06 April 2010

What goes with Turnbull

Plenty has been written and said (and there's more yet to come) about how Turnbull did this and didn't do that, but what follows here is what could have happened had Turnbull stayed in politics.

Malcolm Turnbull's only hope of becoming Prime Minister was to build a base, to go through the dull grind of meeting small groups in obscure places to convince them to get active within the Liberal Party to support the two things he represented:

  • A concern for the environment and a willingness to spend money to address environmental concerns. Yes, he was careful to the point where he came out with that appalling series of compromises over the ETS. But let's go with him out on a limb, in Liberal Party terms, and what might we see: a post-agricultural vision for Australia, a way of appreciating our country for what it is and what it might be rather than just assessing how much we might extract from it if those bastards in Canberra gave us a subsidy. You could even get all giddy and say that this leads you to a better understanding of Aborigines and Aboriginal societies and cultures, and from there you can start talking about a republic ... but let's not;

  • A more liberal way of governing, whereby people got the services they expect from government without it intruding into their lives too much. It could have been possible to represent civil liberties as something other than anachronisms, and to encourage people to define and embrace them as first steps toward a republic we deserve ... sorry.

Turnbull's idea of building a base was to cultivate highly-placed sponsors who could lift him upwards, rather than to rally the mob to take on those already entrenched. It's unfair to project one's own hopes and wishes, but when there's the prospect of some real leadership that's just what happens, the odd burnout on the road to the sunlit uplands.

The longer he stayed in politics after being ditched (by a single vote!), the more likely it seemed that Turnbull would, like Menzies, use his wit and resources to build that base with a view to catching Labor at a moment of weakness and overreach. Not so, and understandable: the prospect of spending more time than is absolutely necessary with the clowns and jerks who make up the "National Right" of the Liberal Party is genuinely appalling, and the promises of this (Big!) country gleams through the arch like an untravelled world to Turnbull and his wife. Good luck to them both.

The departure of Malcolm Turnbull is another of those factors that the journosphere will insist is good for Tony Abbott, and indeed he does now have a freer hand than he did when Mr 41 Votes was still a potent threat. In reality it will make bugger-all difference and you can bet that Abbott will blow what little opportunity it presents to him. Abbott has seen off both Turnbull and Costello, both better men than he; this didn't do Brendan Nelson or Minchin any good and it won't help Abbott.

This is not to say that Labor is in for some sort of thousand-year reich, and it is certainly not true that the next Liberal government will be a slightly more polished version of the shambles that Abbott has decided is good enough for the likes of us. It places a lot of the onus on Joe Hockey to decide what a liberal government might mean, and to encourage people to vote and act in other ways to bring it about; probably more than Joe can bear.

Like Bonnie Prince Charlie, Malcolm Turnbull was unworthy of - and incapable of realising - the hopes projected onto him. Realising those hopes will not come soon or easily, and what will happen along the way, is the stuff of both pathos and bathos ...


  1. derrida derider7/4/10 2:40 pm

    I think Turnbull's departure is a catastrophe for the Liberal Party.

    Firstly, there goes an option to capture a lot of political space which is currently unexploited by either party - a market-oriented but socially liberal party.

    Secondly, there is now nothing that can stop the Libs trekking off into the far-right political wilderness. It will happen, and Joe Hockey is far too lightweight a figure (sic) to stop it. They'll be out of power for a generation.

  2. Couldn't agree more on the first two paragraphs dd, but I always thought that the rise of Abbott meant the right should have a free hand until they wore themselves out. The next Liberal government won't be as socially liberal as I would like as it could have been under Turnbull, and nor can be expect it anytime soon.