As soon as the recent Nationals leadership spill confirmed that Michael McCormack would remain the leader of the party by the slimmest of margins, there were already rumblings in Canberra that the battle for the party’s leadership was far from over.
When Matt Canavan resigned from the resources portfolio in order to support Barnaby Joyce for the Nationals leadership, Joyce gained a powerful and influential ally.
Even though he didn’t manage to prevail in the first leadership spill, the two prominent Nationals now only have to flip one vote for Joyce to reclaim the position he believes is rightfully his.
These leadership battles have come at the worst possible time for the Coalition, with the Nationals still simmering with anger over the forced resignation of Bridget McKenzie.
In the words of one Nationals MP to 10 News political editor Peter Van Onselen: “If McCormack is prepared to let the PM throw Bridget under a bus for something his office was part of, yet protect Angus Taylor, it’s time our party stops being a lap dog to the Libs”.
The brewing discontent within the Nationals is a rather sizeable issue for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has become accustomed to the unwavering public support of McCormack, who has been willing to play a distant second fiddle to Morrison.
However, if Joyce regains the Nationals leadership over the lacklustre but loyal Michael McCormack, Morrison could soon find out the hard way exactly how difficult it can be having Joyce as Deputy Prime Minister.
Given Joyce’s blunt and often controversial nature, Morrison would likely be glued to the television every time Joyce appears on Sunrise or SkyNews, hoping that he won’t do or say something that could inflame the underlying tensions within the Coalition.
After an ongoing battering in the first two Newspoll’s of the year showing Morrison trailing in the preferred Prime Minister contest and the Coalition falling behind Labor by 4 points. Morrison was keen to at least pay lip service to climate change action in order to satisfy the more moderate members of the Liberal Party.
However, if Joyce did find a way to get his old job back with Canavan alongside him in a senior leadership role, it’s highly likely the Nationals would begin to push a far more pro-coal and anti-climate change action agenda.
This would leave the PM in a bind to say the least.
If Morrison chooses to favour the more moderate elements of the Liberal Party over the Nationals and pursue a greater degree of climate change action, he risks the same fate as Malcolm Turnbull. But at the same time, if he even somewhat submits to the Nationals demands, he risks looking profoundly weak to the Liberal Party room and may give the public the impression Joyce is driving Coalition policy on climate change.
Joyce published a strange mix of apologia and campaign platform on Facebook this morning.
Ultimately, Morrison better hope that McCormack finds a way to hold off Joyce’s likely inevitable second shot at the Nationals leadership, otherwise Morrison may face a potentially existential threat to the future of his Prime Ministership.
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