Guest Notes

Australian notes

7 January 2017

9:00 AM

7 January 2017

9:00 AM

Malcolm the Fission Fiasco

I don’t agree with all those many right-of-centre commentators who think the current Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, has turned out to be a complete dud and failure in every way. That sort of claim is just plain out wrong. You see in one way Mr Turnbull is in fact something of a genius. He has the F-Factor, and he oozes it in a super-charged way.

What is the F-Factor? That’s the Fission Factor, the ability to split apart right-of-centre people who used to agree on most things. Mr Turnbull’s super power is the ability to divide conservatives into two camps, both of which seem to think the other is basically delusional, deluded, dyspeptic, delirious, disaffected, demoniac, pick your favourite term of abuse that begins with the letter ‘d’.

On the one side are those who thought the move to defenestrate (sorry, I’ve got ‘D’s on the brain) Mr Abbott was a good idea. And I’m not here talking about your lefty ABC or Fairfax types, the sort of type that clearly includes Niki Savva and Peter van Onselen. No, I’m talking about small government, strong borders conservatives who wanted Abbott out and Turnbull in. I’m talking about people with whom the usual readers of this fine publication would have agreed on most things, most of the time. This is the pro-Turnbull camp. It included Janet Albrechtsen, Miranda Devine, Sinclair Davidson, John Roskam (who has recanted I believe, unlike perhaps the others mentioned) and more.

Then there is the anti-Turnbull camp. Let me be blunt. Almost everyone in this anti-Turnbull camp had become disappointed with Mr Abbott on his pusillanimous caving in on the 18C repeal promise, for his raising taxes (and without first getting any spending cuts through the Senate to boot), and for his seeming desire to want those on the left, the ABC luvvies, to like him – which was never going to happen, let’s be honest. (And isn’t that one of the great charms of Mr Trump? He knows that the regular media class and the PC brigade will always hate him so he doesn’t give an inch with them; he calls them out as ‘enemies’; he yells ‘you are a biased bunch of hypocrites’ every chance he gets; it’s delightful, to use a different sort of ‘D’ word.)

All that conceded, it was nevertheless true that this anti-Turnbull camp was (and is) strongly pro-Abbott in this sense. No one in this group thought that Malcolm would be a better PM – a better right-of-centre PM – than Abbott had been. Let’s be blunt (again).If you are disappointed with Mr A for not being sufficiently small government, pro-free speech, and the rest you don’t replace him with Mr T who on every single count is worse. Yes, worse.

So this is the anti-Turnbull camp. I confess that it included me right from day one but also included John Stone, Roger Franklin, the superb and insightful editor of the wonderful magazine you have in your hands, Rowan Dean, Terry McCrann, Rita Panahi and more. As far as I know no one in the anti-Turnbull camp has recanted, no doubt in part because of what is known in the philosophy of science as ‘the facts’. Look at the last year and a bit that Malcolm has been PM and can you see any reason, any reason at all, why an anti-Turnbull person would have recanted?

Anyway, my point is not to relitigate this dispute. It’s true that I sometimes feel I’m living in a parallel universe when I read, say, Janet Albrechtsen in her end of year column before Christmas giving Malcolm a B+ grade for how he’s done this past half year since the July 2nd election. Seriously? The judgment is that he’s performed just a shade under the top grade going? I mean probably not even Niki Savva would give Malcolm that high a score, and her husband works for the man. (You might not know that as she doesn’t declare it every single column she writes bagging Tony, who didn’t employ hubby, but take it from me he does.)

Look, if we calibrate marking in such a way that Malcolm Turnbull so far deserves a B+ grade for the job he’s doing as PM then I suppose we’d also have to give David Cameron, who wanted to stay in the EU, a B+ for the way he handled the Brexit referendum. Hillary would get a B+ for the sterling way in which she chose to ignore the white working class voter and opted, instead, to play the ‘identity politics’ card in the US election campaign. What the hell, let’s give the Australian cricket team’s performance these last few months an ‘A’, as they at least managed to get a few runs on the board. Basically unless you’re a Mugabe or an Assad it’s pretty hard to see how you could score a failing grade using this marking calibration. (In Janet’s defence, though, this sort of ‘good grades on steroids’ marking inflation has totally infected our universities, so perhaps she’s just reflecting the current Australian higher education zeitgeist when she hands out this B+. If you’re breathing and paying that’s about the worst you can get.)

Where was I? Oh yes. My point is that at some time in the future conservative thinking people are going to have to reconcile if the right side of politics is going to have any long-term and meaningful success. This will not be easy, such has been the genius of one Mr Malcolm Turnbull. Look at the UK and how long it took Conservatives there to get over the way in which Mrs Thatcher was dumped by her caucus. The Tories really only got over this with the Brexit referendum and the vote to leave the EU and with Mr Cameron’s resignation. That’s a long time. And with Thatcher she’d been in office a long time by the time she was knifed. In many ways it’s more destructive of a party when a first term PM, who has delivered a massive majority, is knifed. His supporters don’t feel he was given a decent go.

Anyway, as I’m fresh off actually betting and winning money on the Brexit result and on the Trump win I’m going to make this prediction. If Turnbull leads the Coalition to the next election then he and they will lose and lose badly. I sure won’t be voting for the man. Take him out of the picture and I’m open to bringing the band back together.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments