As always, reluctant to comment on the circus that is Australian politics (world politics is no better), but given that Turnbull has just survived a leadership spill, feel I must.
It goes without saying that Malcolm Turnbull is pretty much the most disappointing politician in living memory. Not the worse – though he’s pretty hamfisted, and certainly not the most evil or stupid, he is just about the most cowardly.
Here is a man of great intelligence and achievement outside of politics. He’s urbane, articulate, a tad verbose, but certainly clever. He’s not without principle either – I’m certain he believes in things, and probably pretty worthy things too. His fault is basically he’s a scaredy cat with very poor judgement.
This latest leadership crisis is largely of his own making. You can certainly blame the hard right of the party, and Abbott in particular, for fostering discontent, but Turnbull might have headed them off had he shown a bit of fortitude and chosen to defy them. It’s the same old story, though. He gives in to them, seemingly unable to comprehend even after numerous opportunities to learn: the more you give, the more they want.
This is the pattern of his prime ministership. He wants to do things but is too afraid to do them, and so he obfuscates, he hesitates, he equivocates, and ultimately he gives in, compromising his principles for the sake of political unity. It’s a tough gig with such a recalcitrant bunch of hillbillies heckling from the right, but if history has shown anything kowtowing to them achieves nothing.
You wonder what might have happened had he acted with more authority. What if he chose to govern in the interests of the electorate that voted him in? By and large he was voted for on the basis of his individual talents and generally more moderate voice – a voice that aligned with the views of most people. Had he shown strong leadership and resolve his standing would be much greater in the electorate and he would likely have achieved much more than he has. He’d feel better in himself and there’s a fair chance the right would have subsided or splintered in the face of such determined defiance. As a country we would be better off, and as an individual it’s unlikely he’d have had to suffer such tribulations.
All of this is what might have beens. He did none of that, and even his wanning personal appeal is based upon what might be rather than what is. It’s pretty clear now that what might be never will.
It’s funny this leadership thing. Pretty hard to manage. I think back to Gillard – a far more successful prime minister in terms of getting things done – who went through a long period being derided for not being herself. In other words, as prime minster she seemingly ceased to be the person who had appealed as an option. The sheer pragmatic reality of doing deals makes it tough, I’m sure, and I wonder if there is a form of stage-fright. I know it happens – look over my shoulder and compare my behaviour when I’m with a woman I like, and one I’m indifferent to. Caring makes a big difference, as does – I’m willing to bet – the ultimate responsibility.
None of that justifies Turnbull’s lack of leadership. It may be impossibly complex to him, but to those of us looking from the outside the choice is much simpler – do what you believe in, or go against it. Abide by what the people want, or instead bow down to the ratbags on the right. Till now he’s given in to the right – having survived the leadership spill I wonder if he will conduct himself differently.
In any case the future looks far from rosy for him. There’s a pattern to these things. The first vote the incumbent wins then, three or four months later, a challenge comes again and this time the challenger wins. Unless he does something about it that’s the likely outcome this time too.
One of his options is to call an early election to forestall any of that. The problem is just this week support for the government dived, and this spill won’t be helping it. His best option IMO is to push on, get some wins on the board, and then call an election. Otherwise I can’t see him going full term.
The lunacy of it from the LNP is that they have no other candidates worthy of the name. Dutton ran today, but he is widely seen as a cold-blooded nazi in the general electorate, with good reason – oh so cunning, but evil. His appeal is purely with the RWNJ’s. Morrison is a bumbling fool who can’t count without using his fingers and toes. Abbott is pure idiot, done and dusted. Julie Bishop is probably the friendliest option, but she shows little appetite for the job – and I think she would be exposed in it as well.
What’s the end game in all this? Right now it’s failed ideology and ego. The hard right conservative line won’t sell in the electorate, and Dutton might delude himself he can win but likewise most can’t stomach him. Ironically, the best chance the LNP of winning the next election is keeping Turnbull and let him have his head – but that will never happen.
Politics, it’s a deadly depressing business.