Alexander Downer and Nick Minchin contend that had the leadership not blown up in July 2006 Mr Howard would have retired at the end of that year and handed over to his deputy.Pity he didn't tell the voters that, innit? Or, presumably, his own colleagues.
Mr Costello, who was aware of the leak that caused the flare-up and did not try to stop it, rejects this, saying Mr Howard never seriously contemplated retiring. "I don't think he was ever going to stand down," he said.
The claim is one of several in tonight's episode of ABC TV's Four Corners, in which former key players shed light on the death throes of the Howard government. Mr Costello also says that when Mr Howard anointed him as his successor on the night of the Coalition government's election loss Mr Howard already knew Mr Costello was not interested in taking over a defeated party.
All of whom now seem to want to present themselves as heroes in error, who stood up and loudly demanded that Howard leave:
The episode also details events around the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in September, only months before the election, when Mr Howard lost the confidence of his cabinet. He refused to go unless forced out, knowing this would cause the party great damage. Mr Downer said this would have caused "electoral disaster", but the former party director Andrew Robb says Mr Howard should have been pushed and not allowed to make his own decision.Pity none of them had the balls to go in front of the cameras and force a real showdown, isn't it? Not that it would have changed the result, IMHO.
The former minister Joe Hockey says he rang Mr Howard and told him to go because the people had stopped listening to him. Cabinet wanted him gone because he did not think he could win the election.
But, he says, Mr Howard changed the rules after saying for years he would go when his party no longer wanted him.
Mr Costello says that in this time Mr Downer told him he had "better get ready because there could be a change of leadership", but he never really believed it.
So now all that's left is the task of making sure that your own historical narrative becomes the official line. But that's not easy with all the he-said, she-said versions of events:
According to his colleagues, Mr Costello blew his best chance in July 2006, when reports surfaced of the secret deal in December 1994 in which Mr Howard promised to serve only 1½ terms if he was given the leadership.Well, Sinodis resigned well ahead of the elections, which I always interpreted as a sign that he thought the Coalition had no chance (no matter what he told the media during the campaign).
The arrangement was witnessed by the senior Liberal Ian McLachlan, who made a note of the conversation. He says it was Mr Costello's idea to "make a note of that arrangement".
Mr McLachlan then admits Mr Costello gave the green light for him to reveal the note to the journalist Glenn Milne in July 2006, despite knowing it would "cause an enormous fracas".
Mr Costello says releasing the note was ultimately Mr McLachlan's decision. "He thought that, you know, history ought to know it."
The fracas ensued as predicted, and Mr Downer and Senator Minchin believe this cost Mr Costello the leadership.
Senator Minchin tried to have Mr Howard step aside in March 2006, asking Mr Downer and Mr Howard's chief of staff, Arthur Sinodinos, to press Mr Howard. He said both spoke to Mr Howard, but Mr Downer disagreed with the idea, and he never knew what Mr Sinodinos thought.
And as for the idea that Costello's leadership chances would have been better if he never challenged Howard, well - only an idiot like Downer would even think of saying something as stupid as that.
Good riddance to the lot of them.