Sunday, October 18, 2015

Turnbull in a phonebox

Two moments of non-elite partisans communicating to party elites of the right have seemed most meaningful to me since I last blogged.

First, the moment in the second US Republican debate where Jeb Bush claimed that his brother George W. "kept us safe", to which the wingnut audience at the Reagan Library burst out into unanimous applause. The idiocy of this assertion in the context of 9/11 and dozens of Benghazi-level embassy and consulate attacks is lost on these ideologues in their media bubble of epistemic closure, and the message to GOP elites is to ramp up the crazy because that's what gets the base excited. Thus we will probably get another government shutdown this year, with Congress in chaos and no competent candidate willing to grasp the poisoned gavel of the Speakership to replace the failed John Boehner.

Second, the moment in the most recent Australian Liberal Party conference when Malcolm Turnbull rolled out a canned line that every Liberal leader runs with at such times, to the effect that the Liberal Party is superior to the other side because it doesn't have factions. The attending LNP hoi polloi - some of whom were the factional elites who installed him as Prime Minister in the party room, but most of whom were rank-and-file members aligned with one of the factions - laughed him down with a scornful tone. This gut reaction not only put a lie to Turnbull's bald statement, but signalled that we don't go for that sort of bullshit in this country, not even in right-wing politics.

The upshot of this is that the Republican Party is descending into the murky territory of actually being unfit to govern and an electoral majority of the public realising this truth, whereas the Liberal Party still has a hope of running the public sector without completely buggering it up. We tried the Third Way of Rudd-ism and it was found wanting in terms of implementation, allowing the Utopia-style APS bureaucracy to rise to the level of its incompetence in the absence of firm hands being on the departmental levers. Now we will give Turnbull the wheel and see if his brand of cheerful waffle managerialism masquerading as techno-wonkery can do any better.

Prior to the decisive spill, I had been building a case over the previous year or so about how Scott Morrison would be the next Liberal leader. The Libs decided to go with Turnbull, with Morrison's faction delivering the key swing votes in the party room, which led to the heated Ray Hadley 2GB interview in the days afterwards. It is blindingly obvious that Morrison could have put his hand up to be the champion of the Abetz/Andrews religious nudge faction but demurred, trusting that he will be the next Liberal leader to win an election when Turnbull fails. I won't go so far as to guarantee it, Andrew Elder style, but I agree with Morrison's calculations.

Meanwhile, the Turnbull government is now ensconced, albeit he has been mostly busy launching policies put in place by Abbott and hasn't had time to do much off his own bat. Honeymoon polls have been mostly underwhelming, going as low as 50:50 already without the leader having actually made a contentious decision yet.

I am not sure how Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy figures that Turnbull will shift the party to the right. Colour me skeptical about Turnbull delivering on the promises Abbott abandoned. Turnbull has promised a more consultative PMship with participation from Cabinet - but he stacked Cabinet with younger wets and purged it of Abetz and Andrews. Turnbull may not have a mandate to shift the party to the left either, though, given promises he has made to Morrison's faction and the Nats to uphold key Abbott policies.

I have not seen anything to dissuade me from the notion that Turnbull is as hamstrung on policy as Abbott was. This government has been a lameduck administration from the start, we've just exchanged caretakers. Turnbull doesn't even have any culture wars to wage to distract the Liberal luvvies. If and when he actually starts making any decisions, one of two things will happen. If he moves to the right, watch his polls plummet immediately. If he moves to the left, watch the party room destabilise (and then the polls plummet later).