“Libs look to replace Turnbull with Rob” reported a News Ltd site this morning.

I got all excited. Rob who, I wondered. Was Mal Brough’s little brother Rob going to make his political debut, uniting the feuding families of the Liberal Party? “Survey says?!” Was Rob Lowe going to move from West Wing to the real thing, albeit in Canberra? Were Scottish heroes Rob Roy or Robert the Bruce going to be invoked to keep the morale of the party up? Was Robbie Deans going to be asked to try to translate his rugby genius into political coaching?

Of course, I was even more excited when I learnt by “Rob” they meant “Robb”, as in Andrew, a chap whose virtues of solidity, policy smarts and level-headedness some of us have been spruiking for a long time.

One hopes the News Ltd kiss of death doesn’t strike, though. It was Peter Costello last year, trumpeted enthusiastically by the Murdoch press. After an extended tease, he chucked it in and is now slowly restoring his credibility, as a sort of political sideline commentator (“down to Sideline Eye Peter Costello — Pete, mate, you’re up close to the action, did you feel that HUUUUGE hit Ruddy just put on Malcolm?”)

Then, just a few short weeks ago, it was Tony Abbott, getting acres of coverage from News Ltd, until he disgraced himself by suggesting it might be a good idea for the party to just lie back and vote for the CPRS.

Now it’s Andrew Robb’s turn, and in the event that Robb – who is a conservative but whose primary quality is common sense — somehow blots his copybook with News Ltd, presumably Bronwyn Bishop, the Liberal Party’s very own Davros, will start fancying her chances. Joe Hockey, displaying a sudden attack of intelligence, apparently doesn’t want the job. Then again Joe has been off climbing Mt Kilimanjaro with the Prime Minister’s wife and, with all due respect to Joe, to whom I’ve warmed somewhat of late, Helen Coonan managed to act in his job with no-nonsense competence. Maybe the Liberals’ other Eastern Suburbs member might start polishing her resume too.

It’s all a bit like the ‘80s isn’t it? The first Howard leadership, when Andrew Peacock, John Elliott, Joh Bjelke-Petersen and pretty much anyone else with a passing interest in politics was mooted as a possible leader. Or like Labor earlier this decade, when Bob Carr, Peter Beattie and any Labor premier who could trounce a hopelessly inept Liberal Opposition were considered a goer to “move to Canberra”.

Good luck to any Liberal MPs — and party sources say there’s only a tiny number and they’re not taken seriously – who think they can knock off Turnbull and install Robb, Abbott, Mal (or Rob) Brough, or anyone else. Turnbull never gave up anything without a fight and in fact appears to prefer fighting to pretty much anything else. And he knows his party has a bad record of removing leaders who don’t want to go. Turnbull might have other flaws, but lack of ticker ain’t one of them.

But after Monday night’s Australian Story, there could be a solution for everyone. One of the most interesting aspects of that program — apart from Tony Barry having to check the meaning of “concocted”, and the ever-so-faintly creepy moment of Turnbull touching the cairn where his father is buried – is the clear impression it’s Lucy Turnbull, not Chris Kenny, who is Turnbull’s chief of staff. Lucy, having achieved the top political job in her chosen realm of Sydney council politics, has more political experience, and a longer Liberal Party lineage, than her husband. She also appears to be at a loose end. One assumes Thérèse Rein doesn’t hang around her husband’s office asking him to run speech drafts by her, given she has a business to run. Lucy, having been inordinately successful in business, would appear to be available to help out in a more formal way.

The solution is simple. Lucy replaces Malcolm in Wentworth and she seizes the leadership of the party. As with most political spouses with the exception of Janette Howard, the instinctive reaction of most Australians will be that they far prefer her to her husband.

On current form it might be the closest Malcolm gets to the Prime Ministership.

Peter Fray

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