Costello did not have more than 20 votes in the Liberal Party room which could be mustered to challenge the incumbent prime minister. Up until at least the eve of the Coalition’s defeat in November last year, a clear majority of Liberal parliamentarians believed they had a better chance of holding their seats under the four-time winner Howard than under Costello.
But last September, Paul Kelly said:
It seems Howard was surprised at Downer’s report. While different versions of Downer’s soundings are sure to be spread, the majority sentiment was for a change. One cabinet minister reported yesterday that the sentiment was “overwhelmingly” for change. Another said the mood was for change by a distinct majority. The word from another, on Howard’s side, was that a variety of views were expressed and sentiment was equivocal.
Now it is at the very least possible that both reports are accurate (i.e., there was a majority for Costello in Cabinet but not the party room), but I wonder just how plausible it is. It seems Henderson is trying to rehabilitate Costello’s image – as is much of the rest of the commentariat. And I guess I’m not their target market, but it seems to me that it will be a hard sell for many.