So here we are, marking the Ides of Malcolm. One year ago today Malcolm Turnbull reached for his dagger and plunged it into the political heart of his Caesar, Tony Abbott. But for him, every wound he has inflicted since has been on himself.
Instead of celebrating his successes and a crushing election win over Bill Shorten and Labor, however, Malcolm is a wounded el toro in the political bullring, tormented by matadors and picadors from all sides, including his own party. Being wounded, however, Turnbull isn’t dead and he can yet recover: this week, with the negotiation of a compromise with Shorten that ensure the passage his Government’s omnibus savings bill, Turnbull can point to an achievement that shows that possibly, maybe, he can make this benighted parliament of his own double-dissolution making work. That must be the start of a consolidation and restoring determined policy leadership that has been lacking for many months.
Turnbull’s biggest political mistake since his coup was forgetting Abraham Lincoln’s dictum of acting “with malice towards none, and charity for all”. By continually treating Abbott with disdain, by not honouring his predecessor’s achievements in leading the Coalition out of the wilderness and at least showing great courage in risking terminal unpopularity in 2014 to repair the Rudd-Gillard budgetary wreckage – in actually trying to do something – Turnbull has diminished himself just as much as he did with his petulant election night outburst. And not taking Abbott back into cabinet post-election – binding his predecessor with strictures of cabinet solidarity and collective responsibility as well as using his talents for the greater cause – allowed Abbott ongoing freedom to speak his mind, and his supporters to keep on sniping.
Meanwhile, as the day he must have been dreading has arrived, Abbott himself is showing far more loyalty to Turnbull than Turnbull showed to him. He is trying, with dignity, to strike the right tone. If only Peta Credlin and other Abbott supporters would follow Abbott’s lead. Her renewal of her headline-catching and trenchant criticism of Turnbull – highlighted by her excoriating opinion piece in The Australian on Monday – was typically shrewd and acute in terms of political and personal insight. She would carry more power in her criticisms, though, if Turnbull’s pre-coup destabilisation of Abbott’s and Credlin’s prime ministership hadn’t been given so much fertile soil to till.
For Liberals desperate that a Coalition government survives and thrives, and whether they are most loyal to Abbott or Turnbull, the Ides of Malcolm aren’t much to celebrate. But at least we can be heartened by the very high calibre of some of the new Liberal MPs who came in this year: media phenomenon Tim Wilson obviously gets all the attention, but also outstanding people like Julian Leeser, James Paterson and Nicolle Flint, joining thinking conservatives of integrity and principle like WA’s Dean Smith. These young MPs are key to the policy and values renewal of the Liberal party that is badly needed, and can rescue it from the sad Miss Havisham she has become, sipping her Big Government gin in her faded and mildewed Small Government wedding dress, futilely mourning lost husbands Bob Menzies and John Howard.
The sad part is, unless Turnbull and his government get their act together by the end of the year, these young talents look like having long, barren years of opposition to look forward to.