When you can’t traction in polls, when you have constant speculation about leadership challenges, when you get tiny boosts in popularity because of a budget reply and can’t maintain them, and you have two shadows over each shoulder, it’s probably a good idea to step aside.
Oh, wait. I thought we were talking about Simon Crean. We’re not? You mean Brendan Nelson got shunted in much the same way? Well wouldn’t you know …
Gone is one of the most inept education and defense ministers of all time, raised to the ‘lofty’ position of Opposition Leader. In is a fresh face, a new mind, and new politician, and a credible threat to the Rudd government. Earlier today, after a mere 10 months of party disunity, mediocre (at the best of times) leadership, and no serious or credible policy debate this side of blocking the budget, Brendan Nelson has been pushed by the party in a rather unexpected move.
I wouldn’t say him being voted down as leader is unexpected, rather him bringing it to a vote is. He called for the vote last night, set for this morning. I would have thought he’d know not to do it now – political coverage, here, is dead, there’s a debate raging about the pension that has the government on the back foot, and the papers and TV stations have nothing to report on. Really stupid time to call a vote, and then lose it. It’s going to create headaches for the Liberal party to no ends for the next week – what with Peter Costello having just addressed the Press Club about his book, and the book still being talked about as well.
So now we have Opposition Leader Malcom Turnbull. The vote was as close as 4 – 45 to 41. That surprises me. I’d have thought it would be a lot wider. Reports are that Nelson was the Costello-backed candidate, and the pro-Costello factions canvassed on behalf of Nelson. If that’s true, and I believe it is, it is a real blow to the old guard of the Liberals in the Howard years. For those that are left, I think they realise that the rest of the party wants change, and they are losing their grip o the party. Good, I say, because it might bring the party back to a reality-based platform: where climate change isn’t a left-wing position but a universal one, attacks on the labor market are non-existent, policy debate takes the front of any campaign, where there’s two parties that aren’t full of previous generations, progressive on social issues, and more adaptable to conditions in Australia.
With Turnbull the leader, I think there’s the best chance of that happening. If he really does have the backing of the party, and can control the new up-and-coming factions within against the old guard, I suspect there’s a chance than the Liberal party will make significant changes for the better. He doesn’t seem to hold the party room as his judge – and rightly so. If the party is prepared to vote him in as leader, they should have confidence in the decisions he makes, and not expect him to come crawling back to them whenever he wants to blow his nose.
What’s best about this change in leadership is that that git Nick Minchin was a strong supporter of Nelson. He reportedly blew up at Turnbull back in February. I’ve never liked Minchin, not ever. Not even when I harboured right-wing sentiments myself. Now that I find myself in the centre, I abhor the man. He stands for so much that I hate about the Liberals, and is a classic example of the extreme right-wing in the party and the old guard. The quicker the Liberals manage to shunt him too, the better off they will be. Hopefully his backing of a failed and out-voted party leader (and, in the same regards, his dislike of the current leader) will undermined all of his creditability and standing in the party.
In the same report, a few undisclosed Liberals went on to say they’d be surprised if Nelson lasted a full year even. One person said “He’s a nobody, who is insincere and fake,” while another “[Turnbull] is clearly the preferred person.” Today, we see all 3 statements ringing true. I’d be interested to know who the 4 who switched from 45 to 42 back in February were. Very interested indeed.
I just finished watching Question Time with Malcom leading his mob. It started off courteous enough, but quickly Labor slipped into attacks on him and trying to paint him with 12 years of Howard. I don’t think this is the best way to start out. Engaging on issues would first undermined his platform, or bring him closer to being ‘part of Labor’, which makes them look better. Eventually, he might bring out an idea or stance that mirror’s Howard’s government, and then the ALP can start getting the paint brushes. But they shouldn’t have started with personal attacks and blurring the lines between the past Liberals and the new Liberals straight off the bat.
I look forward to where this change takes us, and how well Turnbull will go (and for how long). I expect his polling numbers will be significantly better than the 9% or so that Nelson was polling. Perhaps 30-40% in his first poll? Turnbull seems to have things ‘thing’ about him that turns people off him, and for people who aren’t thinking about national progress or issues, that’s enough to make them not vote for him. I could see myself voting for him pending certain circumstances. I could never have brought myself to vote for Nelson. So this might be a step in the right direction for the party – it just depends what the next step is that will determine some success or more failure.