Dead man walking

I’ve spent pretty much all morning watching the coverage of the vote on the Liberal leadership spill. Started at about 8am, it’s now just after 11am, and I’ve just turned the TV off.

It’s true these things are now very much a spectator sport. In his grandiose way Tony Abbott likened the tawdry business of politics to the bloodletting on The Game of Thrones. It’s not as bloody as that, but in terms of voyeuristic fascination then it’s right up there.

I’d like to think I’m a bit more than a political peeping Tom. Fact is that I’m a political animal. Ever since I can remember I’ve taken a keen interest in the politics of the day, and the machinations behind the scenes. I think I got a lot of that from my dad. Travelling in his car on the way to school or something the car radio would be tuned to the ABC’s AM program. He would read the newspapers and pass comment on it. In time I joined the conversation. I’ve always been a patriot, and thought it ignorant not to follow the politics that dictate a national future. I think I was fascinated by it too from a very early age. I was likely drawn in by the vivid characters that politics attracts, and the Machiavellian twists and plots. If nothing else politics makes for interesting theatre, as someone no less than Shakespeare understood very well.

The result this morning was a defeat of the motion, but Abbott copped a severe belting at the same time. He retains leadership of the Liberal party, and consequently remains prime minister of the country. I don’t see that continuing for too long. The spill motion was defeated 61-39, a margin that will reduce and in time and reverse unless Abbott does something extraordinary. I don’t see that in him. He’s a remarkably unreflective man who keeps promising to change, but then repeats the same hackneyed phrases and makes the same gaffes and errors in judgement. It’s amazing how insensitive and out of touch so many of our politicians are, how deficient they are in EQ (and some, disturbingly, in IQ). Abbott is dead man walking. Turnbull will be PM within 2 months, and potentially much sooner.

Watching this morning I was reminded of the leadership challenge by Keating against Hawke in what must have been 1992. I was staying with my dad up in Narrandera, where he had a motel. The coverage of the time was full and vivid. I watched closely on TV as the events unfolded, wanting Keating to win, but thinking it unlikely. He lost that challenge (by the same margin as today), as he expected, and returned to the back-bench. Within a few months (?) he challenged again, and won the leadership of the party handsomely. The rest is history.

I suspect it will play out similarly this time, though the calibre of the candidate has greatly diminished in the years since. I can’t see Abbott turning things around because he’s an old dog incapable of learning new tricks. He’ll revert at some stage, and sooner than later. Regardless he’s toxic with the electorate. That’s what the Libs don’t understand – the public have made their mind up about him. He’s a goner.

So, another spill motion will come, or, more likely, a direct challenge. That might be in the form of a stalking horse like Mal Brough, and if that’s the case could come as soon as next week. Longer than that it will be Turnbull, a fascinating and enigmatic option, but someone who has the whole party covered in terms of IQ. Abbott’s not even in the frame.

In the meantime the big winners are the ALP. The latest opinion polls give them a 14-16% lead in the polls, pretty decent, but not insurmountable – except if you’re Abbott. Interesting to see how those polls line up post the vote today.

Best thing that could happen for the country is for someone like Turnbull to become PM soon. He’s a moderate, and there will be the flow-on effect of spooking the ALP. Turnbull can win the next election given enough time, and Shorten knows that. For too long we’ve had federal opposition parties smug knowing they had the upper hand and believing all they had to do was oppose to achieve government. That’s not how it should be. I want Shorten and his party prove that they’re deserving of national leadership. That means being positive and proposing things. With someone like Turnbull in the lodge that might mean that Labor returns to some of its more recently unfashionable, left leaning philosophies. That would be no bad thing.