Tuesday, February 10, 2015

39/100: fractional factional friction

So, the first #libspill came and went, largely as I predicted with Abbott keeping his job but none of his credibility. The only thing I didn't expect was chief whip Philip Ruddock deciding to make the pre-spill vote a secret ballot - but Cabinet solidarity extended to all but six members anyway (according to the Tele). If that last snippet is true and assuming 35 members in Cabinet went 29-6 against the spill, then the numbers from the backbench were 33-32 for the spill.

Several things should be said that I don't think I've heard much of elsewhere. The first was hinted at by Piping Shrike.
That was true of the entire process, actually. This is the nature of spills in parties in the Westminster tradition, where the party is focused almost exclusively on what Abbott calls "internals". The PM talked about being more "collegiate", but you have to be a member of the right college for that to matter. When he did remember to mumble platitudes about listening more to voters, it was always as an afterthought behind the real targets of his rhetoric, the elected members of his own party. The changes to the ALP's process after the Rudd debacle means that Labor won't make that same mistake, though they will probably discover all new ones.

Speaking of the Shrike, he reckons this could have been Turnbull's best shot.
So what next? It would be tempting to wonder if the right, having instigated this instability, then suddenly going quiet, with those like Howard and Bernardi appearing only at the last minute, had shifted its priority from replacing Abbott to just stopping Turnbull in his tracks. The talk was that Morrison, probably their preferred choice, was not yet experienced enough in senior portfolios to take over. This sounds phoney, probably the numbers weren’t there yet. If so, it would suggest that Turnbull might have just missed the best chance he had to regain the leadership.
That may be true, but it may also be true that 39 votes was the best he was ever going to get from the current party room, populated as it is by so many of the right wing of the party. I haven't seen much analysis of where those 39 votes came from in terms of factional groupings. The narrative of this being a peasant revolt by backbenchers without reference to ideology is too cute, too convenient.

One would assume the Christian/Tory wing of Kevin Andrews and Eric Abetz would be right behind Abbott, whereas the smaller Julie Bishop faction would be mostly for the spill as Bishop has been highly cheeky in the indirectness of her public support for it. The Hockey club (cigar club?) would surely be in a bind at the moment; their leader has been smashed from pillar to post for attacking the Age of Entitlement, to no effect. Would a new Treasurer under a new leader be from the same club, and thus it doesn't matter who is given the poisoned chalice, even though that means the nominal factional leader gets the lemon sars? I suspect the clubbers think Turnbull wouldn't be good for their prospects for advancement, but there are a lot of younger members who have been champing at the bit for the dead wood to be cleaned out of Treasury so factional solidarity wouldn't be all that great. Then we come to the more regional alliances: Pyne's South Australian mob who must be staring at electoral oblivion given how poorly Abbott has treated them; and Greg Hunt whose Victorian cadre stand to lose 6 of their 16 seats if current polls hold up and must feel unloved given the dominance of NSW in the modern Liberal Party.

Finally, there's the Scott Morrison faction, which has been called Right with a capital R, even though Morrison is quoted as having some wet economic positions, and his ascension to Parliament was over the body of a candidate of the Right. Would the members of his faction have been voting for a spill? I suspect not. They would have been some of the first names on the list of 70 pledges that Abbott's numbers men drummed up on the weekend, as loyalty to the leader suits Morrison right now. Some of them may have lied, but not all that many did.

The long game is for Morrison to capture enough votes from enough of these groupings to win a spill, and the obvious first target is the Andrews/Abetz faction because that seems to be the dominant one in this Parliament. Changing their vote en masse in favour of a spill would be a fait accompli for Morrison. Being a committed Christian doesn't hurt his chances of capturing this faction, albeit his religion is of the Pentecostal evangelical variety - but the American Right managed to accept Mitt Romney and his Mormonism, so political factions tend to override religious denominations as long as God is in the House. Morrison has been promoted by both Turnbull and Abbott in his brief career, and he is talked about as a unity candidate. He should be the favourite when the decisive spill in this inexorable process is held.

In closing, it would be remiss of me not to note Sinclair Davidson going all in for Malcolm Turnbull prior to the vote. He misses the obvious solution to his own dithering dilemma: Morrison as PM and a man who can "drive the process"at military speed and efficiency, with Turnbull as Treasurer doing the sales job for hated "reform" that Hockey can't.


  1. Turnbull as either Treasurer or PM is absurd.

    To work you would have to change policy and he has already signed on with it.

    The reason both Abbott and Hockey have failed is because they proceeded to attempt things they say they wouldn't.

    The only strategy Turnbull could change is to attempt to get better growth. If growth gets back to trend ( Nominal GDP) the deficit mysteriously disappears!

  2. All options are at least slightly absurd at this point, Homer.

    Morrison couldn't keep Hockey on as Treasurer. I could see Cormann being next cab off the rank, but he is an even worse salesman than Joe. Robb is done, he's finished. Frydenberg? He's a bit green, that would mean both PM and Treasurer would be in their 40s. No, I think Turnbull would be Morrison's preferred option because he's an older, smarter, wiser head. Once it becomes clear to Turnbull that he's never going to get the leadership under the current Parliament because the Right controls things, he will have to settle for Treasury.