The Liberals start to normalise

Thursday, 17 February 2011 

Poor Julie Bishop. Always the proxy, never the bride. Anyone following her career closely may be getting confused. Why does it seem that everybody wants her job – except when it is actually available?

Readers may remember that this is not the first time there has been criticisms of Julie Bishop’s performance. Early in Turnbull’s tenure, she was the targets of complaints as well. Yet when the deputy leadership became open at the time of Turnbull’s ousting, she was re-elected unopposed.

The reason, of course, was that Turnbull’s ousting was actually the point. Labor may have its Byzantine factional plays, but the Liberals can be even more obtuse, preferring to attack the leadership, via Bishop, than the leader per se. Dennis Shanahan thinks that moves on Bishop might destabilise Abbott’s position. He may just well be right.

That Abbott should be under threat right now may seem odd. The Coalition is now polling the best it has done for years. It’s not been mentioned much but Labor’s primary polling is now the worst it’s been since Keating reneged on the L-A-W tax cuts back in 1993. It’s a two-party system, but even after preferences, the Coalition hasn’t polled this well since the dog days of Beazley Mark II.

In fact it’s the persistency of Labor’s malaise that is causing problems for Abbott and why twice in the last few weeks, first over the flood levy donations letter, and now over the asylum seekers funerals, Hockey has openly positioned himself against Abbott’s leadership.

It’s hard to remember now, but it was only just over a year ago that the crisis in the Liberals had come fully out to the surface after the Grech affair and had left the party in a profound state of demoralisation.

There were four signs. The first was that the party was pretending to be engaged in the battle of ideas, never a good sign for any political party, let alone one as philistine as the Liberals. Second was the open mouthing off of climate change scepticisms – that no matter how some of the media wanted to put it, placed the Liberals in a highly unusual place of being not only outside mainstream opinion in Australia, but very unusually for the Liberals, the global agenda as well. The third was the falling back on the Nationals’ phoney populism, even to the point of being ready to trash their mystical economic brand under Barnaby Joyce.

The final sign of the Liberals acute demoralisation, of course, was the election of Abbott. Abbott’s taking of the leadership signalled what Australia’s most successful political machine had never done before, it was prepared to default the coming election for the sake of its brand.

Labor’s implosion has now given the Liberals breathing space. Not only that, but as it imploded, it did its bit to help stabilise the Liberals, by endorsing their agenda and telling them they were in touch with the electorate after all. Just how much Labor is in awe of Abbott’s agenda was seen on the funerals, when even Hockey recognised what Gillard seemed incapable of – that Morrison and Abbott had gone too far, leaving enough free room for a contender to stake out.

An important stage in the Liberals stabilising was the Victorian election, when Baillieu showed, by not preferencing the Greens, that it was possible to balance satisfying the party base while remaining electorally viable. As the Liberals stabilised, the signs of their demoralisation have fallen away. Joyce and the Nationals were sent packing back to the sticks, climate change scepticism has vanished (where is Cory Bernardi these days?), and as for the battle of ideas … well.

The only sign now left of that period of demoralisation is Abbott. The media don’t see the Liberals’ current unrest as normalising, because they never thought Abbott, and all the phoney populism he dressed himself in, as that peculiar in the first place. Rather than Liberals being in chaos, however, it is looking like the opposite.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 17 February 2011.

Filed under State of the parties

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7 responses to “The Liberals start to normalise”

  1. nobby on 17th February 2011 12:31 pm

    shrike,you never seem to mention the elephant in the room,the malign influence of the murdoch megaphones which i believe overrides all else.

  2. Lentern on 17th February 2011 12:43 pm

    Re the climate sceptics, to be fair the government hasn’t been beating it’s chest about climate change these last few months like it was in December 2009. If this “carbon tax” ever does it make to a vote I’m sure at the very least the Nat’s will resurface.

    Given that the greens could pass it without coalition support it will probably be a much smaller deal for the coalition to vote against it soon.

  3. Michael (the other one who occasionally comments here) on 17th February 2011 2:00 pm
  4. The Piping Shrike on 17th February 2011 6:36 pm

    I think the role of the press tends to get over-estimated, if it was up to the Murdoch press Labor would hardly get in and Greens would not be doing well, especially at the state level (certainly not Bligh at the last election).

    Also, I think it lets the political class off the hook. What has helped the Coalition more: an endorsement from The Australian, or the Australian Labor Party?

  5. nobby on 17th February 2011 8:51 pm

    “if it was up to the Murdoch press Labor would hardly get in”.
    exactly,labor hardly did get in despite sailing through the gfc with hardly a scratch.the constant drum beat of negativity 24hrs a day 7 days a week must have an enormous effect and the coalition doesn’t need an endorsement from the australian after all the condemnation of the alp.

  6. tomd on 19th February 2011 1:00 am

    where is Cory Bernardi these days?

    Apparently harassing the BOM:

    Guess he hasn’t quite given up the climate denialism after all…

  7. Thomas Paine on 19th February 2011 12:15 pm

    Now we have Hockey making himself seem more Prime ministerial and reasonable than both Gillard and Abbott.

    Don’t think the Coalition want to spend another term in opposition and want to make certain of a win with a Hockey or Turnbull who would certainly trounce a less than convincing Gillard. I see this as part of the beginning of an end for Abbott that will eventually culminate in a challenge.

    They would be in power now if Abbott could have bought himself to have Turnbull as shadow Treasurer before the election. That would have been plenty to get him over the line.

    The other big story is Gillard having never it seems received a honeymoon and instead put the party in a long slide both in the polls and on ALL the issues, that at one stage Rudd had Labor leading in. This speaks to a gradually erosion of the Labor brand.

    The latest nonsense regarding that idiot Howes can only make things worse, though fortunately for Gillard the Libs have managed to make themselves the story for the time being.

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