One of my favourite authors is Patrick O’Brian, creator of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. A memorable line from one of the novels occurs in the context of Jack Aubrey having been shafted by his enemies and lost the support of many of his supposed friends who disassociated themselves from him for fear of contagion. The line reads:
They treated him very shabbily and can never forgive him for that.
It has often struck me that the same could be said regarding Tony Abbott. Today’s editorial (February 25) in The Australian opines that, whilst Abbott’s policy agenda makes a lot of sense:
The best that can be said for his efforts is that at least they are in the open — a shirt-front, if you will, rather than backstabbing — and they are based on policy. But offering ideas privately and constructively would be preferable, as the Coalition lays the groundwork for a crucial and difficult budget.
Abbott has made no secret of the fact that he would like to be back in Cabinet and the editorial goes on to concede
By leaving Mr Abbott on the backbench, the Prime Minister has freed him from the strictures of cabinet solidarity.
But then it has a two-bob each-way:
On the other hand, Mr Abbott’s behaviour might now tend to vindicate Mr Turnbull’s judgment.
There seems to be a protocol among political commentators that one political assassination, while not ideal, is acceptable but two is beyond the pale. In other words, if you’ve won a huge majority and had some major victories but are not travelling too well in the polls, you must cop it sweet when you are betrayed and shafted ‘for the good of the party’.
Commentators 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 because he is a former PM and the victim of political assassination? Even if he had resigned from Parliament, would his words be more acceptable to commentariat or government? I think not.
Why didn’t Abbott’s backers and allies insist on him being given a place in Cabinet? Even if they felt the blood was still too wet on their hands immediately after the coup, they had a perfect opportunity when Turnbull very nearly lost the last election.
Had he been an honourable man, a leader possessed of the same desire to see his party succeed that his allies now lament is missing in Abbott, Turnbull should have declared a leadership spill. Think about it. He tore down a first-term prime minister in the full knowledge that his sniping, leaking and white-anting worked as much to Labor’s advantage as his own personal ambitions. He reduced a massive majority to one seat — just one heart attack or resignation away from disaster — and delivered a Senate just as, if not more, dysfunctional than the one it replaced.
But self-awareness is not in Turnbull’s nature. He was not born with the humility gene, nor has a lifetime of being feted and flattered, the inevitability of his ascendancy tirelessly proclaimed by those for whom his magnificence was an article of unquestioned faith, done anything to encourage self-appraisal.
On that election night, when a shell-shocked Turnbull called on the Federal Police to investigate his party’s near-death experience, that was the moment Abbott’s supporters, and even some of the more astute traitors, should have realised that they had been tragically wrong to endorse or accede to Turnbull’s conception of himself. They should have insisted on a spill or, at the very least, that Abbott be brought back into Cabinet. Incapable of looking above and beyond the high walls of his ego, Turnbull needed to have reality thrust upon him by his team.
Like so many other soured aspects of Turnbull’s prime ministership, from the ill-conceived bid to seat a more amenable Senate to the ongoing and increasingly open revolt of those who, to use Abbott’s words, resent the Liberal Party’s devolution to ‘Labor Lite’ — Turnbull and his backers have only themselves to blame.
They won’t see it that way, of course. As Jack Aubrey discovered, none are so resolute in their enmity as those determined not to acknowledge their own culpability.