More than a week has now passed since Tony Abbott delivered what the newspapers have been calling his “manifesto” at the launch of the new book Making Australia Right and the reaction to that address has been a genuine eye-opener. A few months ago, who would have rated the ousted PM’s chances of regaining the leadership as better than very slight indeed? Now it’s a possibility. Why? Well, the first prerequisite for his return has been met: the media are now seriously talking about it – most, admittedly, in negative terms, but they would say that, wouldn’t they? Whatever their motives and reactions, Abbott Redux is now a topic for discussion. He is no longer unthinkable.
The most common objection to Abbott’s return posed by commentators of both Right and Left is that he is said to be widely ‘hated’ by the public. It’s true he is a polarizing figure but he was just as ‘hated’ prior to his 2013 landslide election win and, indeed, has been throughout pretty much his entire political career. So scratch that one as a serious objection.
Another refrain is that Abbott has no credibility because he is now proposing policy planks that he walked away from as Prime Minister. To some extent that is true. But, as Andrew Bolt has pointed out, that fact does not render his proposed policies invalid. Let’s cut Abbott some slack on this point and recognise that he was a new PM coping with an intractable and obstreperous Senate. He made concessions and broke some promises, expecting to get a bit of quid pro quo. His debt levy, in particular, was a sop to Labor, enacted in the hope that it would make the opposition more amenable to the spending cuts he and Joe Hockey were proposing. More fool Abbott for that, but it is unlikely he will make the same mistake again if given the chance.
Doubters also point to precedent. Replacing Gillard with Rudd didn’t work. Well, actually it did if the intent was to “save some furniture” at the 2013 election, which is what happened. Who’s to say Abbott couldn’t go one better, given more time than Rudd enjoyed to lift a sagging government’s stocks?
Commentators — the same commentators who touted and pimped for Turnbull — are flaying Abbott for breaking his promise not to snipe, wreck or undermine. But was that promise open-ended? Is Abbott forever disqualified from speaking his mind? Is Abbott obliged to ignore the dire poll number and massive rank-and-file desertions from his party, most particularly the swelling volume of former Coalition voters moving to One Nation? Many of those defectors hold grave reservations about Hansonite economic policies but are switching their allegiance anyway because one party, and only one party, is prepared to identify Islam as antithetical to our Western traditions — the same party, just by the way, which understands the madness and inherent corruption of the green energy debacle and is prepared to say as much in blunt, clear language. The national grid is faltering, blackouts becoming the new normal and jobs going by the board, but from Labor we hear only more demands for extra wind turbines; from the man who plotted and schemed so long and hard to seize the Liberal leadership, rosy-eyed nonsense about so-called “clean coal”.
And here’s another point in Abbott’s favour. If he is indeed sniping — if that is how you choose to stretch the definition of the word — he has at least aired his concerns openly and in public, not behind the scenes as was the case with Rudd and Turnbull.
There is now no doubt that Turnbull must go. It was blindingly obvious at the time of the Coalition’s near-death experience at the last election that he was unfit to preside over the party he had led to the very brink of disaster. The longer Liberals resile from the hard decision to send Turnbull packing, the slimmer their chance of clawing back ground with the voters. And don’t forget, with its one-seat majority in the House, an election could be no more than a heart attack, a resignation or a scandal away from being called.
Yet parliamentary Liberals sit on their hands or, worse than that, accept and embrace the likelihood of a thumping defeat. In the days after Abbott’s speech, the Australian Financial Review quoted a senior conservative as saying, “We’d be better off losing rather than turf out another leader. It would break the party.”
What “party” would that be exactly, Mr Unnamed Source? The party that in NSW is the house pet of lobbyists and influence peddlers? The party that in Victoria is at war with itself? The party that in Queensland survived but a single term? The party that in Western Australia agonised for years about whether it is a prime role of government to regulate the growing and sale of potatoes? The party that in South Australia cannot make ground against a cretinous green government that plunges the state into darkness and drives off industry? The party that, given an opportunity to defend free speech, cannot bring itself to form an opinion on the iniquity of Section 18C.
Break the party indeed! In root, trunk and branch the party was broken, philosophically and practically, a long, long time ago.
So, if you accept the evidence that the Liberal Party has become a hollowed-out shell of gormless cowards and feckless poseurs, of intramural feuders and weak reeds, the only question is who might present the best chance of inspiring its rebirth and and leading its revival? The current front-runner seems to be Peter Dutton. He has done pretty well in Immigration, but so what? Scott Morrison also impressed in that portfolio and few would now regard him as the antidote to Turnbullemia, that condition which sees rank-and-filers battle nausea at every latest serving of the PM’s trademark waffle.
The more the media talks about the impossibility of Abbott’s return, the greater will be the impression among voters that he is, indeed, a viable option. When you compromise your integrity and reputation as thoroughly as did the media in extolling Turnbull as something akin to the Second Coming, there is no credibility left once the electorate has figured out that the purported messiah is no better than a mischievously incompetent, silver-tongued skite. To the extent that anyone can grasp the mindset of Liberal MPs, lost and adrift from their party’s core principles, we can assume the primal instinct to survive is probably still at work. A few more bad polls and, sure as eggs, objections to Abbott’s return will recede.
Abbott may be acting out of self-interest, as his detractors would have it, or out of conviction, as the authors of Making Australia Right would prefer to believe, but for my money he is the last, best hope of saving the nation from a Shorten government.
Winston Churchill, with all his faults and egocentricities, recovered from near-pariah status within the Tory establishment.
You will say that Tony Abbott is no Churchill. But then Churchill was no Churchill until the times demanded it.