There was a Roman Senator named Cato the Elder (no relation) who ended every speech he made, on any subject, with the phrase: "Carthago delenda est" (Carthage must be destroyed). Carthage was the main superpower rival to Rome at the time, and once the Romans finally got around to destroying it Rome became the dominant power in its region for hundreds of years.
For anyone who wants the Australian political system to be different to the way it is, this is the attitude that you have to take: Abbott must be destroyed. Abbott is the problem with our political system: not Gillard, not the independents or the Greens, and not even the dead-men-walking Slipper and Thomson.
Certainly, Liberal numbers men know this. Political parties appoint whips to ensure that MPs/Senators vote in line with their leader's wishes. The Deputy Liberal Whip in the House of Reps and the Liberal Senate Whip have each been rolled, a direct attack on the authority of the leader and a sign that real power in the Liberal Party is exercised by rightwing factional bosses, not the leader. That's why Abbott is not the solution to the Liberals' problem, but part of the problem itself.
Today of all days, Liberal powerbrokers with any sense for their party would hold off with the minor task of replacing Helen Kroger as Liberal Senate Whip. To delay would keep media focus on the government, its budget and attendant scandals, and Kroger could have stood down after the Budget. The fact that she has to be replaced now can only mean that the powerbrokers want Abbott to be seen to be dancing to their tune rather than the reverse.
Senators Cormann and Bernardi and non-members of Federal Parliament like Nick Minchin and David Clarke have usurped the role of the whips in the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party. Time was that Chris Pyne played a similar role for moderates, but there are two problems with this: a) moderate liberalism is essentially meaningless in the modern Liberal Party and b) Pyne is a bit too busy with Jamie right now to play intra-party games.
Every difference of opinion between Abbott and the factional bosses has been resolved in favour of the latter - every one. This was true of John Howard in the 1980s, but by the time he came back in 1995 he demanded, and got, the factional players to bend to his will. Once he did that Howard had the combination of goodwill and awe from the Liberal Party that a leader needs to achieve big things (like beating Paul Keating). Abbott is no Howard ad is not entitled to be taken at his word, but it suits Liberal factional leaders to use him as a merkin. Once the media realise that they will cover him differently.
When Abbott complains that Labor has "cooked the books" with the budget, it is part of a campaign to make the nation feel the way that Liberals feel - that they ran a good government that was swindled out of office by trickery. Part of this is imported tactics from the US Republicans and it will be fascinating to see what the Liberals learn from Mitt Romney's (ultimately unsuccessful) campaign this year.
Liberals are pleased that the polls are good but Abbott gets no credit for that. If they slip even slightly, Liberals will turn on him and he isn't big enough to demand that everyone pull in the same direction.
One of the reasons why Hawke and Keating did so well was that they messed with the heads of their opponents. Hawke had the measure of Peacock and '80s Howard. When Hewson outflanked him in economic policy, and without Keating by his side, he was finished. Keating got on top of Hewson, he toyed with Downer and he made Howard work and sweat for everything he got. Labor had the ability to mess with the Liberals' heads, and once they lost that ability they lost everything.
Howard had the measure of Beazley, Crean and (eventually) Latham. Rudd had his measure, never the reverse. Rudd had Nelson's measure too, but so did plenty of others: it was part of his charm.
Gillard can fend off Abbott, as her legislative and policy record demonstrates. Lawyers are taught that they have to work with whomever the other side puts up, and must maintain a veneer of professional cordiality with those against whom they engage in professional conflict. She doesn't realise that she doesn't have to just accept whomever the other side put up; she has to destroy whoever would lead the other side against her to take her job. She has to take it personally: there was a brief flash of that when she was annoyed at Abbott for accusing her of siding against Ashby's rights at work, but she can't only react.
Labor people can fret about their party's polling results, and whether or not this or that policy might be trimmed or reframed, but this will not bring about the change that all the "W(h)ither Labor?" witterers are seeking. What will bring about that change for Labor is for Abbott's gibbering critique to be invalidated, and that can only happen if he is denied the platform that he currently has.
A good budget tonight will be part of that, with grown-up economic and other policies outflanking the adolescent gibbering to which the Coalition is reduced when confronted with real policy debate that can't simply be flicked away. The slowly-building wider narrative that Abbott is going to cut social services and shovel money at billionaires in "compensation" is a good start, but what may eventually become the crush of a constrictor looks now like a swish of a feather boa. Time to ramp it up against Abbott.
Those who think the Liberals' problems will all be solved by a switch to Turnbull, Hockey, Brough or whomever else have to factor in the tightening factional grip over who gets admitted to the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party, let alone what they do there. Whether the title of "leader" is held by Abbott, or by any of the guys in the preceding sentence or whomever else you like, is only of interest to journalists and other dilettantes. The next Liberal Prime Minister will be the one who stands on the forecourt of Parliament House, picks up the likes of Cormann and Minchin (not just their delegates) by the ears and drop-kicks them into the lake. Anyone else is just a seat-warmer. Abbott has proven already that he can't and won't do the job; he has already failed, and any polls to the contrary can be safely ignored.
Labor need to develop the ability to mess with the Liberals' heads. Craig Emerson comes closest to this: he niggles the Liberals and can outflank them on economic policy, but talking points hold him back; he should be liberated from the lines in order to land some telling blows. Greg Combet has flashes of it when he's particularly irritated but this happens all too rarely. Albanese is not quite dormant but he is past his most intense. Conroy and Shorten can do it but they'd rather an internal Labor stoush any day. Gillard has to be both Prime Ministerially above-the-fray and, as part of the sexism that hasn't been worked out of her role yet, has to be whiter-than-white Calpurnia-style. Swan made a start with the billionaires but he hasn't really chained the Liberals to them; again, he's a factional player and despite a long career in politics he hasn't got any Liberal scalps to speak of.
Labor people need to demonstrate mastery over the Coalition. There is no better demonstration of dominance than to see someone like Helen Kroger, recently a major player in Melbourne, limping and bleeding at the hands of lesser operators like Fifield and Ryan. Complaining, like Gillard does, won't do it; only shirtfronting them, publicly revealing that the Coalition don't know what they're talking about and can't do a better job than Labor, will get the desired effect.
It's often said that Tony Abbott is Labor's greatest asset, but he isn't. Labor's best assets have to come from within its ranks or there is no point voting for it, no point joining it or in any way supporting them. The Australian economy is doing better than most but not as well as it could; and Abbott's self-seeking cloud of FUD is a depressant on the economy like this country has never seen. Lift that cloud and watch the country come to life.
This isn't something you can delegate. If Whitlam had been brought down by Snedden, or any Liberal other than Fraser, then Fraser would never have been PM. If Hawke had dispatched Hewson as he had his two more politically formidable predecessors, or had Dawkins/Beazley/someone else stepped up and done so, Keating might never have become PM. A Prime Minister who can see Rudd off twice - more than John Howard could ever do - lacks neither the wit nor the courage necessary to deal with The Situation. Abbott fans know it in their bones and dread the possibility that this - and they - might be exposed.
A Prime Minister who sets about wiping Abbott off the political map will not only have the power to get things done but be seen to get them done, and get credit for them, and lift the polls against a demoralised opposition that would not be able to set the agenda as it does today. The fact that the Coalition agenda consists almost entirely of Craig Thomson (blowback ensures they can't talk about Slipper) is a testament to Abbott and an indictment upon the rest of his party.
Gillard has to step up, otherwise, all the hard work of government becomes hostage to dreadful, Walkley-winning shite like this, over and over again; people will do something desperate like voting for Abbott just to make it stop. If Gillard pole-axes Abbott all the comments about her fashion sense disappear: she could wear whatever the hell she likes, and what's more she'd be copied. Polls, challenges, all that crap goes by the board once Abbott is removed from the equation. The only way to change the game is to make voting for Abbott a non-option, persuading even people who hate Gillard that the Coalition would be worse, rather than the benefit of the doubt it gets (and relies upon) now: Abbott delenda est.