Flat White

Newspoll: the Liberals, not just Turnbull, are the problem

28 February 2017

11:10 AM

28 February 2017

11:10 AM

With the latest Newspoll showing the Coalition trailing Labor 45 to 55 2PP and One Nation at ten percent otherwise, a mob of Delcons are already braying for Turnbull’s head. They point out that the coup which ousted their man was a wash, if not a net loss. They demand the party room transfer Turnbull’s democratic mandate to Abbott  — which, erm, was never theirs to dole out in the first place — and it’ll all be even Stevens.

I empathise. Not much, because Abbott was a demonstrable failure, for reasons Miranda Devine summed up nicely. But Abbott was undoubtedly a better PM than Turnbull is. His worst mistakes (e.g. knighting Prince Philip) show that his political instincts — even the bad ones — are thoroughly conservative. So if there are loyalists out there plotting to put Tones back on the throne, I won’t complain. If they call themselves ‘the deplorables’ while they do it, all the better.

Here’s the rub, though: Turnbull isn’t necessarily the problem. Or at least the public doesn’t seem to think so, as he’s leading as preferred PM, 40 to 33  God knows why, but people still like him — at least more than they like Shorten. Granted, that’s not terribly difficult, but Abbott somehow pulled it off.

I know this will be tough for some of you to hear, but folks aren’t put off by the Liberal leader. They’re put off by the Liberals: the personalities, the culture, all of it. They hate the constant white-anting, leaking, and undermining. They hate the incessant, roaring whispers of coups and factional warfare. They hate the fickle, feckless party room. They hate the chronic deficit of true leadership, which leaves them unable to find a better replacement for the top job than a man who already failed miserably at it. They hate not knowing if they’ll wake up one morning with yet another new PM they didn’t vote for. They hate the total lack of direction, principle, and a governing philosophy.

Most of all, they hate this thin, cheap veneer of unity. They hate that lie about there being ‘no factions in the Liberal Party’, which is rather like Sweden saying it doesn’t have a migrant crisis. It’s one of those obvious untruths politicians tell for the expressed purpose (I assume) of totally wrecking their own credibility. They look us straight in the eye and tell us the sky is green, just so it’s clear we can never trust anything they say, however remedial or insignificant.

Anyway, that’s the problem with the Liberals. And while my respect for them would grow slightly if they restored Abbott (or, better yet, put up Dutton), apparently I’m an outlier. If they go through with it, they shouldn’t assume it’ll be all kisses and cuddles with the voters from thereon in. The problem’s systemic. The whole organisation’s rotting from the inside out.

In fact, it could hurt them in the long run, further damaging what little rapport they have left with the public. That was the great error of replacing Abbott with Turnbull in the first place: they thought they could put whipped cream on cauliflower and call it an ice cream sundae, without anyone noticing the horrible off-white nuggets of awful concealed underneath.

Well, now the Australian people have lapped up the whipped cream. They liked it — in fact, they’d be glad for some more — but they still don’t want to eat their veggies, and they’re insulted by the obviousness of the ruse. If the Coalition’s powerbrokers can’t wrap their heads around that, they may as well appoint Clive Palmer’s heroin dealer as leader. It won’t help them any.

Last time I wrote on this topic, someone accused me of offering criticism sans solution. So let me be as clear as possible: my recommendation is that the Liberals democratise preselections. That way, there’s at least a chance MPs will be chosen for their character, and not for having sold their soul to Michael Photios. (Speaking of whom: good riddance. And take that big, bald Bichon Frise Zimmerman with you.) That’s an excruciatingly simple way of setting the stage for a total purge of hacks and powerbrokers. Which, presumably, is why it hasn’t happened yet.

But, surprisingly enough, I sympathise with Peter Von Applesauce in this instance. It could be that this bitter infighting is unavoidable when you put principled conservatives (he calls us ‘reactionaries’) and progressives in the same party, tell them to find common ground, and organise a mutually-agreeable chain of command. I really, strongly doubt it can be done. If it can’t, conservatives will have to make their home elsewhere — at least for the time being. Will that be painful? Yes. More painful than carrying on like this ad infinitum? Good Lord, no.

Michael Davis tweets @mwardav

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