The question I've been asking everyone all week is "Who will lead the Coalition rump?" Even if Howard had retained Bennelong, he was never going to accept the Opposition leadership, so the expected baton was passed without fanfare to Costello in his concession speech.
And when I say "baton", I mean "poisoned chalice". Those Liberal frontbenchers who were in genuine contention for the Prime Ministerial mantle know that to take up cudgels as the representative of the losing team is political foolhardiness in the extreme. It would run much like it did with Downer supplanting Hewson, Crean supplanting Beazley, Beazley supplanting Latham, et cetera.
Turnbull is too smart to ever go near it. Costello looked like he had inadvertently put his foot in it, but with a clack-clack of his red shoes he's found a way to scurry to the backbenches of the Opposition, ostensibly to retire from politics at the end of this term. (He intends no such thing. He intends for the new Opposition Leader to fuck up royally, and then he will force a spill six months out -- in the name of unifying the party and returning as a saviour. Well, in a sense it worked for Keating. But Keating did not have a Turnbull.)
Downer has already graciously (and bizarrely) refused the Opposition leadership, but not even the Coalition would flirt with that possibility again anyway. Abbott? He's no longer a man for these times, so he might not even be offered it, particularly after his campaign slapstickery.
Julie Bishop would be an interesting call, but not one I think the Coalition is ready to make. All week my very long odds investment has been on Nelson, whose utter blandness and hilariously misguided ambition makes him Costello's (or Turnbull's) perfect foil -- he would be offered the fall guy role, and knowing that it's his only chance to leapfrog into actual contention, he would take it. Would he damn his party by doing so? Probably, in as much as they're not already damned. Watch for Pyne and (much later) Alex Hawke in the wings.
Or is there another scenario I've missed? And can you forgive me for relishing this?
Joseph | 25 Nov 2007