so could Costello.

An opposition is a blank slate, all the more so when it is full of people desperate to win. A government in office for 11 years and a Treasurer with a hot-and-cold record of reform does not have the same room to manoever.

To be fair to Jason, he does explain why he holds to this extraordinary opinion. However, his explanations are no good:
A deluge of Costello profiles would help present a softer side to the man who has been lumbered with the Treasury portfolio all these years and give the electorate the sense of "change" it has been yearning for.

A deluge of a different sort would help drought-stricken farmers, but a deluge of this kind would make no difference whatsoever. There is no guarantee the coverage would be favourable or that it would change voter perceptions of the man. Costello's support for the Essendon Aussie Rules club is all very well for some, but in marginal seats in NSW and Queensland this passion is as eccentric as Keating's French Empire clocks. He should've gone for the Presidency of the World Bank while he had the chance. Nobody believes their job or mortgage is less insecure if Peter Costello becomes PM, and no amount of soft-focus blather changs that in any way.
Tanya Costello, a corporate lawyer, could also come out of the shadows. The Costellos are every bit the modern couple that the Rudds are.

That's nice. Has she got a conflict of interest too, given that she's employed by an organisation regulated by her husband?
Because Costello and Rudd are, in many ways, so similar, if Costello were leader it might cancel out much of Rudd's current appeal.

Rudd and Costello are the same age, they are both committed Christians, they are both economic conservatives, both republicans, are both married to women with high-flying careers of their own, and have the same number of children - who are all roughly the same age.

Either that, or it might make the Libs look like they were desperately trying to catch up. It would be a disgrace for the sitting PM to be a pale imitation of the Opposition Leader, and for incumbernt ministers to have the insecurity of new portfolios while trying to sell stability.

Let's imagine that our Jase were covering Federal politics in 1972:
Because McMahon and Whitlam are, in many ways, so similar, it might cancel out much of Whitlam's current appeal. McMahon and Whitlam are the same age, they are both economic Keynesians, both lawyers from Sydney and are both married to women.

Doesn't work for me either.
Another important question is "can Costello match Rudd in the areas where Rudd is doing well?"

This is an important question, and having posed it what a shame he's dodged it. What he does instead is shirk anything like responsible journalism by getting petty:
[Costello] certainly has some things Rudd doesn't.

Such as a sense of humour (has anyone ever seen Rudd really laugh, or crack a joke?). Costello is also a man who makes friends easily, while I'm yet to meet one person who describes themselves as a friend of Rudd's. (A Labor MP told me over dinner last week that he could not name a single friend Rudd has made in the eight years he has been in Parliament.)

I liked Rudd's comment about Howard and black-and-white television, but if you didn't then I suppose it doesn't count. Not having been to dinner with Costello I find him smug and snide, but all those unwritten puff-pieces might (not) turn that around. Rudd has probably the same number of friends in Parliament that the aloof Whitlam had in 1972, or Fraser in 1975. Holt and Gorton were hail-fellow-well-met, and (in terms of electoral outcomes) so what?
There are also signs that Rudd shares some of the characteristics that made Hewson a poor political leader. He is a workaholic with a short temper, he is quick to blame others for mistakes and is apparently unwilling to listen to other points of view.

Many successful people have those same qualities - including John Howard.
He also has a tendency to drive his staff too hard.

Awwwwwwwwww. That's why Beazley never made it: all his staff thought they could just cruise and the government would fall into their laps. If you're going to beat John Howard you have to work harder than him, with fewer resources than Howard has. The Labor MP quoted above (with nothing better to do but take Koutsoukis to dinner) is obviously not considered useful in getting Labor into government, which taints his little aside with the whiff of sour grapes.
Rudd does not respect the intellect of most of his peers and doesn't mind showing it.

Depends who you regard as Rudd's peers, really. He's more clever than most of these, for sure.
Conversely, Rudd doesn't seem to command the sort of respect from the caucus that a good leader should have.

I think you mean "besides" rather than "conversely". If he gets them into government they'll respect him just fine. Conversely (note proper use of that word), watch how the massive respect for Howard and Costello will evaporate if the Coalition comes up short.
No political leader in Australian history who has taken over as opposition leader immediately after his party has lost government has gone on to become prime minister.

Hooray! This is the second cogent point in this article. It may dispel the myth that a one-term government is possible. That's two nuggets in a pile of dross. C'mon Jase, now for the big finish:
If Howard loses, and Costello becomes opposition leader, the chances are he will never make it.

Costello will only make it to the Prime Ministership if John Howard dies between now and the next election. Otherwise, for the reasons stated earlier (his own gutlessness and unpopularity) he won't.

UPDATE: Christian Kerr, bless 'im, also takes Koutsoukis on at Crikey.

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