Is it on? It looks like it could be on.

Either way, none of the options for Tony Abbott are now good. If Abbott manages to hold off this challenge, it won’t save him for very long — he’ll remain hostage to the next bad poll. A failed spill will split the party and demonstrate the extent of divisions within the Liberal backbench — leaving him, like Julia Gillard, with a substantial chunk of his own MPs publicly committed to another leader.

Both scenarios are unlikely to lead anywhere other than a spill down the track, and probably before the budget. The focus on the Liberals’ internal conflict, as it did with Labor, will cruel Abbott’s hopes of getting a clear run to get his message across to voters.

That’s why Monday’s Press Club address had to be an attempt to fundamentally reset the agenda, not a collection of recycled lines and electoral bribery. No amount of pleading by Abbott for the media and backbenchers to stop talking about him and start talking about how great his policies are will help.

In short, a lot of this is now out of Abbott’s hands. But given he’s the one responsible for creating this mess, he can hardly claim it’s unfair. Since the day he white-anted Malcolm Turnbull out of the Liberal leadership in 2009, he’s had the absolute loyalty of the party room, with Liberal MPs — whatever personal misgivings they might have had about him — willing him to succeed. That support is rapidly turning to ashes, and whether he’s prime minister for a few more days or a couple more months, responsibility for that rests entirely with him.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey