Surrounded by morons
Brendan Nelson woke up yesterday and realised: oh no, I'm surrounded by morons. Clowns in his party room, fools in his office, patronising twits in the press gallery. He had one chance to sweep it all away, and by opposing end the predicament he found himself in.
Nelson's leadership was made possible by Minchin and Abbott. Both are lost without the carrots-and-sticks available from within government. Both cover dopey policy with rhetoric about "having to make the tough decisions". Both are to blame for having stacked Nelson's front bench and his private office with dead weight, dead losses and dead shits.
It is a key performance indicator for any Liberal leader that they act in such a way that encourages a majority of voters to choose a Liberal(-National) government. With Nelson performing so poorly in this regard, maintaining him as leader was a private indulgence of these two. Peter Hartcher was right - Nelson has acted in a way that nobody takes him seriously as an alternative prime minister, and has probably disgraced himself to the point where nobody takes him seriously in any capacity at all. His AMA days are long behind him. Nelson right to decline the offer of a frontbench position, an offer that should never have been made.
Insisting that Nelson have "clear air" was like insisting that Labor be able to have a clear shot at him whenever they felt under pressure. No Liberal leader should be kept in place to allow Labor to feel better about itself: this was the folly of keeping Billy Snedden on to ward off that threatening Malcolm of yesteryear.
How silly are Bob Baldwin and Costello's two sock-puppets, Tony Smith and Mitch Fifield, for declaring in favour of Nelson? Are they going to refuse frontbench positions too? Is Costello going to take them with him wherever he goes? Even the most loyal toady gets to the point where he has to round on his master and say: no, that would only make me look stupid, do it yourself. There is a generation of Victorian Liberals, now aged from their late twenties and forties, who put all their eggs in Costello's basket, and stood to gain high-status but low-profile positions in a Costello Government. These people now face three choices:
- the prospect of giving up on politics altogether, and starting again in some other profession;
- sucking up to Ted Baillieu and working toward state government; or
- sucking up to Malcolm Turnbull and working toward federal government.
- There is no fourth option for these people. It isn't my fault they have been kidding themselves.
Now Turnbull has to convince a party room that barely endorsed him. He has to convince them about his own political pulling power, and about the policies he would introduce. Turnbull's weakness so far has been in persuading Liberals that his policies are winning policies; and that they can embrace policies on climate change, pensions and whatever else without selling out what it means to be a Liberal.
The election of Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader is the Liberal Party's most decisive step yet in putting John Howard behind them.
Turnbull is the Liberal Party's Bob Hawke: a singular talent, a personality so strong that party powerbrokers can never full own, and powerbrokers (like Minchin and Abbott, for example) don't trust someone who can't be owned. One thing Labor did was surround Hawke with their smartest political operatives; Turnbull surrounds himself with those who can weather the Ike-like storms that emanate from him. The smartest operatives available to the Liberal Party have scattered after last year's effort and they aren't flocking back (only some of these, and not so many as you might imagine, come from Victoria).
Without people strong enough to stand up to him, Turnbull will get frustrated with Liberals who won't have him lead them: he has surrounded himself with morons, and he has to find ways of dealing with that.