When Malcolm Turnbull became Liberal Leader, I was one who promised that it would be a rollercoaster ride, but worth it. Over the past ten days the rollercoaster has been heading rapidly and with a decent tailwind behind it, downhill. But it might have reached the bottom and if it has, the slow climb up will begin.
This is politics Turnbull style, and it is exactly why the Liberal Party should keep him. When you hang out with Malcolm its always interesting — just as it was when you set sail for the day with Paul Keating. And because it is interesting, it is worth holding on, because there will be some brilliant wins against your opponent along the way.
The alternative in someone like Joe Hockey, is simply untenable. Hockey stands for nothing — he is simply a time serving careerist who’s only real claim to doing anything out of the ordinary was to sweat his way through an appalling 7.30 Report interview a decade ago when he could not explain the fundamental’s of the Howard government’s new tax system. Hockey is lazy and uninspiring — end of story.
Turnbull took a risk on the Ute gate affair and it backfired — so what? As he said himself last week his role and that of his colleagues in the Opposition is to take the game up to the government, not simply sit there politely and allow the Rudd government an easy ride.
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But the spectacular failure of Ute gate — well the Gallery said it was a failure and so therefore it is — could easily be wiped from memory by a piece of tactical brilliance on Turnbull’s part. Perhaps on the substantive issue of climate change or the economy? On the latter there is no one better placed to attack the Rudd government’s excessive zeal for government intervention than Turnbull. That is an intellectual debate and he can take Rudd on and match him.
The greatness in the political life does not come from those who are perpetually coloured grey. No, it is people like Winston Churchill whom history remembers. Churchill made many blunders — mistakes that make Turnbull’s Ute gate saga seem like getting caught putting a naughty extra spoonful of sugar in his coffee. Remember Gallipoli, and economic recklessness in the 1920s — both of which had Churchill’s colleagues saying of him that he was unstable and unsuitable?
And then in modern times there is Bill Clinton. Two years into his presidency, with health care reform plan that crashed and burned under his belt, and his party is thrashed in the 1994 mid-term elections.
Let’s not forget Keating himself. He spent the lead up to the 1993 election behind the eight ball, with the economy tanked after the recession he said we had to have. Keating’s tactics against Hewson were seriously high wire, including telling Hewson in the Parliament that if Hewson won the election, Labor would not block a GST in the Senate. Keating’s colleagues sitting behind him where collectively aghast.
The Liberal Party should stick with a man who is intellectually head and shoulders over the rest of them, and who, if given the chance could reshape the Party. Turnbull’s liberalism as opposed to conservatism is in sync with the times, whatever the conservatives might think. The Liberal Party needs a leader who is given his head and allowed to make mistakes, even big ones.
The reality for the Liberals is they were always highly unlikely to win the 2010 election and they should be using this time to modernize the Party and allow it to become again Robert Menzies’ walking down the middle of the road’ political force in Australia. Malcolm Turnbull is the one person who can do that for them, if only the Liberals can put away their knives for long enough.
Greg Barns ran the 1999 Republic Referendum campaign for Malcolm Turnbull.