That article shows the Liberal right are rattled. Tony Abbott is a barrier to the prospect of a Coalition government next year, but he is the most consistent rightwinger (if Abbott fell under a bus they would have to swing behind Kevin Andrews, and nobody wants that). If Abbott were not leader, the Coalition could plan for government more securely than it can at the moment, and present a mature and confident agenda to the people at the next election. As it stands, all Coalition resources are consumed with organising the next stunt, which might be all very well for an episode of dirtgirlworld but not for an alternative government. The Coalition under Abbott treat policy as an afterthought, so that Coalition frontbenchers and even senior business leaders sound like dills when they have nothing with which to press their advantage but half-baked talking points. That's why Liberal polling is not "a consistent pattern" but a mirage.
Stunts are all very well, but there must be an agenda behind them or they will have no lasting effect in terms of voting intentions. This is the lesson that Howard taught in 1995-96, but which Abbott has not learned; Howard could pull a stunt as well as anyone but he knew they were nothing without a consistent and substantial idea of what the Coalition would do in office.
The right were happy to keep the Coalition out of office indefinitely for the sake of purity. The fact that Abbott did well at the 2010 election surprised them as much as anyone else. The main reason for this is because Labor - and Kevin Rudd in particular - frittered away the goodwill their public gave them in 2007. The Liberals only do well when, and because, two things happen:
- Labor (not just the government, but unelected apparatchiks who provide little assistance but much distraction) do badly; and/or
- The government does something substantial and important, but which is ignored by easily distracted journalists.
Those moments of political reflux that cripple Abbott (and which have been happening increasingly frequently) cannot be explained by sad sacks like this or that who insist that Labor is bound for inevitable decline because people don't join unions or whatever. Australia can't be sustained on what little Abbott offers up, and Abbott's evanescent polling success cannot be seriously interpreted as though it can or will or must.
As for the Liberal right, their position is interesting: they got where they are by being rightwing but they can go no further by continuing on the same path:
- If Abbott had been just a little open to the NBN and the possibility of even considering some sort of limited emissions trading scheme (say, based on soil carbon for farmers or CCS boondoggles), he'd be Prime Minister now.
- The independents who stand between Abbott (and hangers-on like Switzer) and government - all conservative blokes - are just as determined to keep Tony Abbott out of office as any rusted-on rank-and-file trade unionist.
Now that we have dealt with the big issues, let us listen as with fresh ears to the echoes of the Tom-Tom. He doesn't start at all well:
What is it about Malcolm Turnbull that enraptures so many people?"Climate enthusiast"! How on earth do you expect the guy to do any sensible analysis when he starts with silly descriptors like that? Does Switzer's penchant for turning conditioned air into poison gas make him an "oxygen enthusiast"? As for "gay marriage advocate", this is simply wrong. Like any good conservative, Switzer is puzzled by the future and bewildered by the present, but only the past is certain enough for him to get a grip on.
At swanky dinner parties across town, you can be sure eyes will light up at the mere mention of the climate enthusiast, gay marriage advocate and former republican activist ...
Take last week's Q & A ...Oh, please - this pointy-headed academic seriously believes that a taxpayer-funded television program is a window into the soul of the nation.
... a panellist held up a placard which proclaimed "MALCOLM for PM" and implored her fellow guest to challenge Tony Abbott. With that, the studio audience burst into wild applause.You'll notice that Q & A guests such as Sophie Mirabella or Christopher Pyne don't inspire the same reaction. Considered advice from Tom-Tom helped put Brendan Nelson where he is today, and at the time even committed Liberals couldn't quite come at "BRENDAN for PM" signs in public; so let's have a good look at history as Tom-Tom would have us do.
But an account of Turnbull's record as opposition leader three years ago helps explain why ordinary Australians shrug their shoulders with a profound lack of interest. All that he displayed as leader was an ignorance of his party's core beliefs, a detachment from a clear majority of the electorate, and his own arrogance and inexperience.In 1992, the same indictment
Go back to those dark days of 2009 ... The Liberals lost their credentials as economic managers. And the leader's personal disapproval rating skyrocketed.Leaving aside the polldust, the Liberals have not - in three years, and despite losing an election in the meantime - recovered economic credibility. Turnbull's disapproval as leader is about where Howard's was in the 1980s ad it's where Abbott's is now. Live by the polls, die by them - but conservatism is all about timeless truths, right? That, and light-entertainment shows on commercial television:
And yet Turnbull looked like one of those doctors in Grey's Anatomy who had observed the ailment but misdiagnosed it.Grey's Anatomy has the same name as a medical textbook, which is why Tom-Tom has assumed that the show has the same authority as the textbook. Easy mistake to make, but no less a mistake for that.
Turnbull's most significant misdiagnosis was to stand against the economic policies of Rudd and Swan that pumped public money into the Australian economy as the global financial crisis was sucking money from it. He assumed that cost overruns on a school hall here or something else there was too trivial to worry about, whereas gruntback radio and Tony Abbott thought this kind of stuff was the main game. When Tom-Tom says:
Turnbull had failed to grasp that the key to successful opposition is to make and win arguments.Sweating the small stuff and overlooking the forest/trees distinction is the key to staying in opposition, as Abbott is showing, not the key to moving from opposition to government. Tom-Tom makes this mistake in his key attack on Turnbull's legacy:
He insisted that failure to support Labor's emissions trading scheme would destroy the Coalition.If Turnbull had survived as leader and Rudd had dropped the ETS, Turnbull would have gained the reputation for political nous that happened to fall on Abbott. The issue of government imposing an economic disincentive to carbon emissions can't be politicked away, and Tom-Tom is merely being sentimental in refusing to admit defeat.
Journalists admired him for his courage and conviction in trying to stare down the party's sceptics. But it was a foolish and dangerous tactic, one that would be his undoing, and reveal his lack of political nous once and for all.
Turnbull's position on climate change within the Liberal Party today is similar to that of Winston Churchill in British politics during the 1930s. The left of politics, from the mildest social democrat to the most radical communist, was opposed to Hitler. The right of politics was ambivalent at best, resenting the prospect of another costly war and its various appalling costs; the far right at the time included people who actually admired Hitler, crediting him for economic management and overlooking his human rights abuses. Churchill's economic management reputation wasn't great either, having been Chancellor of the Exchequer before and during the Great Depression. It was a lonely place to be, but Churchill stuck to his guns and won Conservatives over once the evidence in favour of his position could no longer be brushed aside.
Tom-Tom mocks Turnbull in his political loneliness and his out-of-step beliefs in similar childish terms to the mocking of Churchill by 1930s UK Conservatives. It's a classic dilemma of party politics that a successful party (that is, a party that can win elections and hold government, not just one that can bang away from opposition and attract journalists to its stunts) must be able both to hold its base and appeal to those beyond its base. I am aware of recent evidence from the United States which says that the base is more important than "the sensible centre", but for a range of reasons (about which, more later) that evidence does not translate to the Australian experience as well as those to blame for Tom-Tom might hope.
Such a strategy might resonate with global warmists who, in any case, won't vote for the party of Menzies.The party of Menzies is nowhere in evidence:
- Menzies put Australian immigration officials in strife-torn areas and facilitated the migration of hundreds of thousands of people by passenger liner and aeroplane to Australia.
- Menzies recognised that the bounty from mining was to be invested in tertiary education and skills training.
- Menzies knew that plutocrats were to be kept at a distance and were not to be seen to be influencing, let alone directing, policy outcomes to the extent that Rinehart and Palmer do.
- Menzies was not a scientist, but he would have interrogated someone like Monckton to the point where his vaudeville act would have been a national laughing-stock.
- Robert Menzies would never have been caught dead in a pair of sluggos.
But it is self-evidently not in tune with middle Australia, where the centre of political gravity is decidedly to the right of your typical Q&A audience on a cold winter's night. To slam Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt might appeal to trendies in Glebe and Newtown, but it alienates your own people in the suburbs.This bundle of begged questions and straw men is at the very heart of Tom-Tom's argument:
- Bolt and Jones aren't middle Australia. Nobody who voted Coalition up to 2004, but who has voted Labor since 2007, buys what those characters are selling.
- Glebe and Newtown aren't happy hunting grounds for the Liberals either. Nobody pretends they are. It's stupid even pretending that the Liberal Party led by Malcolm Turnbull would want to devote time and effort seeking votes there.
- Depends what you mean by "slam[ming] Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt". Telling them that making the Clarence River flow westward rather than east is silly? Telling them that their jihad against any measures to abate climate change are against the national interest? Telling them that Aborigines can't define who Aborigines are? Telling them that it isn't "illegal" for people fleeing persecution to seek asylum here? Telling them that what attracts people to their business, and what's in the national interest - is that "slamming" them, let's have more of it. People need good government more than they need gibberers on the radio or TV.
- Depends also what you mean by "your own people". If you have to put a few noses out of joint in safe seats on Sydney's North Shore to secure the extra votes that will win a seat in Melbourne, are you prepared to do it? Not if you're Tony Abbott or Tom-Tom, you don't. This is another reason why the polling numbers need not be so scary - I predict Abbott will make Liberal seats safer and will alienate Liberal voters in marginal seats, so that Labor picks up a few seats to win majority government.
Turnbull ran to the left of his party, even publicly denouncing his colleagues. Liberal Party members had been upset for months, angered by what they saw as their leader falling over himself to accommodate Labor at every turn. But discontent had also spread into the federal parliamentary party. A rebellion on his front and backbenches presaged his downfall.Turnbull stayed where he had been as John Howard's Environment Minister. Howard took an ETS to the 2007 election. He didn't run anywhere, it was Minchin and Abbott and gutless little hangers-on like Tom-Tom or Tony Smith who ran to the media and began backgrounding them. If the right wing wanted to trash the Howard legacy in order to save it, that was up to them; let's not be confused about who did the running.
By making the case against Kevin Rudd's ETS, and then Julia Gillard's carbon tax, Liberals have won back key segments of working and lower-middle class families who are mortgaged to the hilt. These pragmatic and patriotic voters, based in Sydney's outer west and Queensland's sun-belt seats, are primarily motivated by hip-pocket issues.Kevin Rudd referred to them as "folks" and talked about them, then delivered bugger-all for them. They voted against a government that flinched; they did not vote for a restoration of a government that was "dead, buried, cremated" as Tom-Tom and his pals would have you imagine. Abbott is offering no to this and no to that and bugger-all of everything else, which is why his polling numbers can't hold up: not in outer Sydney, not in Queensland, not anywhere but the already safe Liberal seats.
For these folks ...
Abbott is like one of those CEOs who pumps up the share price and makes off with the loot at a time of his choosing; only now is it becoming clear to everyone but Tom-Tom that he does not set the timing, and that there is no payoff for any shareholder other than himself.
Labor's policy to increase energy prices when our trade competitors refuse to decarbonise their economies is not in the national interest.If you regard the United States as Australia's only "trade competitor", an understandable bit of tunnel-vision from an academic at the US Studies Centre, this is a valid point. If not, then it isn't. I guess that's slamming Tom-Tom - but reality isn't my fault, I am just pointing it out.
Nor is it a vote winner, especially during a global financial crisis.Tom-Tom was offered one of the safest Liberal seats in the country on a platter, and
Turnbull demonstrated precious little evidence of competence. Recall the Godwin Grech scandal: here he was calling for the treasurer and prime minister to resign on the basis of what turned out to be a concocted email produced by an eccentric bureaucrat.I recall that: Grech wasn't some lifelong friend of Turnbull's, it was Eric Abetz who set up his leader with that particular
If Abbott had shown such appalling judgment, the press gallery would have written him off.James Ashby and Kathy Jackson put the lie to that.
In the eyes of the media, however, Turnbull is the Teflon politician who is virtually immune to criticism.Refer again to the Peatling article, or anything written in the tech press. The media coverage that Turnbull gets now is about the same that Abbott got when he excreted Battlelines. One of the key lessons in politics that Tom-Tom and his owners fail to learn is the need for compliance with the What's Sauce For The Goose Is Sauce For The Gander Act, a law far more binding than any bill that might pass a fractious parliament.
In fairness to Turnbull ...Tom-Tom thinks that faint praise constitutes "fairness", a failing common to his compadres. It's just sad that Turnbull's breadth of knowledge can be understood by Tom-Tom only as digression.
The cold, hard reality, though, is that since he replaced Turnbull in late 2009, the conservative vote has dramatically increased.It went as far as it can go a couple of years ago, and no further: not far enough to get into government.
Moreover, since Gillard's controversial backflip 16 months ago, the Coalition has convincingly led Labor in the polls. The carbon tax continues to rile a lot of Australians.Polls count for nothing; governing is all and the fixed carbon price (soon to be replaced with an ETS) is on its way to becoming a non-issue. Abbott is not going to undo it, because it would be too expensive and there's more to governing this country than paying "compensation" to big companies. Besides, the guy is a piker and quite the backflipper himself.
It is also the main point of difference between Abbott and Turnbull.Turnbull voted against the government's carbon price, Tom-Tom - surely loyalty counts for something?
Abbott might be a boo-word in polite society, a shorthand for extremism, negativity and John Howard on steroids.Or, he might be the kind of thing that gets stuck to your shoe when you're walking down the street: not just unpleasant but unnecessary.
For any politician, the big danger is vanity and a belief in his own publicity.Oh, that's rich: take away Abbott's vanity and his publicity and there isn't much there, Tom-Tom. Not for those of us who aren't Tony Abbott.
... Turnbull's sense of entitlement to the Liberal leadership. But the obsessions of metropolitan sophisticates are of little interest in the parliamentary party and most parts of the nation.Whistling past the graveyard, my little friend.
What we have here is attack-as-defence. It would not be necessary to denounce Turnbull unless Abbott - and all that he stands for, the Dream of Howard Restoration - were under threat. The rightwing might be able to bunker down and wait for ever but the Liberal Party is a governing machine; a good win under Turnbull would beat another close-but-no-cigar result under Abbott. As it stands, Abbott's consistence favours nobody so well as Labor: he looks like the hinge upon which the loose and banging gate of this government will eventually pivot and click back into place.
To take a rightwing trope and fashion it as an Aussie boomerang, Switzer is one of those pointy-headed academics with no idea how the real world works, shuffling between Sydney Uni and Canberra with little care or thought for the rest of the country that he and his nanny-state compadres cannot believe they have been denied the right to govern, and govern in their own way. The irony is that Turnbull is big enough to overlook this bagatelle and offer Switzer a job, whereas Switzer has been sent out to do a dirty job on a man much better than he by people who are even less than this.
Tom Switzer does not understand Malcolm Turnbull either, and he is someone he has known and worked with for many years. After reading this, you have to wonder: what does Tom-Tom know? People who follow his advice come a-gutser, so why would you listen to him - unless it is to hear the growing drumbeat of rightwingers fearing that their ride is over, that after Ciobo and Coonan the Liberal right have moved from insurgency to decadence without any intervening period of achievement.