Sometimes I feel I've got to (thump thump) run awayAt a time when the government is vulnerable, the Coalition are finally starting to realise that Abbott's limitations are those of the Coalition: they've realised that it really might not win. Abbott is not a tough guy, he's gutless; for a long time that must have seemed counter-intuitive to people who weren't paying attention.
I've got to (thump thump) get away
From the pain you drive into the heart of me ...
- Soft Cell Tainted Love
Abbott was right to tell his party room that the Prime Minister won't lie down and die, but he was wrong to draw attention to the fact that this has pretty much been his whole strategy all along. All that Battlelines stuff was so much bluster and fluff, only mugs like Ross Cameron believe in it. Coalition MPs and Senators are the people who have most at stake for the success of both his strategic judgment and execution. Many of them will now realise that Abbott has sold them a dog, and will start to wonder whether or not he can keep the Coalition ahead of Labor for much longer.
Polls are all very well, but they're abstract, and people in the Coalition regard themselves as practical folk impatient with abstractions. Why hasn't he pushed the government out by now? Every day you open The Australian and it's full of Labor people governing, and that doesn't look like changing soon. Since the last election the Coalition have kept their people in line with the belief that any minute now, the government will crack and political fortunes will go the Coalition's way, and all that will be undone should anyone step out of line. People can only spend so long on tenterhooks. A quick chat with the independents would have shown that Abbott is further away from office than he was in September 2010, not closer as he would have them (and the media) believe.
Labor apologised to Aborigines, but unapologetically maintained the Northern Territory intervention with "income management". Labor fought so hard for the ETS, then gave it up. Then they gave up the Prime Minister who beat Howard, and replaced her with that woman. Misogyny aside, it is understandable why they think that Labor is weak. The real trick lies in convincing the press gallery that they're the answer, against all evidence.
The love we shareNo Coalition MP on a majority, or needing a swing, of 5% or less can run the risk of having Abbott waddle around their electorate, shaking hands with too tight a grip and generally reminding people why the economic performance of the Gillard government isn't so bad. There is a real risk that the next election could end up as a tit-for-tat exercise like the last one, where the Coalition wins one here and loses one there and before you know it Gillard has negotiated herself back into office.
Seems to go nowhere
And I've lost my light
For I toss and turn I can't sleep at night ...
Rudd served as a stick to beat the government with for a long time, but the stick looked more like limp lettuce after the 31-71 loss to Gillard. Abbott floundered, and Slipper and Thomson were not initially worthy opponents, but for a guy who'd go ten rounds with a revolving door he backed himself to punch through them into government. Abbott took the risk that he could take them quickly, easily, and from the high ground. Abbott gave his all in pursuit of Thomson and Slipper. Every day for weeks and weeks he went in hard.
It turned out Our Lady of the Health Services Union is neither as pure nor as clever as she needed to be, for her sake, for Abbott's, and for a Coalition which has been made to look stupid. Ashby, the honey-trap IED launched at Slipper, has turned and blown up in the face of Christopher Pyne.*
Yes, that indefatigable strategist who made possible the governments of Costello and Turnbull has himself slipped. Even though Pyne's failures are not those of his leader, Abbott cannot get over them. Pyne could and should drop the righteous fury that Abbott dare not show himself, lest he make Mark Latham look about as threatening as Bill Hayden. He should admit his flaws re Ashby and render his life an open book, in the hope of being courageous and even endearing in his chirpy and flamboyant way. If he did that he might win Sturt and have a political career that appears more durable than it does today.
When he appeared on Annabel Crabb's cooking show I didn't watch it because I expected him to come across like Bernard King: as saucy and cheesy on the stove-top as off. By hiding behind Auntie Mandy and admitting that he has no friends in Parliament he seemed as much of a try-hard as his leader. His beetroot-faced exertions in Question Time show that Pyne persists in pushing against a door that's closed to him now. Nobody expects him to distinguish between good government and bad, only what works for Pyne. The case has not been made that what works for the buttoned-up facade he puts forward will work for the rest of us. Watch Sturt on election night.
Part of the reason why you don't engage in gutter attacks is the sheer degree of risk. If you win, your victory is tainted and if you lose, your credibility is shot. Those who had a Christian education, as Abbott and Pyne did, will be aware of the exhortations of Luke 6:37 and Matthew 7:1. Abbott has taken the risk that he will be able to waddle away from it into the arms of those who love him, but the rest of the Coalition will be left no closer to government than they were in 2008. The fact that Thomson and Slipper are not political roadkill mean that the best efforts of Tony Abbott (and Pyne) simply aren't good enough. Those with an interest in the future of the Liberal Party must question whether they will ever be good enough.
Once I ran to you (I ran)When Thomson approaches Abbott, Abbott flees as though he can simply outrun his failures. It takes a fool to bleat that the nation's defences are insufficient and then entrust them to a shit-happens runaway. Gillard will start getting points for trying to grapple with the big issues once people realise the alternative is Brave Sir Robin.
Now I'll run from you
This tainted love you've given
I give you all a boy could give you
Take my tears and that's not nearly all ...
Hey, the media lap it up. They shrug when he runs away from the odd piercing question at press conferences and are content to let Tony be Tony. Why doesn't everyone else? What is wrong with you people? Michelle Grattan looks stupid both in overestimating the effect of all-but-uniform media framing and in the utility of asking those who made him leader what's wrong with their decision. You can bet that Abbott butters up the old girl something fierce, in the hope that the public is as happy to let the media to do the framing as it was in the 1970s, when Grattan and Abbott learned the trade and what were then its tricks.
People who admire Abbott's toughness and commitment need to contrast it against his judgment, and yes his effectiveness. The jury might have been out in early 2010, or even after the close election result later that year, but enough chickens have now not only hatched but come home to roost that it's well past time to judge Abbott.
Those who blame the media for the unpopularity of the Gillard government cannot explain why Tony Abbott continues to be unpopular. The media love Abbott and have given him a more favourable run than any Opposition Leader, with the possible exceptions of Malcolm Fraser or Kim Beazley. Abbott bends over backwards to ensure that press gallery journalists all have a story to run each day, and to encourage them to run that story instead of whatever the government is putting up. The polls have increased the incentives for journalists to keep in sweet with what they perceive to be the next government, particularly as the incumbents don't flatter them in the same way. No amount of media framing can or will change the perception that Abbott is a jerk, to the point where he'd just fuck anyone and everyone in government except the far right.
Don't touch me pleaseThe only way the Liberals could win is if they were to stage an intervention. East-coast heavyweights would have to wipe Minchin, Bernardi and Cormann off the map and overturn such preselections as they have won. They would have to punt Mr and Mrs Loughnane and replace them with Tony Nutt, and that would mean that the Baillieu government would lose its main sheet-anchor. I can't see that happening either, everyone who could have made that happen has now gone, and the current federal leader lacks the clout to bring it on himself.
I cannot stand the way you tease
I love you though you hurt me so
Now I'm gonna pack my things and go ...
The sheer blind faith within the Coalition and the anti-Gillard media that Abbott has Gillard where he wants her and that his victory is assured is gone now. It will not return. On a human level you have to feel sorry for the guy, like a sprinter cramping up halfway through a marathon. He can't turn up the heat because that only singes him. He certainly can't flick the switch to policy, either. Don't let the door impact you on the way out! As I said on the radio, Labor was never going to smash Abbott but it can wear him down. This isn't the end for Abbott but you can see it from here.
Tainted love, tainted love* No, that's not what I meant. Stop it at once.
Tainted love, tainted love
Touch me baby, tainted love
Touch me baby, tainted love