It’s difficult not to feel at least a skerrick of sympathy for Brendan Nelson. At his current rate of decline, he will reach 0% as preferred Prime Minister in late April. And, supposedly, he is a worse Opposition Leader than Alexander Downer. Those of us who recall the bizarre and hilarious implosion of Downer in 1994 would, in the spirit of Get Smart, find that hard to believe.

But politics is a cruel, cruel business. As Dennis Shanahan points out, in a display of perspicacity usually absent from his polling commentary, the very awfulness of the Opposition’s numbers are what will prevent anyone from sticking their hand up for Nelson’s job.

Nevertheless, if Nelson can continue to drag the Howardist hold-outs in his ranks kicking and screaming toward the political centre, and oversee an effective reform of the Coalition parties’ structures, he’ll at least go down as conservatism’s answer to Simon Crean. The notion of Crean as Prime Minister is now risible, but he oversaw important reforms within his party that contributed to its ultimate electability in 2007.

It’s not much consolation for Nelson, but it’s about all he’ll find at the moment.

Peter Fray

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