So, nine months late, the Howard era is finally over. Malcolm Turnbull has arrived, and carries enormous expectations.
The narrowness of his victory suggests the Liberal Party is still torn over not just the leadership but its post-Howard role and philosophy. Turnbull uttered a number of motherhood statements about freedom, fairness and opportunity at his press conference, but the Liberals’ problem has been working out how those principles work in reality when you’re up against a popular government and need to address enormous problems like climate change and global economic dislocation. To his credit, Nelson helped move both the Liberals and the Coalition as whole back toward the political centre, from which it strayed in the last Howard term. But his passion – and no one ever doubted Nelson’s passion about anything — for cheap populism has left the conservative’s once-strong economic credentials under question.
Turnbull has committed to retain the party’s Nelson-era policies. He could probably not say otherwise given the circumstances in which he has come to the leadership. But he will need to rethink them if he’s to make the Coalition a serious competitor in 2010, and he’ll have to do it with an evenly-divided party room. Good luck.