As Brendan Nelson contemplates the slow walk to the scaffold this week to deliver a Budget reply that no-one will listen to other than those in his own ranks seeking yet another reason to get rid of him, he can at least take comfort that his party everywhere in Australia is in the same shape as his leadership – ghostly pale, feeble pulse, seriously ill, perhaps terminally.
Some six and a half decades ago, the ramshackle United Australia Party (a joke: it was never united, owed more allegiance to British bondholders than Australian workers and was a party in name only) sulked mightily at losing office in 1941 and then raged against itself when the electorate gave John Curtin’s Labor government a resounding win in 1943.
The UAP, of course, had no factions; it was all about personalities. Sound familiar? As it slowly but spectacularly disintegrated, it even turned to 80-year-old Billy Hughes to lead it – not that there was much left to lead. Then Bob Menzies rose from the political dead and put Humpty together again – and called it the Liberal Party. (Wilson Tuckey, are you there? Your time has come!)
A similar pall of death now hangs over what is left of the Liberal Party, and Labor everywhere can concentrate on governing knowing that it doesn’t have to bother about attacking the Liberals as they do it so well themselves.
In NSW, where extremists rule the party, they have missed a golden opportunity to take advantage of Labor’s woes over the power fiasco. In WA, the less that is said about Chairman Sniff the better, and in Victoria traitors have been found inside the Liberal bunker and the Baillieu-led operation to expose them has rebounded in farce, uncovering potty-mouth anti-Semitism amidst the foot-stamping (which will probably deter the remaining two donors to the party there). And it makes for some interesting politics when former state director Julian Sheezel lines up for Higgins post-Costello: did he know his senior staffers were undermining the Leader, and if not, why not?
In Queensland, the farcical on-again off-again merger with the Nats looks set to submerge the Libs. In Tasmania, Liberal support is hard to find beyond the Hodgman family, and in South Australia the party is vainly striving for relevance with a tax summit stunt as it rages ineffectually against Australia’s most popular Premier.
Menzies, they say, would turn in his grave, but I think not. He would be mightily pleased: after all, the Labor Party is looking more and more like that party that Bob built.