“You say goodbye, and I say hello”….
This morning the reports are full of the news that Malcolm Turnbull has changed his mind and will recontest the next election.
So why has he done this? Well with Rudd putting the ETS on the shelf, that removes the one major policy difference between he and Abbott – so no problems at the election. Secondly, it seems he has been inundated with Liberal people telling him not to quit, letting him know that is he goes the Libs will lose Wentworth.
Personally I think that’s one aspect that needs to be put to bed: the ALP was never going to win Wentworth once Rudd put the ETS in the political third drawer of the kitchen bench. Wentworth has always been Liberal, and in the absence of a major green initiative by the ALP that is rejected outright by the Libs, there is very little reason for those “small L- Liberal” voters to change their vote. It was always a bit of a pipe-dream even with Rudd’s ETS and no Turnbull, but with the ETS was gone, I can see no reason why the seat would have changed hands.
So on that score Turnbull coming back hasn’t changed much. Wentworth won’t be in play, the ALP will see no need to make a big push for it, and thus they (and the Liberal Party) can put resources elsewhere.
But we all know the reason why Turnbull is coming back – he could not stomach his picture hanging in the losers’ gallery in Old Parliament house – the corridor reserved for leaders of the opposition who never became PM. Such a circumstance would absolutely tear at him day and night. We all know this is true – he believes he should be PM. Who know maybe he would be a good one – Turnbull himself would have no doubts that he would be the best PM ever.
But here’s the problem: does the Liberal Party want him as leader again in the foreseeable future? Those rejoicing at the news of Turnbull staying are mostly lefties who like the thought they could possibly vote for the Liberal Party should there be a leader sufficiently “moderate”. The problem is that he was never that leader when he was leader. He jumped into the asylum seeker dog whistle as quickly as anyone, and I certainly didn’t feel he was all that moderate on views that I would have liked him to be moderate. The reason is of course Liberal Party Catch 22.
People who want to vote for a moderate Liberal Party leader have to also vote for a Liberal Party that at the moment is dominated by conservatives; if a moderate leader is to stay leader he must conform to the will of the conservative side or he’ll be dumped as was Turnbull; but the aspect that people like (or want to like) about Turnbull as leader is that he can be his own man, who keeps true to his moderate views, except that to become and stay leader he has to conform to the will of the conservative side, which means that he disappoints those who want him to be moderate and so he loses support in the polls and thus the conservatives dump him when he tries to be the tiniest bit moderate.
With Turnbull staying on, people are wondering if he “has learned the lessons” of his failed leadership. But the lessons were twofold, and diametrically opposed – firstly, that he didn’t stay true to his own principles (as he did finally with the ETS); and secondly, that he didn’t consult with his own party and hold to a conservative view (as he didn’t do with the ETS).
The only way he can overcome the Liberal Party Catch 22 is to dominate the party – for there to be absolutely no alternative leader, and for many people in the party to almost owe their spot to him. But the fact is the Liberal Party conservative side always thinks there is an alternative - hell 35 of them were prepared to vote for Kevin Andrews, and he is not a Liberal Party insider, so he’ll never have the party sway as did Howard.
And after the dire depths the Liberal Party went to under Turnbull would they want him as leader any time soon anyway? Should Abbott fail at the election he might even be given another chance (if he doesn’t lose any seats – or even picks up some). If he bombs out, Hockey is next in line (though he increasingly has shown sign of not really wanting the job). The problem with Hockey is that he couldn’t even outshine Barnaby Joyce when he was Shadow Finance. Yes Joyce is a circus act, but Hockey had no policy or political weight to drag the media spotlight off him. That he couldn’t do that is not a good sign for when/if he is leader.
So who knows maybe in the space of 12 months the Liberal Party will go back to Turnbull – though I doubt it – far too many on the conservative side hate him for how he acted after being dumped – the leaks and blogs etc.
I wish Turnbull luck, but at this moment I see no reason why he will change from being anything other than the Mr Potential of Australian Politics.