So Malcolm Turnbull finally made a tactically wise move and vacated the leadership to bring on the Peter Dutton challenge as quickly as possible. He won 48-35. Put the challenge off a couple more days and every sentient being knows the result would have moved more in Dutton’s direction. Still, for those of us who have long said the Turnbull reign as leader of the federal Liberal Party (not least by bringing in the most left-leaning leader ever) has been, and by the above narrow margin still is, a disaster this is a damn good sign. To quote the great man himself ‘This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’
That, at any rate, is how I feel. I’ve long said that you could throw a dart at the phonebook and I’d prefer that name to Turnbull. That said, Dutton is far from perfect. First off, he only goes some way to healing the division within the Liberal party ranks that was blown open when 53 MPs opted to defenestrate Tony Abbott back in 2015. That needs to be healed. From more than one source I’ve heard that when Dutton first mooted this challenge he told a few people he didn’t want Abbott in his Cabinet. If that is true, and how does one know, then Dutton is an idiot. Can you imagine the reaction from the party base if Dutton opted to continue with the Turnbull strategy of freezing Abbott out? And what does it say for Dutton that he couldn’t instinctively see that, that he had to be talked around on that score. I can only hope the rumour is wrong.
Secondly, I wonder about Dutton’s ability to campaign. The post-Turnbull Libs will have to pick three or four key messages that create something like a canyon of difference between them and Labor and then go all out pounding home those messages. The textbook example of that was the 2015 campaign. Here I would suggest going hard on cutting immigration big time, pulling out of Paris, attacking the massive left-leaning bias of the ABC and maybe reigniting the free speech issue. But that’s it. And to run those three or four issues you need an articulate and committed leader. Dutton is the second. We can have doubts about the first. Still, I would take him in a micro-second over Turnbull. Heck, I’d take anyone with a pulse over Turnbull, such is the God-awful legacy he is bequeathing this once great party.
Here’s my other point to make about this failed leadership challenge. I want to know who voted for Turnbull. It’s a secret ballot, I know, and so it’s going to be hard to find out and in a sense unreliable. But let’s try to be clear whether some of the new guns in Parliament supported Turnbull. If so, I don’t want them in there for much longer, such is the misjudgement that betrays. So what about Tim Wilson? (I suspect he’s a Turnbull man through and through.) What about James Paterson? (I lean towards seeing him as having voted for Dutton, but I have little confidence on that score.) What about Amanda Stoker? (Here I’m slightly more confident she went for Dutton, but by no means certain.) You can carry on with this list. But it matters. Why? Because it is now clear that the problem isn’t just Malcolm Turnbull. The problem is that so many Labor-lite MPs have wormed their way into Parliament under the banner of being Liberals.
Look at the record of Team Turnbull. There are plenty of adjectives that would cover that record. But ‘small government’, ‘cut spending’, ‘pro-free speech’, ‘don’t throw money at worthless submarines or half a billion at some pro-Paris Accord Barrier Reef outfit’ are not among any accurate descriptions of this most left-wing of supposedly Liberal governments.
We are on the way to getting rid of Turnbull. I suspect we will also need to cast a serious eye on how would-be Liberal MPs are preselected too.
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