10 October 2015

Predictable behaviours

Malcolm Turnbull addressed the NSW State Council of the Liberal Party and was jeered for claiming that the party isn't run by factions (see video in this article).

Here's what he was doing by saying that. Turnbull wanted to be jeered by factional hacks, and to appear to float serenely above the factional fray, which is what he did.

Gullible journalists like Adam Gartrell report this with the cliche LIB SPLIT SHOCK, but who even listens to those people? The imagery there is of those who still believe in Abbott - the intelligent, decent and noble Tony Abbott of fantasy, since witheringly exposed - losing their decorum in the name of a cause that has already been lost. Didn't Turnbull say some nice things about Abbott - and this is how they behave?

They all look like sooks and grumps now. Who wants a sooky, grumpy future when they can have the sunny, vague optimism of Malcolm Turnbull?

Journalists initially love it when parties march n lockstep, then they get bored and regard partisans as muppets. Whenever journalists get criticised for their poorly-written stories on social media, they assume that such criticism can only come from partisans. When parties engage in debate, journalists can't examine he merits of one side or another so they just go BLOOD IN THE WATER DISSENT CHAOS and assume that's good enough for the likes of you.

Turnbull has played his internal party opponents off an even break. Liberals will be seething that the dreaded media are searching for the worst in their recycled leader; Abbott will have won no new sympathisers today.

Is there any objective truth to the notion that factions don't run the Liberal Party?

In the absence of any hard data, let's rely on the following graphic for what follows:

(c) The Australian

If conservative factional chiefs had insisted on a vote for Abbott, then the following conservatives can be said to have broken ranks:
  • John Alexander
  • Bronwyn Bishop
  • Peter Hendy
  • Jason Wood
  • Scott Ryan
  • Mal Brough
  • Steven Ciobo
  • Teresa Gambaro
  • Stuart Robert
  • Bert van Manen
  • James McGrath
  • Dennis Jensen
  • Steve Irons
  • Luke Simpkins
  • Michaelia Cash
  • David Johnston
  • Rowan Ramsey
  • Andrew Southcott
  • Sean Edwards
There is not a bleeding heart anywhere in the above list. Had those conservatives voted for the more conservative candidate (Abbott), that candidate would have won. 

Bronwyn Bishop has been in Parliament since 1987 and has participated in many Liberal leadership contests. As a fierce warrior for conservative values you might expect she'd have voted for the more conservative candidate in each of those contests, and that last month's vote is some sort of aberration. Sadly, no: at her first ballot in 1989 she voted for Andrew Peacock because he promised her a frontbench role, and Howard wasn't that desperate. Six years later, Downer handed over to Howard on the proviso that his frontbench be maintained, which included Bishop. Howard dumped her at the peak of his powers, after she'd had more than a fair go. She is vindictive and/or an opportunist before any other consideration, but happy to tear strips off anyone else she deems "wishy-washy". 

Bishop might have allowed herself a hiss from between clenched dentures, not knowing or caring that it played into Turnbull's hands.

If the Liberals had the sort of rigid factions that the ALP has, all of the aforenamed would be dingoes and rats and what have you, and none would be guaranteed of preselection (Southcott is not contesting the next election, and maybe James McGrath will summon up the courage that deserted him in 2012 to run for Fairfax).

Only in Tasmania and Victoria did conservatives have any luck in holding the line. Conservatives in Queensland saw the consequences of holding the conservative line (so did the Vics, but their party organisation is more robust and unforgiving). Western Australians take the view that if you're going to travel all that way to Canberra, why bother for the sake of opposition?  NSW is pretty tightly factionalised, with only three opportunists breaking for the winner. 

Turnbull is quite the showman, but he is not such a populist that he can pull off a call-and-response like US politicians can and do. By tossing out the factional bone, and watching smirking as the factional dogs fought over it, Turnbull positioned himself above the factional fray. He played the factions, and played the press gallery too.

He was confident that the press gallery can be relied upon to draw the wrong conclusions - but nevertheless, present him in the way that best suits his interests.


  1. Spot on Andrew.
    My first response was gullible. I bought the notion that party members had jeered and sneered at Turnbull. According to the media, that is.
    Then I saw the film of Turnbull looking composed and amused rather than red-faced and discomforted. Again according to the media.
    I did not hear sneers and jeers either. Knowing laughter is how I would describe the reaction to Turnbull's ref to factions.
    On another matter I have been pleasantly surprised by Connie F-Wells' (nothing rude there, just can't spell the first part) comments about The radicalization of Islamic youth.
    I had put Connie in a pigeon-hole labelled 'shrill, rigid right-winger'. What I heard though was a reasonable, thoughtful, constructive woman.
    Amazing what happens when a particular Tone is changed.

    1. I think it's called reinventing yourself for your career

      I would never trust that group with anything in their portfolios EVER again

      The damage has been done and a lot of The Muslim Community will forgive but won't forget...

      Steve Price has a new show on 3aw with Mr Bolt.... the tone has changed as well

      I'm very cynical with the shrills etc
      It's purely opportunistic and an election strategy.

  2. Lachlan Ridge11/10/15 12:14 pm

    The hacks in the party and the media - Turnbull played them into irrelevance like the Springboks played the United States rugby team.

    I commented on your previous post, but thought I'd repost it here as I believe you've nutted out a central problem with journalism and the political class - the existence or not of factions in the Liberal Party is an example of the non-policy Macguffins referred to below:

    "Journalists shirk the whole idea of 'reform' and what it might mean, accepting the word as a gobbet of content rather than an idea in need of unpacking..."

    I think this goes to the heart of your plaint regarding press gallery muppets, and journalism more broadly.

    How citizens deal with traffic jams, kids education, what happens when they get sick, how they keep a roof over their head, insecure employment and a multitude of other everyday problems all involve how we engage with government: yet to the press gallery - and journalism in its broader sense (with exceptions that prove the rule) - all of this is simply a Macguffin for framing the personal politics of parliamentary theatre, as if governments and corporations exist in some Shakespearean bell jar without consequence for real people.

    This blind flaw of journalism, with the conduct of the broader political class and focus group policy development, is a cancer that has grown on our politic since the rise of the professional political class with machine politics from the late seventies.

    How we drag the reality of policy and make it front and centre of journalism and politics while dispensing with the personality fluff engaged by the political class - including the journalists who accompany it like camp followers from the Hundred Years War - is the problem.

  3. as cynical as...Turnbull himself!

  4. Turnbull may have kept the two warring factions busily gnawing on each other's shin bones for a while, but sooner or later (I'm predicting sooner) even they will become aware of how they're being played and will likely turn on their ringmaster.

    I look forward to the spectacle.

  5. agree alison

    well if this the case the liberals are out of touch with us people in the real world every one i have spoken say its a very bad look the general public, would a pm like to think that the public saw him bood No double that very much that PM after all it the public you must impress not the liberal party
    so sorry there is no way i buy that one

  6. I am confused by the presence of Teresa Gambaro and Jason Wood on your list of conservatives there, since I had always understood them to be the wettest of wets. I mean, you undoubtedly know more about Liberal factionalism than I do, but surely they're not really associated with "conservative" factions?

  7. Slightly off tangent here but worthy of note

    Rip to Sam De Brito

    I wasn't a fan at all of his work to be honest but quite sad that our fourth estate forget how vulnerable and complex people are behind closed doors

    Let's hope they're nicer to each other and accept some responsibility for the things they write

    Condolences to his family especially his daughter.

  8. I'm sorry to display my ignorance of sport but what did you mean when you said Turnbull "played them off a break"? A friend thought it might refer to a snooker breaking the triangle of red balls (technical sporting term?) and then continuing to hit other balls into pockets. Another thought it might be something about bowling in cricket. I think I "got the gist" but Google didn't help at all.

  9. Thanks Andrew. A brilliant analysis as always. I try to read your articles very closely, so as not to miss any nuances, but this one has me stumped:

    'Turnbull has played his internal party opponents off an even break.'

    I googled that phrase, 'to play (someone) off an even break' and your post from November 2013 came up. Nothing else other than 'never give a sucker an even break.' I also couldn't work out what you were saying by the context.

    Would you be able to explain to me what you meant by that statement please?


  10. Fairfax is being contested by Ted O'Brien the 2013 candidate. I think McGrath is happy to serve out his 6 year senate term and not move to the lower house.