Around this time last year, I made a prediction that Tony Abbott would take long service leave and spend more time with his family. It looks as if I was out by about six weeks, but that’s not too bad. What I got badly wrong was that I predicted the leadership battle would be between Christopher Pyne and Corey Bernardi.
Well that was just wishful thinking but what blogger’s delight that would have been. It is tempting to see Abbott’s predicament as a fall from grace. But it’s not. He was always unpopular and his party has trailed in the polls since he was elected. He didn’t come in to office thinking “I’ve got some work to do”, he came in thinking “Everybody loves me and I can do exactly as I like.”
In fact, Abbott got it pretty much right when he described his cricketing abilities saying “I couldn’t bat, I couldn’t bowl, I couldn’t field but I could sledge.” This will probably go down as the most apposite piece of political self-analysis in recent history.
The symbolic significance of the knighthood debacle cannot be underestimated. Whether Prince Phil has a knighthood or not will make no difference whatsoever to the daily lives of Australians: the sun will rise tomorrow and Vegemite will be spread on toast.
In his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference Malcolm Gladwell defines a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point”. And this is exactly what the knighthood fiasco represents.
It will only take a small nudge, and Mal Brough appears to be about to give the system that nudge, for Abbott to be history. But getting rid of Toxic Tony is not going to be the complete answer to the problem.
There’s a lot of dead weight in the Liberal party saddlebags at the moment: Treasurer Joe Hockey, Education Minister Christopher Pyne, Finance Minister Marius Cormann and the soon-to-be homeless Barnaby Joyce who has bet his house on Tony Abbott leading the Liberals the next election.
The problem for the Liberal Party now is to effect a leadership transition to either Bishop or Turnbull without it turning into a bloodbath. It will be a difficult choice and one that will be fraught with tensions. The trick will be in stopping these tensions overflowing into the public arena.
If there’s someone smart in charge inside Liberal HQ, they will organise forever to use his forthcoming press club address to resign from the Prime Ministership “in the interests of party unity and stability.”
This will avoid an acrimonious and inevitably public brawl in the party room. It will also allow Abbott to live on his own terms. And who’s the winner in this: it’s Lucky Bill Shorten whose party is currently leading the Liberals 57% – 43% in the latest poll with Shorten leading Abbott as preferred prime minister by 44% – 27%.
And what’s he done to deserve this? Become King of the Zingers:
“The government’s used the term ‘Team Australia’ a lot. I’m worried about the emergence of ‘Team Idiot’.”
“Once upon a time, I thought denial was a river in Egypt. It’s actually the attitude of the Abbott government. They need to buy a mirror if they want to see what’s wrong with this country at the moment.”
“It’s not the Prime Minister’s budget which keeps me up at night, it’s his unfair budget to all Australians.”
But unless someone can turn the Liberal ship around, the Prime Ministership will drop into Bill Shorten’s lap.