Like Rudd, Turnbull wants to be Prime Minister. Like Rudd, Turnbull sees the party he leads as little more than a vehicle for getting him there. Unlike Rudd, however, Turnbull leads a party that right now is less interested in gaining power than wrestling with what they stand for. For the Coalition, their starting point is not what those sectional interests that made the party actually want (which is not much more than what they are getting from the current government) but rather the result of some ‘battle of ideas’. This is always a pointless exercise for any political party, let alone one as anti-intellectual as the Liberal Party of Australia.

Unless Turnbull actually wants to lead the Liberals for the sake of it, which is unlikely, his threat that his leadership will be untenable if the Liberals refuse to negotiate on the ETS is not a death wish, but simply a matter of fact if the Coalition is to have any hope of getting a reasonable result at the next election. Miranda Devine might think that Turnbull is mainly delivering an ultimatum as a crafty exit strategy, but that’s only because she agrees with the sceptic position and presumably thinks it will (eventually) be an electorally viable position. But whatever is thought of the scientific evidence, the polling evidence is indisputable – climate change scepticism is electoral death and Turnbull had no choice.

The media still can’t get their heads around the depth of the Coalition’s problems, even as they come to the surface. The failure of the, er, highly promising Peter Dutton to gain pre-selection was seen as a slap in the face for Turnbull and a sign of his faltering grip on the party organisation. But eventually any Liberal leader would have had to come to terms with the loss of the branch in Queensland through an organizational collapse that was merely disguised as a ‘merger’ with the Nationals.

What happened in Queensland, the Liberals’ weakest state branch, is a reminder of what a loss of ‘brand’ actually means and what is at stake in the climate change wrangles. The media may confuse themselves that this is about electoral positioning and that Turnbull’s threat of a double dissolution has some meaning. But if the Liberals were seriously thinking about electoral consequences at the moment, they wouldn’t be adopting a sceptic position in the first place.

The Nationals might be able to delude themselves that they are adopting a sceptical position for electoral reasons to fight off the independents, even though experience shows the exact opposite (Dennis Shanahan’s contention that the Nationals’ 4% polling shows that their sceptic stance is ‘bearing fruit’ is highly amusing). However, for the Liberals, dreaming up an electoral justification for taking a sceptical line is harder given the complete lack of support from the polling. So it is quite possible that Turnbull will manage some fudge compromise. Turnbull’s case is not just helped by the electoral unpopularity of taking a sceptic position but the fact that it will also put the Coalition in a position that is out of line with global opinion, which would be almost unthinkable (something his recent visit to the UK Conservatives was designed to re-emphasise).

There is also the fear, which has been palpable since Bishop was ousted from the shadow Treasury portfolio, that Turnbull’s departure could open the party to more instability that would make the situation worse. So media expectations that the Liberal sceptics will back away from the brink may come to pass.

Yet the media have also consistently failed to grasp what is at stake and why the climate change is so important for the Liberals as a means of establishing a reason for existing. It is why the media might once again be under-estimating the potential for instability that now exists.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 6 October 2009.

Filed under Media analysis

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8 responses to “It’s the Coalition that’s on a suicide mission, not Turnbull”

  1. kymbos on 6th October 2009 8:52 am

    If Turnbull goes before the next election, the Libs will be looking at an absolute rout at the polls. It really is like watching a car crash in slow motion.

  2. Graham on 6th October 2009 10:18 am

    I think there are many in the Liberal Party who think climate change and the ETS is a bit of an inconsequential play thing that is a useful tool for playing a factional game within the party. I think these people are so out of touch with public opinion on this that they just are not aware of the damage they are doing to themselves and their party.

    Watching 4 Corners last night and seeing a similar thing in the NSW Labour Party over privatisation of power and the impact on things like public transport, should be a good lesson for these ratbag Libs and Nats to show them where you end up.

  3. The Piping Shrike on 6th October 2009 4:12 pm

    I think that’s a good comparison.

  4. Ad astra on 6th October 2009 5:22 pm

    The fact that the Coalition is prepared to allow such a public display of disunity means either that situation is quite out of control, like a firestorm, or that it has accepted that the next election is lost and the period ahead provides an opportunity for it to reconstruct itself from its state of disarray, probably with a new power alignment, which I expect it believes will give it greater political leverage.

    Turnbull’s role in a future Coalition is debateable. Some feel he will give the Coalition the flick if he can’t get his way on the ETS amendments; others think he might try to form a new conservative party. In my view, he never did have the political nous to be a leader or the people skills to draw together his disparate herd of angry quarrelsome cats. Nor does he have the patience. He would be better off doing something else. Having him leader at election time will not reduce the extent of the electoral loss, if today’s Newspoll is any guide. The Coalition might find it better to select a ‘nightwatchman’ leader who at least did not exhibit the combative style of Turnbull, which has turned off the public and many in his party.

    What Turnbull will do now is the current topic for discussion on The Political Sword.

  5. JimmyD on 6th October 2009 6:56 pm

    Going on about what Ad astra said about Turnbull founding a new conservative political party – what is the likelihood of that?

  6. The Piping Shrike on 6th October 2009 8:11 pm

    It seems hard at this stage to imagine it will be that clarifying as to lead to a separate party.

  7. Ozymandias on 7th October 2009 8:06 pm

    Jimmy D, Turnbull will never found and lead another party. As AA says above, he just doesn’t have the nous -particularly the political nous- or the people skills to lead a party. He’s also showing signs of being bored with the whole thing, and the temptation to scurry off to Tuscany intensifies.

    Now if you’d asked whether he might back a new party financially, as a way of getting revenge on his Lib enemies, then the answer might be different.

  8. guppy on 7th October 2009 8:28 pm

    This is renewal Liberal style. Utter disaster and ruin followed by more followed by more…..Till someone NOT in the present crowd herds the survivors out of the wilderness. Liberals are a minimum of 3 elections away from another dig.

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