2014 Prediction (VII) – Turnbull challenges for leadership

“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war” in mediaeval times ‘Havoc’ was the cry for soldiers to seize and plunder whatever they could lay their hands on. Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones have certainly let slip the dogs of war with their attacks on Malcolm Turnbull implying that he is mounting a leadership challenge against Tony Abbott. The difficulty with what Bolt and Jones have done is that such speculation often damages the incumbent more than the challenger, particularly when the incumbent is on the nose politically.

With friends like these, Abbott probably doesn't need enemies

With friends like these, Abbott probably doesn’t need enemies

It will be interesting to see what Turnbull is able to seize and plunder as result of the efforts of two of the most rabidly right-wing journalists in Australia. The reference to slipping the “dogs of war” is to slipping the leash on a hunting greyhound when the quarry starts to run. The problem with the dogs of war is that once they’re running its very hard to bring them back under control. The same applies to leadership speculation.

Slipping a  coursing greyhound

Slipping a coursing greyhound

Last night on 730, Sarah Ferguson asked Malcolm Turnbull if he still had leadership ambitions. “I don’t have any plans, any desires, any expectations to be the leader. Having said that … politics is an unpredictable business,’’ said Turnbull.

Malcolm Turnbull trying hard not to get his fingers on Tony Abbott's windpipe

Malcolm Turnbull trying hard not to get his fingers on Tony Abbott’s windpipe

What he should have said is, “Look, Sarah, I came into politics to be Prime Minister. I lost the leadership ballot to Abbott by one absentee vote. It would be naive for anyone to think that there is not support within the party and in the broader community, for me to be Prime Minister.” So now the dogs of war are running and that makes a leadership challenge all the more likely.

But Turnbull is unlikely to challenge in the immediate future. Why should he? Here is scenario one: Tony Abbott is about to face his greatest political challenge in dealing with an extremely hostile, obstreperous and unpredictable Senate, with the balance of power held by the inhabitants of the political Lala Land.

Negotiation is not Abbott’s strong suit and it’s likely that the cross-bench senators will expose this weakness to great political effect. It’s to Turnbull’s advantage to let Abbott flounder for a while. After a period of floundering and confected political crises, Clive Palmer steps in and declares that he is sick and tired of trying to work with Tony Abbott but that he would throw his (and Ricky Muir’s) support behind a Turnbull-led government.

Malcolm will stand, blushing slightly and modestly, on the sidelines saying it’s all very flattering but that (as a Cabinet minister) he gives the Prime Minister his total support. Then late one night, someone will tiptoe into the prime ministerial office and tap Tony ever so lightly on the shoulder.

Here is scenario two: Abbott, frustrated by the intransigence of the Senate and goaded by the incessant barbs of ridicule from Clive Palmer, decides to call a double dissolution. Dismayed by the coalition’s slide in the polls, the party room decides to emulate Bob Hawke’s 1983 coup against Bill Hayden and seeks to replace Abbott with Turnbull.

Happy times:Bob Hawke and Bill Hayden in 1982 before the 1983 coup

Happy times:Bob Hawke and Bill Hayden in 1982 before the 1983 cou

Happy times: Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott in 2013

Happy times: Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott in 2013

Knowing that the coalition is heading for defeat, Turnbull again declares his support for Abbott. Abbott leads the coalition to a crushing defeat. Turnbull replaces him after the general election.

There is one puzzling aspect to what may just be a demonstration of political ineptitude on the part of the Prime Minister. It is hard to understand why Jones and Bolt, who are both close to the Prime Minister, would have unleashed this incredibly damaging speculation. It is unlikely to have been at Turnbull’s behest. So is Abbott, who was conveniently off in Paris, behind it? Is Abbott endeavouring to create a crisis that will allow him to move against Turnbull?

It is hard to imagine what the advantages are for Abbott from such a strategy. Perhaps Abbott has had another attack of the PSDS (Political Smarts Deficiency Syndrome).

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