THE Government is in no-man's-land. John Howard won't go. Peter Costello won't challenge. The party can't, it seems, do anything.Grattan says the Libs really have no choice now but to change leader:
Howard has been winged by his own supporters. It is now known that Alexander Downer, Nick Minchin and Malcolm Turnbull have profound doubts about his capacity to provide a miracle and win the election.
But Howard, who always says he will lead only as long as it is in the party's interests and the party wants him, will not accept the message.
He won't listen to ministerial colleagues, despite their records of loyalty — although Minchin has apparently thought for some time he should go — and their political savvy.
Howard does not want to be seen running away from a fight. He feels the leadership was settled last year and should not be revisited so close to an election. Presumably, and perhaps most importantly, Janette Howard is outraged at the thought of him being arm-twisted out. The family had a long talk on Sunday.
Howard has stared down his ministers, leaving them no option but to publicly support his leadership.
Downer and Minchin dutifully went on TV last night to say there had been discussions and Howard was the man for the future. They don't believe it, and neither will the public.
Voters will be more than ever convinced in their judgement that the Howard era is over. If it is the ministers' conclusion — before they were nobbled — that Howard should move on, why wouldn't voters have their own similar conclusion reinforced?
Even if Howard can tough out, this crisis he will almost certainly lose the election, which will put the Liberals out of office everywhere.Kim Beazley expects Howard to be gone "within the next week." John Hewson says it would be madness to dump Howard now. Everybody's got an opinion: the air is thick with the scent of death.
If the Government were defeated under Costello, Howard would cop a lot of blame because he hadn't left earlier. But if he hangs on now, and the Government is tossed out, the blame heaped on him will be unlimited.