In getting rid of Tony Abbott, the Liberal Party faced a terrible dilemma. Should they continue with the leader who was, according to every poll taken during his leadership, going to take them to certain defeat or should they replace him with someone who was popular in the electorate but would leave the party deeply divided?
The resolution of this dilemma has set up an interesting dynamic and what may be a downward death spiral for the party.
Turnbull’s electoral popularity is declining disastrously. As it goes down, support for him inside the party will also be declining, increasing party divisions and invigorating the right wing.
Malcolm Turnbull may be in for an attack of the Glums.
There is no doubt a significant right-wing element within the party that will have the view that it may be necessary to ride out the “Turnbull experiment” for at least one electoral term. During that time, the right wing of the party will oppose and frustrate all the policies that have made Turnbull popular in the electorate: action on climate change, green energy, same-sex marriage, reconciliation, the Republic ( it’s a long list). Turnbull’s defeat will see the Liberal party lurch the to the right with policies that may make it terminally unelectable.
Turnbull’s response has been interesting and typical. The Guardian reports him as saying:
“Now is not the time for a protest vote or a wasted vote,” Turnbull said.
“It’s time to use your vote carefully, to prevent the chaos of a hung parliament, a hung parliament that would bring government and our economic transition to a grinding halt, costing our jobs, the jobs of our children, threatening their future.
“Every single vote for Nick Xenophon, the independents, the Greens or Labor, brings us closer to Bill Shorten and the Greens running Australia.”
What is interesting about this is that Turnbull considers voting for anyone other than his party as a protest or, at worst, a wasted vote. The assumption that a hung parliament will threaten our future is absolutely baseless. Julia Gillard was a skilful politician who, for all her faults, showed how to manage a hung parliament.
The signs are ominous for Malcolm.
The latest IPSOS poll puts Labor ahead for the first time in the campaign. It may not be enough to win government. But if the trend continues for the next month, it probably will be.
What will be of more concern for Liberal strategists is support for the Greens and the minor parties.
The Greens 15% is probably likely to go to Labor on preferences as it is difficult to imagine Green voters preferencing the Liberals. This leaves the two parties with roughly half the vote each, making the probability of a hung parliament of fairly high.
What then becomes important is what the other 10% do, particularly with their vote for the Senate. With the combined Green and minor party votes accounting for 25% of the electorate, any elected government could find itself facing a large and probably unmanageable cross bench.
One thing is certain. If the Liberal party loses the election, Tony Abbott will be saying, “I could have won.” The tragedy is that there are probably people in the Liberal party who will believe him.
Australian politics could be entering uncharted waters.