Malcolm Turnbull should obviously resign and go do something else with his life. It’s over. And it’s a measure of the times that between writing this and sending it to the Crikey bunker, Turnbull may well do so.
Your correspondent had always assumed that Turnbull was dead meat — he was fatally wounded by the Grech affair. Without that disaster calling into question his judgement, nous and skills, he might have been able to survive the ETS brouhaha.
But the two were a fatal quinella. The past six months resemble nothing so much as a trail of blood across the tundra, the wolf who chewed through his foot to get free of the trap, bleeding out beneath a winter sky.
Your correspondent picked it months ago, of course. While the dinosaur media was humming and haahing about Turnbull’s chances, let the record show that we noted: “Turnbull is dead”. The only mystery is why he lasted as long as he did.
So, if Mr Tony takes over, what is the strategy? Abbott may be delusional enough to believe he’s a contender, but those around him surely don’t. If he gets up, then the Liberal Party would have to consider a reversal of the longstanding “single shot” leadership, where you get one go at gold and that’s it.
They could instead all but acknowledge that 2010 is lost, and present an Abbott-Hockey or Abbott-Bishop (ohhhh godddd, we just got shot of the Costello gags) leadership as a five-year proposition — reconstructing the party, redefining liberalism and conservatism etc. A 2010 loss wouldn’t then count against Abbott, because he would set it up as pretty much what he wants — an opportunity to rebuild.
The only problem with that little strategy is that most of the electorate think that Abbott is a prick. He’s obviously the smartest, feistiest, best politicker around — but the Banton stuff, the teenage (non-) paternity, the RU486 sleaziness, the Pauline Hanson stitch-up, the excess aggressiveness he reserves for female opponents, they all ring alarm bells, especially in women voters.
He may well give Labor up to five seats extra. Indeed under an Abbott leadership, the coalition would be fighting for its life in a seat such as Higgins, and other previous heartlands. Unless Abbott could convince the party and its penumbra that he is rebuilding a genuine liberal-conservative coalition, then he would be taking the party along the same route as the US Republicans, which is, yeah, really an outfit to emulate.
Cleaving the Liberal party to conservatism would exile them from the metropolitan centre, and threaten to transform Mr Menzies grand ventre into a permanent minority party, its core support in rural areas, and seats with aged anglo populations, lower middle-class ressentiment etc. Gumboots and white shoes is what the party will be wearing when it kicks the bucket.
Could Abbott reunify the party from the right? Maybe, but he can’t or won’t refashion it politically culturally in the way that David Cameron has done with the UK Tories. Intellectually and in other ways, Abbott appears to be dominated by Christopher Pearson, the ex-Maoist celibate gay ultramontane Roman Catholic former editor of the Adelaide Review. Immensely intelligent, learned and effective in micropolitical intrigue, Pearson’s influence jerks the chain whenever Fido Abbott shows signs of wanting to range further across the fields (the smell of a dying wolf in his nostrils). I don’t mean Pearson’s standing behind Abbott, whispering in his ear — a la Double Indemnity he’s much closer than that.*
Thus, Abbott just can’t help himself — at the end of weeks of trying to remake himself as a nice guy you’d want at your barbecue, he’ll make some remark about Kevin Rudd being responsible for kids drowning in a leaky refugee boat, and suddenly the mad monk steps back out into the light.
That will never happen, for the tragedy of the modern Liberal party is that it is evenly split between people who believe deeply in absolutely nothing, and those with a concrete and explicit political cosmology that would be most appropriately illustrated by Hieronymous Bosch. At the moment, there’s no one in the front rank who gives the Australian people even the slightest sense that they are focused on the issues that really confront a 21st century nation, so their vote is reduced to the immovable third share of loyalists who would support them even if Hannibal Lecter and the future Mrs Edelsten were the leadership team.
They won’t do anything radical about it either — like, say, introduce a US primary style system, capable of throwing up a leader such as Petro Georgiou, politically loathed by a hardcore within, but an instant hit with the public were he to don the mantle.
They won’t, of course. The right will stay and stay and stay, hoping they can be in place when Kevin ’27 is caught with the proverbial live boy or dead netball team. God knows since I started typing they may have changed leaders twice. Strange things happen in the wilderness, with no shelter and only the howl of a dying animal for company.
* when Fred MacMurray, the insurance agent who has murdered Barbara Stanwyck’s husband for a huge payout (Double Indemnity), he’s eventually caught by his boss, Edward G Robinson. “You were looking for the bad guy all this time,” says MacMurray, “and there I was right across the desk from you.” “Closer than that,” says Robinson.
**on which grounds Joan Didion suggested that Californian civilisation was one in which fidelity to the King James Bible had been replaced by a literal interpretation of the plot of Double Indemnity.