Some people might say my life is in a rut,This might seem like Malcolm Turnbull is playing the sorts of mindgames with Abbott that Kevin Rudd played with Julia Gillard, undermining her leadership and positioning the former leader to challenge the incumbent. Turnbull makes the odd jab now and then and retreats into teamwork; Rudd did the reverse, with his occasional exhibitions of teamwork a contrast to his white-anting. Rudd put his party on notice that it will have to change; Turnbull doesn't need to.
But I'm quite happy with what I got
People might say that I should strive for more,
But I'm so happy I can't see the point ...
- The Jam Going underground
... What you see is what you getMalcolm Turnbull led the Liberal Party in 2008-09 when it was still basically John Howard's party. Howard had substantially remade the party organisation in 1995-96, drawing on a lifetime's experience within the organisation but also having learned the hard way how it can get in the leader's way if left to its own devices. By 2008 the Party had accepted the reality of the 2007 defeat and warily trusted Turnbull to show what a post-Howard future might look like.
You've made your bed, you better lie in it
You choose your leaders and place your trust
As their lies wash you down and their promises rust ...
Turnbull failed in that task, having alarmed old Howard-era stagers within the organisational and the parliamentary wings of the party to the point where Eric Abetz could pull the Grech trick on him and negate any sort of Turnbull legacy. By 2009 the Howard-era stagers could assert that the best option for the Liberal Party was to resurrect the Howard government as far as possible, an assertion impossible to rebut effectively, which explains the move to Abbott.
If Turnbull becomes leader before the election, he faces the hapless Julie Bishop as deputy and a front bench full of time-servers and time-wasters (I mean, no health or education policy? What the ...?), and most candidates pretty much in place. He would inherit a party generally that is geared up to maximise Abbott's strengths (making these up where necessary) and which tries to compensate for his weaknesses. Turnbull's strengths and weaknesses are different to those of Abbott. People whom Turnbull trusts to get the job done are different to the people Abbott trusts to get the job done, partly but not wholly because of different perceptions about the nature of the job to be done.
Turnbull can't be certain that he would beat Rudd, even if he had his ideal party structure and personnel in place. It is highly unlikely that Abbott people would vacate the field so comprehensively and with the party's interests uppermost as happened within Labor, as Gillard and her supporters did once Rudd had been re-elected. Abbott's people, the Liberal Right, are insurgents by nature; they used to sniping at moderates and calling for action, but when they have full scope to act as they wish they can't handle actual policy development.
All that changes after an election loss. Turnbull can remake the party in his own image, in terms of personnel and structure. Brian Loughnane and Peta Credlin would be the first out the door, and if they aren't safe who would be? Turnbull can learn how intransigence can work both for an against you as an opposition, something Abbott has not yet learned (and if he has, it's too late; there is no policy to fill the vacuum left by no, no, no). He can let Rudd burn himself out. He can build the policies that differentiate the Coalition from Labor in appealing ways. None of that is possible if he jumps too soon.
The general consensus on Turnbull in 2009 is that he wasn't a team player (the Liberal Right don't accept anyone as a team player unless they are part of their team). By being a loyal member of Team Abbott 2010-13, by denying the kingly crown, he negates that slur. He can talk about collegiate decision-making under Abbott because he has earned the right through exhibiting loyalty.
Standing by a half-witted compromise of a NBN policy might be an appalling betrayal to some outside the Liberal Party, but internally (where ICT people are few and powerless) it racks up brownie points. By cutting Abbott off from a possible election win, he reinforces that negative image - and if he fails against Rudd, he's finished. Better all round for Abbott to be finished.
Turnbull would want as much scope for action as possible as leader, more than he had in 2008-09; he would want to own that "top table" rather than merely sit at it (Turnbull's "top table" image is born of the private school/university college dining hall, and the boardroom; he needs better imagery if he's going to be more demotic. He needs an authentic version of Rudd's hokey Queenslandisms). If he thrusts himself forward before the election he is only borrowing the party of the Howard legacy, including the glowering Minchin.
After an election loss Minchin and his acolytes would be exposed and discredited, replaced by a phalanx of disgruntled former staffers who see a frontbench role (government or opposition) as the next step in their careers. Turnbull's challenge is to make himself the focus of their career aspirations, in such a way that isn't blatantly disloyal to Abbott.
The Minchin Right have been active in replacing Liberals with their own, which will make life harder for Turnbull and for any other Liberal who wants to present an image to the public other than that of drooling Tea Party imbeciles. Do you want to lead a party like that, watching your back for three years?
It's a neat idea that Turnbull and Rudd, the most popular choices as leader of their respective parties, will both take over by election time. Labor called time on Gillard because they thought she couldn't turn her unpopularity around. When it comes to Abbott's unpopularity, the Liberal attitude is: what unpopularity? Polls say Abbott is unpopular, but committed Liberals genuinely can't see why. Polls say Abbott is unpopular among women, but committed Liberals think Margie-and-the-girls have fixed all that. Polls say Abbott is arrogant, but committed Liberals say Rudd's arrogant too, and they know that so long as you can muddy the waters you can declare victory and move on.
For the popular Turnbull to replace the unpopular Abbott would require smarter Liberal strategy than they have available. It is important to keep in mind that Liberal strategists are morons:
- After the 2010 election the Coalition left negotiations with independents to the last minute, and failed to win government. Labor's tortoise beat the Coalition hare and they still haven't worked out why, or how. Now apparently Liberal policies are being left to the last minute, and this is supposed to be politically deft and reassuring for Coalition supporters?
- The Coalition went to the 2010 election, and negotiations with independents, promising big-ticket items (e.g. paid-parental leave and a $1b hospital for Hobart) that nobody believed. Now they're promising big-ticket items that nobody believes (e.g. paid-parental leave again, carbon abatement by burying it in soil), and this is going to put them on track for victory?
- The Coalition crashed and burned in 2007 with flawed policies on workplace relations and telecommunications. They fell short of victory in 2010 with weak policies in those areas. Now they are offering weak policies again in those key areas, while hoping for a different result.
- Look how long it took them to adjust to the eminently foreseeable ascent of Peter Slipper to the Speakership. Their tactics in smearing Slipper were not well thought out and may yet come back to bite them. They still haven't adjusted to the departure of Julia Gillard, and the fact that Rudd's strengths and weaknesses aren't hers. Effective strategists can and do turn on a dime and create the impression of control in the midst of chaos.
With Rudd as "Howard lite" people felt free to vote for Rudd, negating Howard's stern alarums, and did so. This morning Textor and Andrew Bolt agreed that Rudd was now "Tony Abbott lite". Never mind that this doesn't make sense (how could anyone be more vacuous than Tony Abbott?), swinging voters who want to vote Labor out but who have reservations about Abbott should have no reservations in voting for Rudd and Labor.
If you were Malcolm Turnbull, would you want your destiny in the hands of clowns like them?
Textor's "lite" thing would have been a spectacular own-goal had we not seen it before. My first experience of Textor was in the 1999 NSW election, where his intervention turned the Liberals from being slightly behind in the polls to getting slaughtered. It puzzled me that the federal parliamentary press gallery rated him so highly, until you realise they have arse/elbow-differentiation issues too.
... We talk and talk until my head explodesAlso not novel is the idea that Abbott is a chocolate soldier who will fail at election time, nor does this old fool deserve the credit for which he greedily pines - and no, simply excluding me from his "hundreds" of commentators will not suffice. Pick one of these, choke on it, then read through hundreds of similar posts on this blog alone. Instead of changing your wombat-headed ways you can castigate your editor who should know better than to let such sloppy wording go forward from his otherwise estimable site.
I turn on the news and my body froze
The braying sheep on my TV screen
Make this boy shout, make this boy scream!