BRINGING FORWARD the meeting of Liberal Party MPs — which is set to consider a spill motion against Prime Minister — by a day, to 9am tomorrow, stinks of desperation; it is a tacit admission that numbers are running strongly against Tony Abbott, as he moves to chop off momentum away from him. The move could be the final nail in his coffin, emboldening those reticent about challenging him to now do exactly that.
I am in the middle of finalising what would ordinarily be this morning’s article for this column; I will, after publishing this short piece, continue to do that, as I believe the subject I am covering remains highly salient in the context of moves to dump Prime Minister Tony Abbott through a backbench revolt that seems designed to encourage a substantial candidate to put his or her (or their) name forward.
But reports have emerged (and will be shortly confirmed at a press conference) that Abbott is attempting to move the meeting of the Liberal Party’s MPs forward by a day, to 9am tomorrow, and this cannot be permitted to pass without comment.
In such a fraught and fluid environment as exists around the Liberal Party right now, this is a do-or-die move on Abbott’s part that is as likely to backfire spectacularly as it is to achieve the desired aim, which is to catch the renegade Liberal MPs on the hop and to prevent their momentum from achieving the critical mass required to ensure the spill motion they are set to move against him succeeds.
As supportive of Abbott as I have always been and remain, it is impossible to see this move as anything other than an abject act of desperation made from a position of mortal weakness; if Abbott was as certain as he has publicly proclaimed of defeating the spill attempt there would be no need to seek to reschedule a meeting that has been set down for Tuesday for many weeks.
It is also tantamount to an admission that Abbott is already at grave risk of being thrown out of office this week.
I think this panicked late play should be seen for what it is — a gamble in the desperation stakes — that is far likelier to embolden his opponents in the party than it is to deny them.
Having probably already staked their careers on launching the challenge against the Prime Minister, they will now go for broke: after all, going down in a screaming heap without achieving anything that addresses their concerns and grievances would amount to a pitiful return on such an enterprise.
And with some quarters of the party making it known that Malcolm Turnbull is set to declare for the leadership late today anyway (whether he is or not), this move by Abbott will force Turnbull’s hand if that is his intention, and potentially drive votes to the spill motion from MPs desperate to avoid a protracted period of instability.
In the end, this is Abbott’s “crash through or crash” moment. To the extent it makes any difference at all, it could well be the final nail in his coffin, and rather than crash through could see a good man who squandered his opportunity fall flat on his face.
I will be completing, and publishing, the originally intended Sunday morning article within the hour.