ONGOING reports Tony Abbott will recontest his seat of Warringah, based on Manly on Sydney’s North Shore, in the hope of regaining the Prime Ministership are exceeded in absurdity only by the fact his divisive aide, Peta Credlin, is said to be egging him on. Abbott is no more a future Prime Minister than Bronwyn Bishop. His seat could take a bright new prospect to Canberra, and Credlin, for the little she is worth, should disappear altogether.
The detailed analysis of the apparently co-ordinated push by so-called “moderates” in the NSW division of the Liberal Party (read: empowered spivs who think they’re entitled) to cut a swathe through the ranks of conservative Liberal MPs at the preselection table before this year’s election — even at the cost of dispensing with prospective future leader Angus Taylor, and some others who are arguably critical to holding marginal seats and/or reasonable performers in their own right — will likely now appear late today or tonight, after a brief bout of illness yesterday prevented me from completing and publishing it as promised.
But I wanted to make some comment this morning on another preselection-related issue that has the potential to cause as much division and damage to the Liberal Party as the machinations being engaged in by the soft fringe associated with Malcolm Turnbull: namely, the nonsense that Tony Abbott should recontest his plum, blue-ribbon seat with the explicit purpose of reclaiming the Prime Ministership at some hitherto undefined point in the future.
Whether we’re talking about NSW moderates or the NSW Right, the bald (and mostly unwarranted) sense of entitlement on show from both sides in the increasingly ugly round of federal preselections is unbelievable; people with no right, based on merit or a reflection of the wider Liberal Party membership, are conspiring to enact hatchet jobs on people for no better reason, it seems, than the indulgence of enacting hatchet jobs on them.
The lure of paid parliamentary sinecures and a spot near the circle of power in Canberra, of course, has a bit to do with it as well.
But leaving most of that aside this morning, the inability of some on the Liberal Right to grasp the incontestable political fact that the career of Tony Abbott is dead — kaput, cactus, finito — knows no bounds, for persistent (and well backgrounded) stories of a plan for Abbott to recontest his Manly-based seat of Warringah with an eye on recapturing the Prime Ministership ignores both reality and the political disposition of the electorate, which had more than enough of an opportunity during the two years Abbott spent at the helm to know that whatever any of us in the membership (or those “insiders” who think they know better than the party’s members, or voters) might say, Tony Abbott will never again be a viable candidate to be Prime Minister of Australia.
Ironically, the reports and counter-reports that have been floating around over the past few days merely underline the point.
On the one hand, Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph notes that Abbott is said to be “in mourning” over the loss of the Prime Ministership, which simply proves his utter folly in backing incendiary aide Peta Credlin for too long in a post she was clearly unsuited to and/or out of her depth in as Chief of Staff.
On the other, Fairfax reports that “a confidant” of Credlin claims she is doing nothing of the kind: I would simply say that whatever some Credlin stooge has been instructed to tell a journalist at Fairfax, when it conflicts so directly with the material published by a Murdoch paper known to have been heavily favoured by the Prime Minister’s Office on the Abbott/Credlin shift, should be treated with the utmost caution — and, indeed, suspicion.
On account of Abbott’s imprimatur and by virtue of Credlin being given every conceivable freedom to discharge the most important non-elective role in Australian politics, the failure of the Abbott government can be pinned specifically on the axis between the pair: and everyone from Abbott’s parliamentary colleagues to the staff whose careers were incinerated on Credlin’s watch, and from those she snubbed and deliberately prevented from going to Canberra to serve the government to the most passive branch member of the party, have been given concrete proof that the only government the duo will ever run is one that is defective on political strategy and tactics, incapable of communicating or selling anything to the electorate, terrified of introducing difficult policies in the face of vacuous ALP attacks, and motivated by a vicious get-square mentality against anything or anyone who dares utter a syllable in defiance of it.
There are those who think that given time, the anti-Abbott animus in the electorate that helped motivate his downfall will subside; it won’t.
Two years of the kind of directionless drift presided over by Abbott and Credlin (and at a time when Australia is facing real challenges of governance that are arguably the stiffest it has faced in more than a generation) is not the kind of government this country needs or wants.
Significantly, at this time of preselection posturing, and on whether he will stand again at all in Abbott’s case, Credlin is said to be urging her former boss to remain in Parliament again “with the hope” of some day returning to the top job — and from this we can make some fairly definitive judgements.
One — and this should frighten hell out of anyone who thinks Prime Ministers should offer the ability to win any coming election — if Abbott returns, Credlin would be part of the package: that in itself is enough to permanently disbar Abbott from any return to the Liberal leadership.
Two, and following that point, even if Credlin served in a lesser staffing role (or didn’t officially return to Canberra at all under a renewed Abbott government) it is unquestionable that her advice and counsel (and presumably, her agenda) would continue to be sought and acted on by Abbott. We know, from his virtually non-existent measures to reduce Credlin’s visibility after the initial move against his leadership a year ago, that his heart and his head are not really into any move to hold office without her influence, and the risk that this inept commodity would continue to inform Abbott as a reborn leader cannot and must not be entertained.
Three, with Abbott turning 59 this year, any realistic prospect of him returning to the Prime Ministership would need to occur in the next term of Parliament; the oldest Prime Minister to take office in Australian history was the dud Billy McMahon, who was 63 when he ousted John Gorton in a knife-edge Liberal leadership ballot in 1971. Apparently those around Abbott are holding John Howard, Bob Menzies and even Malcolm Turnbull out as precedents to justify their delusional visions of an Abbott return.
But Howard and Turnbull were untried as Prime Ministers — Turnbull arguably still is, although that is changing (and, with his fawning cosying up to socialist failure Barack Obama in the US this week, this column increasingly dislikes what it sees) — whereas Menzies in 1949 was still only 55, had done the hard yards of forging a new party from scratch with mass community support, and was a far more substantial figure than Abbott ever was or will be (my past support for him, of course, notwithstanding).
Four — and despite the real ability Abbott has, which he abrogated in favour of a useless unelected hack — restoring him even to Cabinet would be unwise, for where Abbott goes, Credlin goes: and the whole scheming, inept, amateurish culture of silly stunts and own goals that comes with that in the place of mature conduct and competent governance are a price for utilising the duo that simply can’t be justified.
And, finally, Abbott has never enjoyed the widespread respect that Howard did — even as “Mr 18%” in 1988, or after he was unceremoniously dumped in May 1989 — or the mass popularity of Malcolm Turnbull, even if that popularity is/was largely underpinned by people who would never vote Liberal in a pink fit, and who are now (predictably) turning on him publicly.
Many of us on the conservative wing of the party are desperately disappointed (and in many cases, furious) at both the golden opportunity to implement a responsible, mainstream conservative agenda that was squandered through the direct shortcomings of the machine Abbott assembled around himself, and by his removal; on the latter score, some of us (and I am one) are angry at his removal despite our acceptance it had to occur because we were and are flatly opposed to his replacement and the Labor-lite government he now apparently wishes to lead.
But the bottom line is that the Australian public, no matter how much support Abbott might retain from noisy but marginalised rumps, or however much residual mainstream support there may be in the country for a program of responsible conservative policy, will not tolerate a revived version of the Abbott government. Not now, not in three years’ time, and not ever.
I have to be emphatic. There are few things I have been as politically certain about in recent times. That is, of course, just another dimension of the failure Abbott’s government was, and just another pointer to the wacko delusion that people don’t just miss it but are actively hankering for more of it.
The best use of Tony Abbott’s seat would be to find a bright, talented, long-term Liberal prospect — I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman, so long as it’s the best person available from Abbott’s North Shore branches — and for those who have delivered preselection to the former PM over more than 20 years to swing in behind that new candidate with Abbott’s explicit blessing, and his withdrawal.
“The best person available” is not Peta Credlin (or any of the other prominent members of the junta she led) and on no account should Credlin receive grassroots support if any attempt is made to install her as Abbott’s replacement in Warringah.
Very simply, where questions of an Abbott Prime Ministership are concerned, the bird has flown; you can’t reheat a souffle, and the only appropriate response to suggestions Abbott should stand again and position himself to resume as PM within three years is to dismiss them as devoid of any basis in reality whatsoever.
As for Credlin, it’s time for her to push off.
In fact, it was time for her to do that four months ago when Abbott was involuntarily removed from his post, but for weeks we were treated to the unedifying public spectacle of “poor Peta” who, unbelievably, attempted to conduct some kind of personal “charm” offensive in the mainstream press, and who now apparently seeks to continue to wield the clout she no longer has via the moronic fantasy that somehow, the mess she engineered was adequate, satisfactory and/or competent. It wasn’t.
Abbott will never again hold the highest political office in the land, but Credlin’s dubious services must finally be terminated by anyone associated with the Liberal Party in any political capacity. She has had her chance. It was a disaster. Far from eschewing responsibility for the failings of the Abbott government she must recognise her paw prints were all over the train wreck that derailed on 14 September last year.
She has nothing to offer to politics and government in this country. Just as Abbott should withdraw, Credlin must disappear. We wish her well in some private sector capacity should she find one, and bear her no personal animus. But where the Liberal Party is concerned, its best interests will be served if her name is never again heard.