It is all but confirmed that John Howard will not stand aside for Peter Costello to take over the leadership of the Liberal Party or the Prime Ministership. Almost every media outlet in Australia is reporting leaks of a letter Howard sent to senior Libs advising them of his decision. Fairfax are reporting that he'll hold a press conference later today, Monday 31 July.
This will largely put to rest the leadership debate until the 2007 federal election when Labor are sure to revive it and hope to gain some advantage by suggesting Howard won't serve out the term if elected. In a tight race, that will sway some voters but will it be enough? I guess Howard and his supporters think the answer is no; or at least not as many who'd vote Labor if Costello was leader.
Costello must now wonder whether his pre-emptive strike (sanctioned or otherwise) was worth it. At least one commentator, Gerard Henderson (who is close to Howard), speculated that the recent confirmation of a leadership deal between Howard and Costello would likely delay Howard's retirement as Howard would not be chased from office.
If Howard wins a fifth term in government he'll certainly go down in the history books and may even surpass Menzies as the longest serving PM. If he loses, any legacy he'd hoped to secure will be soured.
Interestingly, Howard's last campaign was based on the claim of superior economic management compared with Labor - will this still be true if the Fed Reserve put up the cash rate as expected on Wednesday? A third rate rise in this term of government?
Labor are predictably saying they're happy though I suspect they'd rather the less popular Costello was leading the party in 07.
9 hours ago