It’s a long way from page one to page four of The Australian. On page one today, Malcolm Turnbull is clawing back support according to Dennis Shanahan, now rightfully restored to his position of Newspoll interpreter. Turnbull had reversed some of the massive dissatisfaction numbers generated by the l’affair d’email. There’d even be a tiny pickup in the Coalition’s 2PP numbers. In the intervening three pages, however, Malcolm contracted something very nasty. By page four, his leadership was, said the same writer, “terminal“.
Flipping heck — those sorts of turnarounds used to occur over a couple of days in The Oz. Shows you how much the media cycle is accelerating that they’re now happening in the same edition.
This isn’t the first time that improvements in Malcolm Turnbull’s Newspoll ratings have been interpreted as meaning he’s in serious trouble, in columns that have a tone of “here’s one we prepared earlier” to them. The occasion today was a specific Newspoll question on alternative leaders, including Brendan Nelson, Julie Bishop, Peter Costello, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. Turnbull came third behind Costello, whose repeated declarations that he’s leaving only make him more appealing, and Hockey. Hockey in particular did much better with women, younger voters and Labor voters.
Which, um, is most people.
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And yes, OK, it’s not just The Oz — Essential Research asked if people thought the Liberals should get a new leader and most thought they should. Even a third of Coalition voters.
At least Turnbull beat Abbott. The latter only mustered 10% in Newspoll. Those numbers suggest older voters and men dislike Abbott more.
Which should put paid to the bizarre boosterism of Abbott in some sections of the media. Rather than offering policies and analysis in his shadow portfolio — which, being Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, some may regard as 1) faintly important and 2) loaded with opportunities to attack the Government — Abbott has been promoting his forthcoming book lately. There’s something odd about Liberals writing books.
Unlike Labor, whose ranks contain a number of authors who managed to publish perfectly acceptable philosophical doodlings without destabilising their leaders, Liberal authors seem incapable of producing a tome that isn’t seen either as a leadership manifesto or somehow otherwise problematic for their leader. Abbott’s effort is therefore being seen as coat-trailing for the leadership, if not now, then after the next election, which Liberals now seem to have accepted they’ll lose.
Still more Liberal navel-gazing, as if there hasn’t been enough of that in the last 20 months.
Abbott’s conservative instincts, however, have betrayed him. In the middle of the worst economic crisis for six decades, at a time when we continue to hover on the brink of recession, what is Tony Abbott’s key policy issue? He wants to go back to the days of private detectives bursting in on couples in flagrante delicto.
You can bet that’s a BBQ stopper. Right across Australia, voters are nodding their heads and agreeing yep, I never thought about it until now, but no-fault divorce is the most critical issue facing the country. Sod the economy and climate change.
This isn’t a debate the Liberal Party needs to waste time on. Part of the reason is that some people can’t help themselves. Look no further than the response of the house organ, which today editorialised at the usual inordinate length and pomposity on the subject and immediately railed against “old-fashioned feminists”. But while Abbott, in the famous manner of Rex Mossop and male genitalia, insists he doesn’t want his views “rammed down anyone’s throat”, it’s a bad look for anyone ostensibly committed to less regulation and smaller government to insist that there should be greater state interference in people’s lives, which is what such proposals amount to.
It also reflects the constant conservative delusion that governments can successfully determine what people do privately. You’d have thought The Australian, which correctly attacks that sort of nanny-state thinking elsewhere, would have shown some consistency on that score.
At least the Liberals are getting on with some real policy work rather than stuffing about with Tony Abbott’s white picket fence delusions. If done seriously, Helen Coonan’s faux-ERC process, in which the fruits of the party’s long policy review process are being put through a costings wringer, is the smartest thing the Opposition has done for a while. For all the discussion of the need to use Opposition to work out what you really believe in and to develop good policies, sitting around coming up with good ideas isn’t policy development.
That starts when you have to work out what they cost and how you’d implement them, and determine which ideas you want to keep and which you can’t afford, thereby establishing what your practical priorities are and what you’re willing to give up for them. It also means shadow ministers have to think seriously about what they want to do in their portfolios. A trial Expenditure Review Committee is unglamorous and boring but its discipline and the thinking it will require shows the Coalition is starting to learn from what Labor did right in Opposition. It’s better than any number of books from limelight-deprived conservatives.
And here’s a tip, which I feel confident making since I got Brendan Nelson’s demise right almost to the week last year. Malcolm Turnbull won’t make another glaring error like the email business. He’ll learn, and he’ll be more careful, and he’ll stay leader until the next election. The Liberal Party still hasn’t got the gumption to kill its leaders and Turnbull won’t give it up without a fight. His response to Kerry Packer’s death threat shows what sort of fight it would be.
But that’s assuming Godwin Grech and the AFP investigation don’t yet finish him off in a way no amount of artificial media speculation can.