After Turnbull

Despite the caution implicit in Mark Twain’s statement about his reported death being an exaggeration, columnists are almost universally predicting Malcolm Turnbull’s political demise.  Here are some of their dire predictions.

Michelle Grattan's piece in The Age yesterday about the press conference to launch the Coalition’s plan to pay off Labor’s debt No one's fooled by false levity says “The Liberals simply can't afford Turnbull much longer” and later “Behind the scenes, Liberal MPs are talking about the macabre mechanics of Turnbull's political death, which many Liberals expect and quite a few are trying to hasten.” [more]

In an article in the SMH by Phillip Coorey Turnbull faces down enemies there is a video by Peter Hartcher where he predicts the end of Malcolm Turnbull as Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott count their supporters.  In it he says that Malcolm Turnbull is “ a terminal condition as the Liberal leader”, and talks about “...the inevitable collapse of the Turnbull leadership, and about “...Turnbull being in the political killing zone.”

In the Daily Telegraph Steve Lewis and Malcolm Farr write in The Liberal ship is surely sinking “Malcolm Turnbull's hold on the Liberal leadership has been rocked by polling conducted by his own party tipping an election massacre.”

Writing on Thursday in the Herald Sun, A change in the Liberal leadship from Malcolm Turnbull is inevitable and now a question of timing, John Ferguson says:  Whatever gloss the federal Liberal Party puts on the leadership crisis, Malcolm Turnbull is looking like a dead leader walking.” 

Andrew Bolt also in the Herald Sun, wrote yesterday in Party-poopers' decisions leave a Liberal sprinkling of fatalism: “No hope, no real leader, no real successor – could it get any worse for the brawling, broken federal Liberals?”

In the Daily Telegraph, Malcolm Farr writes a piece Liberal support for ETS - an Evict Turnbull Scheme. 

In his House Rules blog Christian Kerr in a piece Brilliant but not made for politics reports that as far back as the debate on the republic there were some who had “...already reached the firm conclusion that Turnbull was absolutely temperamentally unsuited to a career in politics.” 

Today in the SMH Phillip Coorey in a piece Turnbull cruises for bruises reports that there are several in the Liberal Party just trying to get rid of Turnbull: “These people have no alternative candidate, they just want to roll Malcolm, embarrass him out of the job.”   

Of course all these assessments and predictions may be wrong, and Turnbull may hang on beyond the predicted time of his departure – namely, before Christmas.

The purpose of this piece is to canvass the alternatives to Turnbull.

Already Joe Hockey, either by design or out of naivety, let it out that he had been approached to ask if he would take over the leadership, provided of course the position was vacant.  With Peter Costello to resign on October 18 now definitely not a possibility, Hockey is seen as a serious contender.  Tony Abbott too has been positioning himself with regular media appearances as another possibility.

Let’s look at these two.

In yesterday’s SMH, in Just an ordinary Joe? Misha Schubert starts “With Malcolm Turnbull's leadership in decline, the Liberal Party may look to Joe Hockey. But does the affable shadow treasurer have what it takes to lead?”  She reports Brendan Nelson’s view: "Joe is decent, fair, generous, kind and thoughtful. He can also be tough and he can be a thorough bastard if he has to be" and “There are a mountain of such stories about Joe Hockey. Acts of kindness, big and small, often unbidden and many unheralded.” And further “That he has a big heart is without question. Whether his intellect and work ethic are equally colossal is a topic of greater dispute. ...Max Moore-Wilton was heard to describe Hockey as a ‘half-wit”...

“There are two persistent criticisms of Joe Hockey. One is that he speaks before he thinks. The other is that he is not across the detail. On the first charge, his backers concede the point – but argue it works for him....his former chief of staff Matt Hingerty observes. ‘Joe wants to be honest. He wears his heart on his sleeve and the more Machiavellian practitioners of the political arts would say that's a weakness; I'd say that is a strength, it's why the punters like him. He's passionate and prone to saying what he thinks.’"

Schubert concludes with an observation by Liberal Ross Cameron: “There are leaders who have the ability to build momentum and those who don't.  One of the magical factors is the ability to make other people want to be on their team — I think Joe has that in spades."

Writing in today’s SMH, in The banter will turn earnest after Hockey's sunrise Peter Hartcher says “Turnbull is in the political killing zone. His polling numbers are at a dismal level from which no leader has ever recovered.  He has lost the confidence of the electorate and the support of his party. Hockey is the obvious successor. Yet neither he nor any other challenger is stepping forward to finish Turnbull off.”... “Hockey, at 44, can afford to wait.  And, apart from anything else, his wife Melissa, the head of foreign exchange trading at Deutsche Bank in Sydney, is expecting their third child on Monday week.  Yet Hockey is preparing to take the leadership nonetheless. He recognises that Turnbull's leadership is terminal. And even though it does not suit him to become leader at this juncture, he has learnt a powerful lesson from the experience of Peter Costello.”

Hartcher asks: “Is Hockey ready?” and answers: “Although he projects a youthfully buoyant image, he has remarkably long experience, with nine years as a minister in the Howard government. Indeed, if he becomes Opposition leader, he will take the job with more experience as a minister than any Liberal Opposition leader since Billy Snedden.”

There are of course very different views of Hockey.  Read what Bushfire Bill had to say on The Poll Bludger (scroll to item 1644) today “While Dennis Shanahan has somewhat ameliorated his anti-Labor/pro-Liberal stance of the past, he certainly hasn’t given up on his Messiah fixations.  It seems like Dennis has made up his mind that Turnbull has to go and is sticking to it through thick and thin. He tells us that there is now someone to fill the gap: Uncle Joe. It doesn’t seem to matter that Joe is a buffoon who will make a mucky-muck of the Liberal Leadership (or any leadership, for that matter). All that’s important is that Joe is more popular than Turnbull and that he’s prepared to take on the role of leader, presumably with guarantees that he won’t be booted out when he loses the election.”

BB concludes “And still, in their delusions of grandeur, the Coalition believes (and the commentators hope) that a triumph of the will and the new secret weapon – Joe Hockey!!! – will defeat the Asiatic hordes at the last possible moment. I’m tempted to say they have a snowflake’s chance in hell, but that would be too close to the mark.”   And in assessing the leadership of the Liberal Party, past and future, he has this to say: “Nelson never had a hope. Turnbull was too interested in destiny (his own). Joe’s not up to it, and never was. Cozzie lost interest when he read the fine print. Dutton didn’t get pre-selected. Howard lost his seat. Downer took off to hector the Cypriots. Abbott thinks Climate Change is crap. Robb’s running from the black dog. I guess whoever the next Liberal PM may be, he’s too busy studying for the HSC to worry about something that far down the track.”  BB's whole piece is well worth a read.

So far no one has written much about Abbott as a prospect, except The Piping Shrike, Tony Abbott: too clever by half.  It's worth a read.  I responded to that piece with these comments: “Tony Abbott is playing a more astute game than Hockey in positioning himself to take over from Turnbull, should the Liberals decide on a change.  A year ago I would have rated Hockey as the best alternative, but he's been disappointing since then.  His economic credibility has taken a dive, following as he has the disingenuous Turnbull line, his parliamentary performance has been substandard, and he's reported as lacking energy, and some say he is lazy...Of the currently touted replacements for Turnbull, despite his relative unpopularity with the public, Abbott might be the best bet.  Although his 'people skills' are suspect, he's well ahead of Hockey on political skills.  He would have appeal to the conservative elements in his party, and to the climate change sceptics.  He could serve as a 'nightwatchman' until after the next election and save some of the furniture that may be lost if Turnbull continues.  Until he became ill, I thought Andrew Robb might be a better nightwatchman.  He still may be if he makes a good recovery.  Crikey’s ‘The Stump’ had an interesting piece yesterday titled Traffic Cones! by Guy Rundle that canvasses who might be 'parked' as leader until after the 2010 election.  It concludes: "They [the traffic cones] retire the post 2010 loss, and Jumpin Joe or The Mad Monk takes over."

The polls have favoured Joe Hockey.  According to Possum on Pollytics in Opposition leadership polling, Hockey still rates above Turnbull 16% to 12% and above Abbott 7% in the 17 August Essential Research poll, and 20% to Turnbull's 16% and Abbott's 10% in July's Newspoll.  As an aside, the sad thing for the Liberal Party is that in the Essential Research poll 'someone else' topped the 'best leader' stakes with 33%.  I guess it's Hockey's geniality that gives him his ratings.  It's certainly not his intelligence or political nous as the events of the last few days testify.  In a less-than-serious ABC News Radio poll the ratings of the listed replacements were: Phar Lap 75.8%, Joe Hockey 13.8%, Tony Abbott 7.4% and Andrew Robb 3.0%.  A special telephone Morgan Poll out yesterday, conducted on the evenings of October 7 and 8 among an Australia-wide cross section of 549 electors showed, amongst other things, that: “For the first time more Liberal Party voters support Joe Hockey (35%, up 9%) ahead of Malcolm Turnbull (21%, down 14%) as preferred Coalition Leader. Turnbull also trails Tony Abbott (22%, up 6%), but is well ahead of Julie Bishop (5%, down 3.5%). No other Liberal rates above 3% support.”

If I was forced to lay bets, although Turnbull's leadership seems fatally wounded, I would still punt on him surviving until the next election, only because the two most favoured replacements, Hockey and Abbott, are so wanting in the necessary skills, and the Liberal Party so impotent in managing the dysfunction it is experiencing.  The likelihood of the party extruding Turnbull seems much less than him walking away.  In that event however, I would now place Abbott as 'the most likely to succeed' Turnbull.  Not a great prospect!

What do you think?


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