Tuesday, 6 October 2009
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