SNAFU – Situation Normal, All Fouled Up! (That’s the polite version anyway.)
“…I just have to say to Mr. Bolt, he proclaims loudly that he is a friend of the government, well with friends like Bolt we don’t need any enemies.” Malcolm Turnbull, earlier this week.
“Alan is a friend of mine, Andrew Bolt is a friend of mine, I think that they are both very significant commentators and they’ve got a lot to say as you know.” Tony Abbott, yesterday.
“You said I wanted to diminish you. The truth is I don’t. You said I wanted to challenge you in 2016. The truth is I don’t. You said I wanted the presidency for myself. The truth is… I do. What politician hasn’t dreamed of about what it would be like to take the oath of the highest office of our land? I’ve stared at your desk in the Oval and coveted it. The power. The prestige. Those things have a strong pull on someone like me, who came from a small South Carolina town with nothing. But since you assumed office, my only aim has been to fight, for you and alongside you.”
Frank Underwood, “House of Cards”
“I’ve coached Australia in rugby, if one of my players was seen on the eve of the rugby test was seen … having dinner, privately inviting to dinner one of the All Blacks, the player would be sent home Malcolm.” Alan Jones.
When the choice is between a conspiracy and stuff-up, always choose the stuff-up and you’ll be right more often, according to conventional wisdom.
All right, must of us heard the loooong pause from Turnbull when asked if this was part of a co-ordinated campaign. The question, of course, is what is the campaign and what does it hope to achieve?
Ok, let’s examine the conspiracy theories for why Bolt and Jones would want to give the story about Turnbull’s leadership ambition so much publicity. The first is that it’s a way to distract from the Budget. The second is that they hate Turnbull and are just using this as a chance to whack him, while boosting their ratings. The third is that they’re part of a conspiracy to help remove Turnbull from the front bench.
Of these, the idea that it’s the Liberals way of taking the focus of the Budget is the only one I’d consider if we were dealing with your average government. However, any government that can appoint Christopher Pyne to anything more than working out the seating plan for meetings with the Premiers, clearly lacks a grip on reality and we can’t just look at the logical.
The second is partly plausible. Bolt and Jones are, after all, first and foremost, reliant on their capacity to generate controversy. But would they really want to hurt the Liberal Party by helping create a re-make of the Rudd/Gillard soap opera? I mean, aren’t they “Friends of Tony Abbott”. (Mm, and it’s the ABC that are supposedly biased.)
Are the Liberals really so stupid as to think removing Turnbull would help them politically? In spite of his dinner with Clive, Malcolm has been a good little boy towing the line on all sorts of things from Direct Action to the NBN. While he may have the odd word about gay marriage or the Republic, he’s basically supported party policy. If he’s quietly biding his time, trying to boost the numbers for a crack at the leadership, this only becomes an issue when it hits the media. Which it does when people like say Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones bring it to public attention. Even the big “Dinner With Clive” event would have run out of legs by now.
But no, thanks to Bolt – Abbott’s “friend” – Turnbull’s alleged disloyalty is a hot topic. Which gives Turnbull the opportunity to deny it, thus keeping the story alive.
So, Abbott, the leader is part of a conspiracy to help put stories about his rivals leadership ambition in the media? Isn’t it usually the other way round? I mean, isn’t it usually the challenger who wants the speculation and the incumbent who wants to pretend that nothing’s happening? Perhaps, Abbott really hasn’t noticed that he’s Leader of the Opposition, let alone PM.*
Which brings us to SNAFU…
According to the polls, the Government is unpopular with the electorate. Turnbull, on the other hand, is preferred leader by a long way. While this may not be a good enough reason for the Liberals to dump Abbott and install Turnbull as PM, it hardly suggests that dumping Turnbull from the Ministry would be something that would boost their standing with the electorate. Could they really be so out of touch with political reality that they don’t see how Turnbull’s sacking would play out?
Let’s ignore the media reaction about the removal of a moderate because he’s a threat and letters to the editor complaining about how far to the Right this government has gone. Let’s just ask ourselves, how would Turnbull react?
Yes, it’s a nice fantasy to think that he’s had enough. That he goes rogue. He tells people exactly what he thinks of the Liberals and – with no hope of ever being PM – spills as many beans as he can. Or maybe he joins PUP. Or the Labor Party.
Or perhaps he, channelling Peter Costello, just gives up his dream of being PM, resigns from Parliament causing a by-election in his seat of Wentworth. Can’t see the Liberal strategists cheering for that one.
But wouldn’t the most likely scenario be for Malcolm to quietly see out his time on the backbench, occasionally having dinner with the odd friend – as Tony pointed out, journalists are sometimes friends of politicians – reminiscing and providing “off the record” comments? And, Keating-like, quietly reminding people that he’s there. While it’s true that many in the Liberal Party don’t like Turnbull, they like losing even less.
Nope, no sane, rational leader would even consider a re-shuffle where Turnbull was removed. Mm, with that in mind, he’ll be gone within the month.
But just because I’m likely to get that wrong, here are some other predictions that I’m more confident about:
- The head of a retail change will suggest that the poor are just being selfish by spending their money on rent and food instead of electrical goods.
- An advisor to Tony Abbott will say that owing to the fact that unemployment is so high, perhaps people could job share. That is, a group of people all work full time for the same company but share one wage.
- If the Medicare co-payment gets through, there’ll be an immediate call to increase it, as it’s not covering its administration costs.
- One Liberal Politician will suggest that people suggesting that the rich could pay more tax are indulging in class warfare on the same day that another suggests that people should be happy to contribute to Australia’s future by making sacrifices. A clarification will follow where the Liberals explain that paying tax is not making a sacrifice, and that sacrifices are when one throws a peasant into a volcano to appease the gods.
*In a previous blog, I pointed out the Rafael Epstein suggested to Graham Morris that the weeks after the Budget had been Abbott’s most difficult as Leader of the Opposition.