It seems increasingly clear that Peter Costello will face an uphill battle to maintain his position as the ‘natural successor’ to John Howard. And Malcolm Turnbull’s clear victory in the seat of Wentworth is certainly placing him at the front of a very short line to the leadership of the Liberal Party after Howard’s retirement.
Okay I’m going to be honest here. I have a great deal of respect for both Peter Costello and Malcolm Turnbull. (I have very little respect for Joe Hockey, the other contender.) I disagree with their politics, but both Costello and Turnbull have stuck to their sometimes unpopular positions on issues, in a manner that Howard never did. And of course, Turnbull led the campaign I so passionately supported in 1999 for an Australian Republic.
But what’s interesting about all the candidates for leadership of the Liberal Party is how differently they view issues when compared with John Howard. On climate change, causes and responses to inflation, on indigenous issues and on the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan – not to mention the notion of an Australian Republic – Costello and Turnbull have much more small ‘l’ liberal views than the uber-conservative Howard.
Rudd’s dominance in Government will probably never be so profound as it is after the 2007 election. And in spite of polls and public opinion against Costello, the likelihood is that the public will look upon his and his colleagues’ progressive policies as being reasonable three years down the track. My feeling is that either Costello or Turnbull would be a formidable opponent to the Rudd Government. And I look upon their ascendance with some trepidation.
EDIT: And after the announcement of Costello’s retirement from politics, it looks like it will be Turnbull to lead the Liberals (Brendan Nelson and Tony Abbott are probably not appropriate and Joe Hockey seems highly unlikely).