The point of course was not the minister’s rudeness. Nor was it the incompetent over-optimism of a party machine that would schedule a last-minute announcement in a Melbourne marginal and leave Minister Abbott with no time to make a long-standing date in Canberra. No, the cardinal sin – to phrase it in language the minister might best understand – was arrogance. Arrogance from Abbott and from his party. John Howard would get that too. It was the fatal political flaw of arrogance that did for Paul Keating in 1996, as Howard pitched his meek humility and common touch to voters jaded by years of double-breasted cockiness.
In the end, in the wash-up of Tony Abbott’s big day out, it’s the impression of arrogance that lingers, and that’s the thing that will settle in the public mind. Voters have an instinct for it, for governments too used to the easy trappings of office, too accustomed to making the running and the comforting sound of their own unchallenged voices. They start to look like governments too long in office.