Nelson was dealt a pretty awful hand, but he has at least struggled on. He seems to genuinely care (though he often seems too much at pains to show he cares) and while he hasn't done great (ok that's an understatement) I doubt anyone would have done much better in the last nine months.
Any gratitude? Nope. He wakes up and reads that some MPs in his party will quit if Peter Costello doesn't take over the leadership. He has to put up with a member of his shadow cabinet, Tony Abbott, saying "Peter Costello is our best political asset". (But then Abbott also this week said of Malcolm Turnbull: He "seems destined for great things".)
Now being Leader of the Opposition is often referred to as the hardest job in politics, but Nelson is having a harder time than most.
His position is almost untenable and all because of Peter Costello. If Costello does go, he will leave having wrecked any chance for Nelson's leadership to have any power, because Costello's dithering about whether he was leaving has resulted in Liberal Party MPs essentially saying Nelson is not up to the task. How can Tony Abbott remain on the front bench if he doesn't believe Nelson is the best man for the job?
If Costello stays and doesn't challenge, Nelson is dead - and Costello will mark himself as the most selfish man in politics - wanting to become leader but not wanting to do so until the election is in sight - yes please Brendan, eat that sh*t sandwich for me will you.
And if he does stay and does take over; this is presumably how he is going to do it:
Some Liberals close to Mr Costello predicted he would use an interview with Channel 9's 60 Minutes on September 14, the day before his book launch, to announce his plans.
Can you comprehend that? The leadership of the Liberal Party has become a marketing exercise for a book launch. And they still want this guy? Talk about hubris. Talk about desperation.
When Keating challenged and went on the back bench he left no one in any doubt that he still wanted to be leader, and that he thought he was the best person to lead. I still don't know if Costello does want to lead.
A few weeks back I said that Costello would sell his book then waltz off into the sunset; now I'm not so sure. Part of me thinks he will stay on but not take the leadership until the middle/end of next year, because that would be the easiest thing personally for him to do, and I have no sense that Costello is one for taking the hard option of taking the leadership over two years before the next election.
But the messages are pretty mixed, and must make for much mirth in the Government offices. On August 25 in The Australian comes this headline: Malcolm Turnbull anointed but warned on temper. Then on August 29 in The Australian (which has been driving the 'let's get Costello back' bandwagon) an article has the headline: Tony Abbott Backs Costello To Lead. Later, on the same day comes the headline in The Daily Telegraph: Costello Backs Nelson's Leadership.
Nothing like a good consistent message.
Karen Middleton in today's Canberra Times writes:
Increasing numbers [of Liberal Party MPs] are also expecting that when the decision comes, it will be to go. Nick Minchin, one of those who's been pressing Costello, has begun advancing the prospect of his departure and Nelson has been referring to Costello's contribution, apparently inadvertently, in the past tense.
This the odd thing about the whole Costello issue - Nelson seems pretty relaxed, as though he knows something... For mine I can think Nelson's lack of concern means one of three things:
- Costello has told him he's going once he's sold a few copies of his book,
- Costello has told him he's staying but won't challenge, and will give Nelson another 12 months or so to see if he can improve his position (and will protect him from Turnbull), or
- Costello has told him he's staying and will challenge, and Nelson is happy because he's actually relieved to know the pain will soon be over.
Ok maybe I'm a little bit cynical with the last one.
I guess we shall wait and see. The Liberals wait for the book launch so they will know (maybe) who will be their leader; the ALP waits for the book launch so they can highlight every single line that will be used against him and the Liberal Party, as the saying goes, Oh that my enemy would write a book.