In the end Malcolm Bligh Turnbull left the office just as he managed it – in appeasement, denial, dithering, procrastination, bluster, bravado, resentment and eventual capitulation – albeit with a characteristic burst of petulance.
In the process he dumped almost all the more important policies he had demanded as vital for the country and went so far as to close down parliament in an attempt to avoid the consequences of his backflips, cowardice and his incompetence.
It started a long time ago, and the Longman by-election became an important catalyst, but the final collapse was triggered by the abandonment of the NEG, which was supposed to be essential in providing both stability and popularity.
It had achieved neither within the dysfunctional Liberal Party room, but there were signs that Labor was preparing to provide the bipartisan support Turnbull said he had always wanted. This would have given Turnbull the result, the outcome, that just about everyone was pleading for, but this was not about policy, it was about politics.
Turnbull could never bear the humiliation of watching Labor vote with him while a handful of coalition rats crossed the floor. So no deal, no NEG – and now no Turnbull.
Not that there was much left of him anyway. Various members of what Turnbull calls the insurgency claim that they had to act because Turnbull’s policies were drifting too far to the left. But they found it hard to name any of them, which is hardly a surprise because Turnbull gave them everything they wanted and more, even anticipating their demands. Tony Abbott once told Tony Windsor he would do anything to gain the top job except sell his arse; it is not clear that Turnbull would even resist that fundamental reservation.
From the start of his miserable regime, the progressive liberalism Turnbull promised in his life before parliament and in the initial period within it was wiped out in order to secure his ambition – his birthright as he saw it. His government began as skewed to the right and kept going.
The break was not about the policies Turnbull was pursuing, but about the fear and loathing that he just might revert to the ones he long ago espoused. That, and of course his overthrow of the right’s hero, Tony Abbott. And quite apart from anything else, they just didn’t like the man.
They were prepared to strap on the suicide bomber belts if necessary to get rid of him. And they have, although only up to a point; Turnbull, if he sticks to his word, will shortly be gone but neither Abbott nor his protégé Peter Dutton has succeeded, and both are there to fight on.
Morrison is a dedicated union basher and an evangelical Pentacostalist, a worshipper of the free market and a fringe religion. And never forget he was the original architect of the ‘stop the boats’ policy.
Turnbull, in one of the very few wins of his lamentable time as leader has finagled Scott Morrison through what is being described as the middle. Well, this depends on where you are standing, but Morrison is no namby-pamby centrist. He is, and has always been a creature of the right, both economically and socially.
He is a dedicated union basher and an evangelical Pentacostalist, a worshipper of the free market and a fringe religion. And never forget he was the original architect of the ‘stop the boats’ policy. He would have no difficulty about incorporating Dutton and even Abbott in his cabinet and encouraging them to pursue the culture wars they so enjoy – if they can be trusted to behave themselves. So much for the new generation.
There will be, Morrison said, echoing Turnbull’s own ascension, continuity and change; but a lot more of the former. Which of course brings us to the question: what madness enveloped the party to rip itself to bits so publicly and so bloodily for what has been a pretty uninspiring result?
The damage has been immense, and not only to the Liberal Party – or what remains of it. The sight of the nation’s parliament degenerating into utter chaos before being shut down altogether has done as much to repel those who are already cynical about the democratic structure as the worst excesses of Donald Trump – more, probably, because they are closer to home.
And the last week cannot be dismissed as a deranged aberration; Morrison might talk of leaving the past behind, a fresh government united in its high purpose to serve the people, but as soon as Question Time resurfaces, as soon as Abbott reappears on television (not that he has ever vanished) the punters will remember how very unloveable they all are, and by extension the system that produces them.
And while the loathing will be universal, the Libs will cop the brunt of it — as so they should – the likelihood is that the public will be as much bemused as repulsed, because what has really changed? A Band-Aid has been administered to the schism between moderates and rightists but the war will go on unabated.
Malcolm Turnbull was responsible for his own demise – the combination of personal arrogance and political timorousness was always going to be fatal. But having said that, he is entitled to believe that it was not entirely about him – it was about that bloody divided party. Abbott was the great disprupter, but he had a zealous, if small, band of followers who were determined to remake the Liberal Party in their own image or blow it to smithereens..
John Howard had shown them it could be pushed to the right, Abbott confirmed the trend. Turnbull and the mainstream resisted, but it only takes one side to start a war.
As the ex prime minister watched his ministers walk out the door until he was almost the last man standing he might have mused on the words with which the great Bruce Petty summed up, many years ago, another failing Liberal prime minister:
The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled
And a staggering piece of insight
Kept running around in his head.
When the flame of truth hits the ship of state
And the tides of time are turning
They tend to bucket the captain –
But the ship is what is burning.
That prime minister was Billy McMahon. Will Malcolm Turnbull be remembered with similar derision? And if not, why not?