You didn’t have to see much of Parliament yesterday to realise that there’s at least one person who believes it’s all over for Malcolm Turnbull, and that’s Malcolm Turnbull.

One of the cardinal rules of the despatch box is that you never look less than ebullient — jeer back when you’re being attacked, study documents furiously when you need to keep it together, swivel round and talk to the front bench (thus obscuring yourself from the camera) when you believe it’s just possible that you might cry.

Yesterday, Turnbull slumped for minutes on end. As Kevin Rudd did him slowly, the Opposition Leader couldn’t even marshal a naughty grin, a jaw jut, a stiff upper lip. He just lay there like one of those Mr Blowies in a used car yard forecourt suddenly getting the air cut off.

Which is kind of what he was.

Turnbull knows that it’s all over for him — unless Labor is hit with a greater scandal before the next election. He’s been revealed as worse than a liar. He’s been exposed as a fool, a man who not only lacked the prudence to think two steps ahead — and acknowledge the possibility that he or others might be being set up — but apparently couldn’t keep a poker face, taunting Andrew Charlton at the Midwinter Ball, about how we was about to (or so he thought) blow him out of the game.

It was the act of a man more eager to assuage some inner demons than to maximise the political effectiveness of a windfall scandal — a move coming from a sense of inferiority, not of command.

The deflation he displayed at the despatch box was less defeat than it was self-reproach — Turnbull looked like a man who not only realised he’d screwed up, but that he’d screwed up in a way he’d screwed up before. It was a look of recognition of someone caught in a pattern.

Some may say that Turnbull had no choice but to go for broke — given the fact that modern politics is now a one-shot go. Though the Federal Liberal party desperately needs a two-term process of reconstruction now, the public simply judge an opposition leader staying on after a defeat as a retread — principally because neither major party represents a core constituency and set of values in the way they once did.

And even if it were possible to leave an Opposition leader in place after a defeat, Turnbull is not the man. As this correspondent noted at the time of the 2007 election, the plain fact is that Turnbull is not a politician in the way that John Howard, or Tony Abbott, or Paul Keating or Bob Brown or Kevin Rudd are politicians — people for whom their movement is a vocation, demanding as Max Weber noted, “a slow drilling through hard timber”.

Turnbull proved this during the failed Republican referendum of 1998. Someone willing to do a bit of slow drilling would have noted that a majority voted for the Republic, and that only sleight-of-hand by the Rodent managed to delay it. That pyrrhic defeat would have been the staging point to really build the ARM as a social movement — develop branches, widen its remit and visibility, take Republicanism to the point where it appears inevitable.

Instead, denied the chance to be the first Australian President, and faced with the grey and monotonous task of building a movement, he couldn’t face it. Just as he hasn’t really been able to face the task of redefining the Liberal party after voters comprehensively rejected its mix of social conservatism and neoliberalism.

Had he had the patience for that, he would have let Brendan Nelson — a man who makes your average Mr Blowie look like Lord Salisbury — take the fall for the first defeat (or whoever else replaced him).

The dire straits for the Liberal Party are that of its two most recent leaders, one was a former member of the ALP, and the other wasn’t really a politician at all, simply someone who wants to do everything for about two years before moving onto the next thing.

Given that conspectus, it should be obvious that Turnbull, a man who has measured his life in court cases and deals, would always go for the quick score — and be particularly oblivious to the fact that it all seemed too good to be true.

Cheap psychoanalysis is a plague on political writing, and I wouldn’t descend to it. ( pause ). If I were to, however, I’d point out that Turnbull’s character cannot be separated from the strange fact of his childhood — that he was left, as a nine-year-old, not by his father, but by his mother.

The departure of a father is dead common and can be got over — Kevin Rudd and Barack Obama are goodish examples of that — but let’s face it, few children left by their mum develop the sort of core solidity that politics and supreme leadership demand*. Turnbull, I would say if I were indulging in this sort of schlock, has spent his life tap-dancing in ever greater feats of short-term public success in the deep hope that an extraordinary enough achievement will get her to come back.

Each success shows that it doesn’t so he moves onto the next thing. Each failure just shows that something else has to be tried. As the Jimmy Cagney character says in the film noir classic White Heat , before being annihilated by the cops machine guns “look at me ma — top of the world ma!”**

But who else does the Liberal Party have? Tony Abbott is the only prominent figure with a defined philosophy, an idea of what the Liberal Party could be as the representative of a distinct worldview — unfortunately it’s a worldview only shared by about 35% of the Oz population, and Abbott — who it has been medically established via MRI, has no soul — is seen as a dark and sinister individual, a Berowra Borgia, by a large section of the population.

Joe Hockey? Joe’s like the bloke who gets picked up by a buck’s party pub crawl and ends up at the lap dance club giving a speech about what a great bloke the groom is. Looking at the photos ten years later, everyone tries to remember who the hell he was.

Nick Minchin? Too old guard, too shadowy. Minchin looks like a black and white photo of himself. ***

Sophie Mirabella? She could probably lug herself up to stick the finger in the dyke of the party’s leaking opportunities. Indi? Go girl!

Bill Heffernan. If this occurs, I will vote and campaign for the Liberal Party full-time from now to the election.

Peter Costello: ha ha ha ha ha. Would the laughter ever cease? You can bet that even now, Peter Coleman is on the phone to him, expressing what he called, in the Oz Spectator , his “disappointment and irritation” in more forthright terms: “you useless lump of chicken meat! You’ll do whatever I frikkin’ tell you, just like you’ve done for the last twenty five years! I own your arse! Ohhhhhh me gout! Merlot boy, a jeroboam chop chop, or there’ll be one more Indian immigrant getting their ears boxed! Where was I! Ah yes Costello, listen you slime yourself back into Higgins and get that leadership, or else! I ran Quadrant for twenty years you think I can’t rustle up a CIA death squad!”

Y’see the problem. There’s no-one, no-one to lead the party. Yet Turnbull is the worst sort of person to leave in place across a likely election loss. And I have no real answer to this conundrum. It’s just something I enjoy thinking about at great length.

*Some might object that Obama was separated from his mother too. But that occurred in adolescence — Obama returned to Hawaii to live with his grandparents, a decision he appears to have made himself, while his mother continued anthropological fieldwork, after a particularly close childhood. Churchill is the rule-proving exception (neither of his parents had much time for him) — he was a lifelong alcoholic depressive, obsessed by violence and motivated in his active military service by an obvious death-wish, and in his command by a relish for killing brown people. By the 1930s his life looked like a chaotic failure. World War Two was the salvation of him, because it was the only moment in history when the outer world was more violent, deranged and insane than his inner one.

**A film incidentally written by Ivan Goff, possibly the most distinguished Australian to work in Hollywood, given that he wrote not only half a dozen classic films noirs, but also created Matlock and Charlie’s Angels. But did he get the Miles Franklin, even once?

***Minchin’s father, Denver, is the author of one of the great Australian verite thrillers The Money Movers, which deserves a re-issue — and a remake of the great film by Bruce Beresford. Which is really the only reason I mentioned Nick.

****Continuing the mummy theme, isn’t it interesting how Barnaby Joyce was leading the charge about someone bringing their toddler in for one senate division for two minutes? Remember when he was first elected? After one week he was making noises about the Senate voting electronically from their constituencies so they wouldn’t be separated from their families? In reality the littlest Senator was homesick and fwightened in the big city. So Senator Hansen-Young can’t have her child in the chamber ‘cos Barney can’t have his mummy with him.