Malcolm Turnbull had better watch out. The leadership obsession among political writers is growing again. So far this quite amazing concentration on who leads what political party has not spread to the federal Liberal Leader himself. For the moment it is his Deputy Julie Bishop featuring in the speculation but come the end of summer without any significant change in the readings of the opinion pollsters and the pundits will start turning from the sorcerer's apprentice to the sorcerer himself.
Leading the pack in this latest search for a leadership challenge is The Australian's Dennis Shanahan. Dennis clearly finds writing about who may or may not end up in a position of power far easier than telling his readers what those in power are actually doing with it. And he is not, of course, alone in that.
Back at the beginning of September I did a little survey of what political stories actually appeared in the nation's newspapers and found that nearly 12% of them were leadership speculation of one kind or another. The only more popular subject was stories based on opinion polls at 13% and they were really nothing more than another kind of approach to leadership.
But back to the Shanahan story which is bound to be followed by others in the press gallery herd in the coming weeks as the silly summer season approaches. "Julie Bishop is under growing internal pressure to step aside as the Coalition's Treasury spokeswoman," he wrote this morning, " amid growing dissatisfaction with her performance." The nub of his argument is that Liberal MPs are becoming frustrated with Ms Bishop's errors and her inability to have any impact on Treasurer Wayne Swan. He accuses the Deputy Liberal Leader as being plagued by plagiarism charges, accused of not having any ideas for the Liberals and making mistakes in parliament.
Perth academic Peter van Onselen joined in to dismiss Ms Bishop as "a lead weight in Turnbull's saddle" and allege that an exasperated "Turnbull has privately complained to supporters in recent weeks that he is doing the job of both the leader and the deputy, as well as functioning as a de facto shadow treasurer."
No doubt the Opposition Leader would have found more annoying the suggestion by John Howard's biographer that Peter Costello is still lolling around on the backbenches as a leader in waiting. "The sands of time must pass for the federal Liberals to again rise as a political force,"van Onselen wrote. "When they do, don't be surprised if Costello is ready to lead."
With gusto this morning the herd charged into the leadership story this morning. Michelle Grattan in The Age and Mark Metherell in the Sydney Morning Herald had their pieces fuelled by some wonderful hints by Ms Bishop at a conspiracy theory involving the editor of The Australian Chris Mitchell.