After a better, quieter day for the Prime Minister yesterday, today, without any apparent cause, momentum shifted. A Liberal leadership spill is now expected on Tuesday, when MPs return to Canberra for the first time in 2015. And Malcolm Turnbull has emerged the frontrunner for the job, even though he insists he’s not running for anything.
The problem that the Liberals, and Tony Abbott, now face is one of expectations. A failure to resolve the leadership issue on Tuesday — either through the lack of a contest or through the Prime Minister surviving one — will only delay the inevitable and delight Labor MPs, who just 18 months into a new government must be unable to believe their luck. The man who bested first Kevin Rudd, then Julia Gillard, then Kevin Rudd again with his remorseless aggression has imploded in a manner that makes Rudd’s first prime ministership look positively sedate.
The other problem with a failure to resolve the leadership issue next week is that the political stumbles, policy failures and uncertainty that have marked the last few months of the Abbott government have damaged the economy at the exact moment it needs to be gaining strength to deal with coming international pressures.
As the Reserve Bank has made clear this morning, the economy is expected to be materially weaker throughout 2015 than previously expected. A continuation of the status quo will only exacerbate this weakness.
As a political and media class, we all obsess over leadership spills, often to the fury of average voters. For once, this contest has very real implications for jobs and investment. The Liberals need to put an end to the uncertainty and get on with governing.