What’s happening in the Liberal Party is an attempted right-wing putsch by people — politicians, party officials and party members — who strangely found an ETS much easier to live with when the Liberal Party was ruled by the conservative John Howard.

Older people, who think the certainties of the Howard years can be magically restored.

Several commentators have suggested Malcolm Turnbull has suffered the same fate as Meg Lees (albeit rather more quickly than the demise of the Senate Schoolma’am, which took months). But there’s one crucial difference. Turnbull is implementing the policy the Coalition took to the last election, the one to which John Howard committed his Coalition, not just his party, but his Coalition, and not via some sneaky process, but publicly, and in the joint partyroom, and through Cabinet.

And Kevin Rudd’s CPRS, with its generous handouts to big polluters and its ineffectiveness in actually reducing carbon emissions, is as near as dammit to what John Howard would have lumbered us with.

So where was the Liberal membership when all that was going on? Weren’t they paying attention when John Howard shook Peter Shergold’s hand and thanked him for his report, or when Howard eagerly declared at his debate with Kevin Rudd that he would be introducing “the world’s most comprehensive emissions trading scheme”? Why weren’t they whipped into a frenzy by Alan Jones three years ago?

And where were Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott? Liberal Party members might have had an excuse for not paying attention, but Minchin and Abbott were right there in the Cabinet room. In fact, until about five minutes ago, Abbott was all for passing the CPRS.

Perhaps Turnbull’s strategy is to wait a day or two, by which time Abbott will have changed his mind yet again and backed the CPRS deal.

And for that matter, where were Minchin and Abbott on Wednesday, at 1pm, when Turnbull invited his party to vote on a leadership spill? Abbott said at his press conference yesterday, where he was more insipid and uninspiring than Kevin Andrews the day before, that he was “too shellshocked” by the week’s events to act earlier.

‘Shellshocked.’ Hell, Peter Costello never even used that excuse.

What in fact happened was that the conservatives were so staggeringly inept that their plan to knock off their leader never got out of the starting blocks because Turnbull played the oldest trick in the book, bringing on the spill before they were ready. Now Tony Abbott is hoping that, with a few more days to get the numbers together, they can succeed where this week they so miserably failed. But this week they wouldn’t have faced Joe Hockey, who will almost certainly step up if Turnbull resigns next week.

Sorry Tony, this week was your shot, mate, and, ‘shellshocked’ or not, you blew it.

This is in two ways a generational battle for the Liberal Party.

The Liberal base, as they say in Adland, ‘skews old;. Really old. The Liberal base is essentially small businessmen and woman and a blue-rinse tribe of over-50 — often over-60 — wealthy suburbanites and self-funded retirees. It’s no wonder that the conspiracy theories of Alan Jones, the Dan Brown of Australian radio, have sent many of them into a frenzy  — it’’s the same geriatric audience as the Liberal Party. They are the ones who have assailed Liberal Party phones, fax machines and email in-boxes this week.

And they are people who don’t believe in climate change and won’t live to see its more substantial effects even if they do.

They are necessary but not sufficient for the conservative side of politics to be competitive electorally. Nowhere near sufficient. An electoral strategy to appeal to the base will achieve just that — a base vote.

It’s also a generational battle within Parliamentary ranks. Both sides have their older and younger members. Wilson Tuckey might be 74 but Petro Georgiou is 62. For every Simon Birmingham (35, disgustingly young) there’s a Matthias Cormann, 39. But the conservatives and denialists have an average age of 54, whereas the moderates and advocates of climate change action average just under 46.

It’s a generational split that mirrors that of the community itself, in which climate change denialism tends to be the fetish of older people.

The conservatives are also led by the Howard stalwarts, Abbott and Minchin and Abetz.

The Liberals could have avoided this immensely damaging split, and relatively easily. John Howard read the electoral signs and began moving belatedly on climate change in his last term. If he had moved more quickly, and legislated an ETS using his personal dominance of the party to keep the denialists at bay, Australia would have an ETS much like the one it will end up with from Labor, without the Liberal Party having torn itself apart and consumed two leaders and counting over it.

Howard was an enormously successful leader. He gave the party four terms in Government, a record only bettered by Menzies. But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Liberals are now reaping what he sowed through all those years of refusing to accept climate change.