Over lunch with friends on June 30, we all guessed the election outcome. I thought the Coalition would lose 11 seats – a net loss of 10 after regaining Fairfax. It would thus retain office with 78 seats and a six seat majority. (It now looks like only 76 and a two seat one). Having overthrown in his first term the Prime Minister who led them to a majority of 30, this is the pass to which Malcolm Turnbull has brought the Liberal Party.
Let me be upfront. On November 18 last, writing in The Australian Financial Review, I said: “In next year’s election the Liberal Party will contend with many voters who, like myself, will never vote for it while led by Malcolm Turnbull and his fellow conspirators”. In The Spectator Australia of June 16 I canvassed an election outcome similar to this and argued that in that case Turnbull should be sacked. That remains my view. However, the Liberal party room has not had the cojones for that decision.
Turnbull, therefore, remains Prime Minister, at least pro tem; he has made some (mainly cosmetic) changes to his ministry; and he will try to govern. Meanwhile, Tony Abbott will continue to garner a growing band of supporters within both his parliamentary party and the electorate.
Post-mortems abound. One was quickly undertaken for the National Party, which not only held all its seats but also actually won one (Murray) from the Liberals. As The Australian reported, Turnbull’s campaign was “dubbed ‘aloof’ and ‘presidential’ in a damning assessment”, finding that “the ‘grassroots’ National’s campaign trumped the Liberal’s ‘big picture’ … The campaign also did not include key Labor weaknesses – border security and asylum boats, debt and deficits and the prospect of a new carbon tax. Why not?”.
They may well ask, as may those 17 Liberal members and senators who will not be returning to the Parliament. Yet the answer is clear enough. It boils down to the personality of one man, Malcolm Turnbull.
The key to Turnbull’s whole career, including to his conduct of his hapless election campaign, is that he is a supreme narcissist. Those National Party charges of being “aloof” and “presidential” were spot on.
Many Liberals have asked what happened to the big blue “L” for Liberal logo during the campaign? Don’t advertising experts tell us that widely recognized national “brands” like that are valuable? Why was it thrown away, and replaced by a strange new “halo” with the words “The Turnbull Liberal team”?
Why, for eight long weeks, were viewers bored senseless by those advertisements showing Turnbull emerging with that beatific expression to tell us about his meaningless “plan for jobs and growth”? Did he really think all he need do was to smile on the electoral doubters and they would melt before his charm? And even if he did think that – which he clearly did – why did the campaign director, Tony Nutt, not tell him to get real and stop thinking the campaign was all about himself?
The answers to all these questions are, to repeat, that Turnbull is a supreme narcissist. Such people are incapable of genuinely repenting and changing their behaviour. So although Paul Kelly and other writers for The Australian (Shanahan, Sheridan, Kenny and even Savva) are right in arguing the Prime Minister must change his ways, they are wasting their breath: it won’t happen.
In 1990 the Coalition, if led by John Howard (dumped in 1989), would have easily won the election, focusing on sky-high interest rates and the then clearly coming recession. Instead, led by another narcissist (though not nearly such as Turnbull) in Andrew Peacock, it campaigned on advertisements featuring him with the slogan “The answer is Liberal”. (Labor immediately satirised this, saying, “If the answer is Liberal, what can be the questions?”).
It took five years before those stupid and politically venal Liberal parliamentarians restored Howard to the leadership and he led them to victory in 1996. Must we wait another five years before those who committed that similar stupidity last September finally come to their senses? For Australia’s sake, let’s hope not.