Is Turnbull a politician?

Thursday, 26 November 2009 

Let’s start with the basics: a sceptic position is electoral death. For the first time in living memory, key powerbrokers in the Liberal party have placed themselves in a position that is marginalised from mainstream politics both here and overseas. Given that these powerbrokers have been major opponents of Turnbull, this puts him in a stronger position.

The question is whether Turnbull has the capacity to bring this weakness of his opponents out or whether it will be someone else who will benefit. A sign of the weakness of his opponents is the way that there has been back-tracking over whether this is really about climate change and to prefer to merely defer any decision until after Copenhagen.

Too late. It is true that this is not really about climate change, but about the ‘soul’ of the party, which is why pro-climate change advocates like Tuckey are still against Turnbull. But the old guard have made it about climate change. They have chosen the ETS to make their stand and twittered on like dissenting climatology scientists as they have done so. Most importantly, they have taken a position that is electoral death in a party that has always prided itself on its electoral pragmatism.

This is the window that Turnbull has but which needs a politician to exploit. One of the criticisms made of Turnbull is that he has been too polarising. This blog suggests the problem is the reverse. Turnbull has generally been too slow to polarise especially publicly. This is where he acts like a CEO, where the battles are in the boardroom, rather than a politician, where who wins the internal battles is the one who can make it a winning public strategy.

The last few days have shown that Turnbull has still not learnt this art of making an internal problem a public stance. Turnbull’s public profile should be burned into the electorate’s head as a fierce advocate of climate change action. Instead he walked into his position in a vacuum without a real political challenge, and repeated Nelson’s twin track approach while as leader, despite the obvious lessons of his predecessor. Even after his bravado press conference following the ETS non-vote, he was still trying to please both camps by criticising Labor’s plan, rather than his real enemies, the sceptics behind him. This does not need a direct attack on them, but an indirect one of advocating a strong position on climate change in front of a public audience – just as the sceptics did on 4 Corners the week before.

The resignation of the sceptics is a clever act, but from a position of weakness. If they were in a strong position they would have stayed and simply got rid of Turnbull. Instead, their only weapon is chaos and disruption. They are attempting to make the party unmanageable and turn the issue back to Turnbull’s style. Their best bet is to get someone more malleable like Hockey, and do a ‘half Nelson’ on him again. They will be in trouble if Turnbull manages to rapidly stabilise the front bench (leaving a reshuffle to next week is not a good idea) while still banging on about the politics of climate change. Let’s see if Turnbull will let them get away with it.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 26 November 2009.

Filed under Political figures, Tactics

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15 responses to “Is Turnbull a politician?”

  1. Avalon Dave on 26th November 2009 9:48 pm

    Four Corners, I thought , was a watershed moment.

    However, I just CAN NOT – repeat CAN NOT – believe the last few days.

    Rudd is the biggest media tart in the world. But where has he been? As our nations’s leader, he surely has to have been the most invisible PM we have seen this last week – ever.

    The Coalition sceptics claim that they have had phone calls followed by emails, followed by phones calls, from their party “faithful”, over the ETS.

    Most Sydney die hard Liberal voters I talk to, just shake their heads when I mention the current Federal coalition. Me thinks it is the old One Nation voters that are innundating the Liberal & National Party telephone lines.

    These ‘concerned voters’ that the coalition refer to as their base? I mean really, who else they ‘gonna call’? Ghostbusters?

    The problem these Howard Legacy Huggers in the Federal Party have, is singlefold. The only section of the community now listening to them, are the same people that deserted them for Pauline Hanson.

    All the normal people are just shaking their heads.

  2. The Piping Shrike on 26th November 2009 10:05 pm

    Yes the idea of backroom hacks like Minchin determining his career based on grassroot concerns is especially amusing.

    I think you’re right 4 Corners was seminal, as was the Abbott interview – it was when the opponents of Turnbull openly came out as sceptics on science and so formally marginalised themselves.

  3. Excited on 26th November 2009 11:50 pm

    It’s an exciting time in Australian politics. The egos at play in these meetings must be as spectacular as fireworks. Perhaps we’ll see the remaking of the coalition and the Liberal party. I cant wait for all the players to get their autobiographies out. It’s a pity it comes at the expense of debate about very important policy. At the moment Australia is not well served by this opposition weakness.

  4. Cavitation on 27th November 2009 7:35 am

    To quote a perfect summary provided by a contributor (Leinad) across on the “Larvatous Prodeo” website:-
    “it’s possible for the Liberal trogs to be blinkered dinosaurs fat and accustomed to dominating the small furry warm-blooded moderates AND for Malcom Turnbull to be a divisive, arrogant, alienating grandstander who doesn’t listen to his allies and does no favours to those who’d stand with him.”

    Will Malcolm win this contest? Unlikely, according to the bulk of the commentariat. If he looses, will he do an Andrew Peacock, and go on to the backbench to bide his time for another go? Many in the commentariat seem to think he will quit parliament, but I suspect he will stay.

    What will the Labor party do, if the Liberals ditch Malcolm and oppose or delay the RTA legislation. I think they will call a snap election. The Liberals and Nationals would be decimated at the election, making the new leader’s task in reforming the party much easier. After all, the main reason for supporting climate change legislation for Malcolm was to avoid an early election; something many in the Liberal party have forgotten.

  5. The Piping Shrike on 27th November 2009 7:52 am

    I tend to think MT’s chances of surviving are a bit better than being given credit for. Most telling is that Hockey is being seen as the most likely replacement, somone who agrees with Turnbull on most things.

    I think the Minchin-Abbott crowd are more isolated than they seem.

  6. Malcolm Street on 27th November 2009 8:32 am

    The party would be mad to make Abbott leader – he would be a polarising figure a la Mark Latham who would lead them to further infighting and decimation at an election.

    On the other hand Hockey would be mad to become leader of this rabble and, being a moderate, still have the trog Right destabilising him.

    Kevin Andrews? ROFLMAO!

    Part of me is enjoying this chaos immensely, but the more sober part is concerned with how the nation is going to be run in the absence of an opposition in touch with reality.

  7. Elizabeth Aitchison on 27th November 2009 8:51 am

    I too think we are living in interesting times. However I think that some are equating this with a ‘normal’ leadership spill. This is not about lack of confidence in a leader, this is about two separate beliefs. A few emails and phone calls over the weekend are not going to change the minds of those who believe that something needs to be done re climate change. If Abbott & Minchin et al think beliefs can be changed so easily, what does it say about theirs’?? As piping-shrike said, the do nothing crowd are probably more isolated than they believe.

  8. chrispydog on 27th November 2009 10:36 am

    Hockey? Abbott?

    Oh, this is such fun! Hockey will ditch the ETS which he has publicly backed? Renege on the deal for the leadership? What an act of principled bastardry! An won’t the ALP keep reminding us of it (assuming Hockey ever gets the job).

    Abbott? Ha! The Mad Monk’s polling says it all: electoral poison.

    Turnbull has told Julie Bishop he won’t resign, so it’s on.

    Malcolm: crash and crash through.

  9. Grumps on 27th November 2009 11:58 am

    Interesting premise you have put forward, has MT ‘the balls’ to regain leadership at a more suitable timing in the electoral cycle.

    The core problem for the current Liberal party is the poor condition that little Johnnie left it in. In my view this is a party more riven with political factions than any labour party you may care to point to. Whilst the ‘Messiah’ stuck around, rewarding and punishing factions and their notional heads, he held, melded and wielded this group to achieve his aims. Just like any Eastern European communist leader before the ultimate fall of their dictatorship.

    More simply, currently we are watching the rise within the Liberals of the far right factions and an attempt to lead/steal the party and more importantly the brand. This is the best and only time that this rump has to achieve its aims. At the end of the day the ETS is only a means to an end. Will they? My oath!

    In this putsch these forces will be hoping for as long a run up to the next election as they can get to position their brand as a loving and caring group with only good intentions for the Howard Battlers.

    Will MT serve time on the backbench and retake the leadership after the next election loss for the Liberals. I think not. I do not believe the Liberals will have the stomach to relive their ‘Latham’ experiment. Also the temperate of the man, I suggest, will not see him be prepared to do the hard miles. This is the signature of some of our toughest and tenacious PM’s of both persuasions.

    Is the next Liberal PM on the opposition benches at the moment? I would contend they are not there yet. Will they be branded Liberal? I would proffer they may well be not.

  10. Graham on 27th November 2009 12:14 pm

    The Parliamentary Liberal Party is a dog – who in their right mind would want to lead it at the moment? If Turnbull looses the job, he won’t be sticking around Parliament for long so we will have another by-election, which will be a good test for the how the punters have viewed the last week or so.

    I wonder how all this is going to impact on the by-elections in Higgins and Bradfield? Will you risk an opinion, Piping?

  11. John Rocket on 27th November 2009 1:28 pm

    What about the Berlusconi option?

    Mr Turnbull has got the personality, the ego and the temperament. This is an incredibly humiliating manner to attempt to destroy a man who – by all accounts – responds very poorly to people threatening to destroy him. A wounded Turnbull is capable of anything.

    In any event, is the Liberal ‘brand’ already destroyed beyond repair?

    If anyone has the motive and means to do a Berlusconi in Australia… it’s Turnbull. Mr Turnbull has got considerable personal wealth and, as former Treasurer of the Federal Liberal Party, he’s got the black book of donors. He’s got network.

    If a Mr Turnbull led faction cross the floor and vote through the ETS on Monday… is that the beginning of the new right party? What would be the implications for the Liberal Party of Mr Turnbull doing this?

  12. The Piping Shrike on 27th November 2009 2:53 pm

    I think the Bradfield and Higgins question is interesting. Would they do better with Turnbull’s policies or Abbott’s? After all isn’t this their base? I think the answer is Turnbull.

    Raising the question on Turnbull’s political skills is more to raise the point that there are several signs that the right are much weaker in this than they look. Turnbull is on a sharp learning curve, albeit rather late! I thought his AM interview this morning did what he needed to do.

  13. Graham on 27th November 2009 3:51 pm

    RE Higgins and Bradfield, I was thinking more along the lines that Liberal voters in these seats will look in disgust at the events of the last few days, and with either throw their vote in the bin, or give it to one of the independents or even the Greens. Is it too late for the ALP to put up someone “nice” to run in these seat who will appeal to the middle class voters, and give them a chance to put the boot into rabid Libs.

  14. Frank Campbell on 29th November 2009 3:08 pm

    Piping Shrike: I haven’t seen this site before. Must be Adelaide, right, the Piping Shrike, the correct name for the “magpie” (damn that football club)…

    Anyway, you state that “Climate change has become the issue that is carrying the Coalition parties downstream not just away from the electorate, but even from their own base.”

    That is the conventional wisdom. But it’s wrong. The shambolic Liberal Right finally realised that Turnbull was being enticed into Rudd’s ETS corral…Turnbull the bellwether. The ETS gives the ALP decades of control over big capital, while the Libs become dependent, vassals of King Rudd. The ETS is (as the Greens and The Guardian correctly say) a fraud. Will not alter GG emissions for at least 26 years and even then will not make a scrap of diff. to global warming. Every scientist knows that. So why this colossal tax? Who needs it? Only Rudd, to cover Australia’s AGW nakedness.It’s a fig leaf. The dumb Right acted just in time. Climate scepticism is rising fast across the anglosphere, even among Oz Greens (11% last week, see Possum polls on Crikey). So your prognosis is wrong in the medium term, though it will look plausible in the short term. If Hockey wins, either now or before the next election, and junks the ETS, he has a chance of winning in 2010. The more the millenarian cult of global warming shrieks, the less rational AGW action will occur and the more voters will be alienated.

  15. The Piping Shrike on 29th November 2009 6:28 pm

    Interesting point. I find it, however, hard to believe that a view fundamentally opposed by big capital would be a minority view in the electorate these days, let alone in the Liberal party. I don’t think big capital has an antagonistic position to the state (and its taxes)as such.

    Historically I see it having been governed by the underlying distributive question i.e. the benefit to labour. That is no longer such an issue politically as seen by the lack of real difference between the left and right in response to the GFC.

    In fact for big capital in the West I see a lot of comfort with the climate change debate, it makes a virtue of their sluggish growth and gives a political weapon against those grubby fast growing competitors of China and India. It is not clear cut but I think big capital is generally for the climate change agenda, not against it.

    You are right to point out increasing cynicism to the climate change agenda in some quarters. I think it could be a problem, to a degree, for Rudd in the future. But I see it less business suddenly realizing their interests but an anti-political mood against what is overwhelmingly a global orthodoxy. This is what makes it dangerous for the Coalition to pursue. I see it having more similarities to One Nation and the Joh for PM push than a Menzian reconstruction of the right.

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