Allowing that Nero sets aside his fiddle and actually convenes the party room meeting which decency should have obliged him to call on Thursday, Liberals will have a new leader and Australia its latest prime minister. The choice is clear: we get a conservative — or , sooner or later, a new party
UPDATE: It’s Morrison, 40-45, according to confirmed reports from inside the party room. The Liberals have made their choice. Now conservatives get to make theirs.
Come on, Liberals, make my day.
Three years ago, watching from the sidelines as Malcolm Turnbull leaked and schemed and repaid the prime minister who magnanimously installed him in Cabinet despite an unblemished record of failure, I wondered what had taken possession of the party’s wits. Surely they saw this vainglorious wretch for what he was and always had been, a narcisistic wrecker in a well-cut suit. Surely they grasped their colleague’s ego and ambition were unmoderated by nous, let alone a sense of obligation to those who installed him? Surely they realised they had hitched their wagons to a creature only marginally more pleasant than something to be wiped with a grimace from the sole of one’s shoe? Surely they understood that the feting of an ego by the likes of the ABC, the Fairfax press, Tim Flannery and every other variety of climate hysteric was an indictment, not an endorsement?
But, no, none of those thoughts seem to have occurred to them, and thus it was the Liberal Party began the process of reducing itself to what it is today, a fractious and anxious rabble too preoccupied with appeasement to recall the reason they became Liberals in the first place. That would be a set of not-too-forbidding principles: free speech, free markets, free minds.
Today, when Malcolm Turnbull, human wart, is excised from the face of the party, the key questions will be adverbial: Who will lead? Where will they lead? What do they stand for? Why should voters ever again trust them?
The answer, the multiple-choice option of selecting (A) Julie Bishop, (B) Scott Morrison or (C) Peter Dutton.
Julie Bishop, according to this morning’s rumours, is garnering the votes of lady Liberals. Solidarity, sisters! If true, and were she to succeed, what hope of reclaiming the party’s soul and perspective? Cash to the Clinton Foundation abroad. Devious treachery at home. An ignorance of economics so pronounced it makes Emma Alberici seem competent. If the Liberals want Malcolm Turnbull in a size 4 frock, she is waiting for her closeup.
Scott Morrison? The man who kept his powder dry when Turnbull was making the moves that toppled Tony Abbott, professing his support for the then-leader while lifting not a finger to support the man whose guidance and mentoring made his career? The Treasurer who knows how to spend but not to slash, whose only observed reaction to question and criticism is bellicose belligerence, who dutifully saluted his soon-to-be-ex leader’s inane plans to pump water uphill and cut the price of power by making it more expensive? As to rat-cunning deviousness, if there is any truth to speculation that Morrison deliberately misled Turnbull about the extent of Dutton’s support in order to prompt a premature party room meeting and thus open the way for his own ascension to the top job, well what can be said of such a shark? Malcolm Turnbull with less polish and no less appetite for intramural chicanery.
And finally, Peter Dutton, endorsed this morning by TV’s Lisa Wilkinson. That’s her tweet at right, listing all the things she and those like her, which is to say the self-pleasuring solons of the media class, regard as negatives.
Boycotted the Sorry speech. Good. ✓
Like all living Australians he has never distributed diseased blankets or poisoned flour to Aborigines. Why should he apologise for something he has never done — other than vote for billions of dollars annually to “close the gap”, which only ever seems to get wider
Sent txt to female journo: ‘You’re a f*#@ing witch’. Better ✓
That txt was directed in error to the object of his ridicule, Samantha Maiden. As some at Sky News might attest, truth could be mustered as an adequate defence.
Joked about Pacific nations being wiped out by rising seas. Best ✓
They’re not sinking.
Voted ‘no’ on marriage equality. Impressive ✓
A commendable affirmation of one man’s refusal to act against his principles, whether you agree with his stance or not.
If a politician is to be known by his enemies, Peter Dutton is the standout possibility in today’s field. More than that, he might actually have some fight in him. Tony Abbott didn’t, not once he had moved into The Lodge. Who recalls the stony silence of that staring match with Seven hack Mark Riley, who accused him of making light of Australian casualties in Afghanistan? Abbott should have socked him, verbally at the very least. Or who can forget the passivity when he was derided for winking at the ABC’s Jon Faine as a phone-sex granny called in for an on-air gripe session? Perhaps the Jesuits got to him as a child, filling his head with the addled post-Vatican II notion of there being good in even the worst of us (when there clearly isn’t) and that one must turn the other cheek to make friends of enemies. As Abbott discovered, that just means evenly balanced facial bruising.
Dutton might be cut from more robust cloth. We won’t know for sure, allowing that he gets the top job, until the first ABC ambush (“So, Mr Dutton, when did you stop beating your wife?”). If he pushes back, refuses to be verballed, we just might have the fighter the Liberals, and conservatives, have needed for so long.
Install Dutton and conservatism might, just might, have a chance of reclaiming Middle Australia and doing right by it.
And if the party room doesn’t, if it opts for the clothes horse or the shout-until-hoarse, well that’s a win too.
We’ve needed a new party for some time — a party not overseen at state level by main-chancers, cowards and and tin-eared incompetents. Place either of those two contenders atop the Liberals’ reeking pile, Bishop or Morrison, and a new party will arise, albeit one forged in the catastrophe of a Shorten prime ministership. Politics, just like nature, abhors a vacuum and there has seldom been a bigger void than the Liberal Party of today.
The easy way or the heartbreak route, the wrong road or the right one, both lead to the same destination.
So come on, Liberals, make my day.
Roger Franklin edits Quadrant Online