The right wing of the Federal Liberal Party is already preparing for the demise of Prime Minister Tony Abbott. A subtle campaign, conducted primarily through The Australian, is beginning to position Scott Morrison as a contender, should there be a spill.
There were two informative articles in The Australian last week. One contained a set of conditions under which the right wing of the party would support Malcolm Turnbull: no support for gay marriage, no support for changing climate policy, no support for a republic etc etc you can imagine what the rest of the list is. What the right was doing, through its official news outlet, was indicating to Turnbull that there was no chance that he would have its support unless he gave up his centralist-left policies.
The other was an article, also run in The Age entitled “In this game of thrones, Scott Morrison is now key.” The article is very positive about Morrison and one of the strongest points it made is that Morrison would come to the job without the baggage that Turnbull does, such as the apostasy of a bilateral approach with the Labour Party to climate change.
The danger for the right is that if there is a spill and both Morrison and Abbott stand against Turnbull, the right-wing vote is likely to be split and Turnbull take the Prime Ministership. So it is imperative for the right that they convince Abbott to stand down before any spill.
So what the right needs to do is to muster its numbers and persuade Abbott not to stand if there is a spill and if Morrison wins, to ramp up the “unity” rhetoric to ensure that Turnbull is not in a position to mount a challenge.
The disadvantage of this strategy is that Morrison is pretty unpopular in the electorate, He ranks behind Turnbull as preferred prime minister and a switch to Morrison may not necessarily lead to an improvement in the polls.
Getting rid of Abbott will remove the largest barnacle on the liberal keel but appointing someone from the right may not lead to the policy change that will help the Liberal party win the next election.
A Turnbull victory after a spill will probably be by the same majority that Abbott defeated him in the last leadership contest: one vote. Such a result would be disastrous and leave the party deeply divided.
The problem for the Liberal party now is that neither the right nor the left can produce a candidate who is likely to have more than the barest majority support in the party room. Continuing poor polling is going to lead to continuing turmoil within the government.