As we reflect on the Howard-Costello years we see there was this tension between the economic discipline of Peter Costello, and the pragmatism of the successful Mr Howard.
Howard's genius was, I suppose, to be able to persuade Costello when it was OK to loosen the belt in order to buy the votes of the electorate. And to do this without fuelling inflation.
I think voters saw through this at the last election.
But it would appear that present leader Brendan Nelson is trying the populist Howard strategy, whilst his Opposition Treasurer Turnbull is at least as, if not more, fiscally restrained than Costello.
So it comes as no surprise that there was an "exchange of emails" (is this the 21st century equivalent of 'pistols at dawn'?). It also is not surprising that Nelson the present leader won, and I use that description advisedly.
It is, however, disconcerting for the poor dears when it all comes out in the public arena, and Turnbull is exposed as believeing one thing but having to say the opposite.
This is of course the nature of politics. Mr Downer did not bat an eyelid on Lateline last night, (false I hear you cry...but I resist the temptation to comment on Alexander's eyelashes...he was looking quite old last night)...back to to the plot. He said quite clearly that we may believe in one point of view but after the argument is over we tow the party line, even if we are fundamentally opposed. He said this is the nature of the Westminster system. I don't believe that is so, I think the Westminster system is about free and open debate...but he's a politician and I am not.
Of course he did point out that from Opposition fiscal promises are all hypothetical any way.
And we might also point out that the fiscal conservatism versus vote buying strategy is going to be the same issue for the present Government; though we are yet to see if there is the same sort of political opportunism in Rudd's heart as there was in Howard's. I suspect not.
But what would I know?