And the winner is?

2 December 2009

Written by: Tom Cowie

Right now, the Liberal Party must feel like they have accidentally boarded Keanu Reeve’s bus in Speed.

The party bus is out of control and can’t slow down. There is only one ending in sight: a flaming wreck.

However, unlike the aforementioned Hollywood blockbuster, the Liberals aren’t looking to Officer Jack Traven for their salvation.

They have kicked the Merchant Banker out of the driver’s seat and put Tony Abbott – the Mad Monk himself – behind the wheel.

Unfortunately for them, it ain’t gonna make a lick of difference.

With the next election under a year away and the Prime Minister experiencing unprecedented popularity, the Liberals are staring down the possibility of being out of office for a generation.

But could all of this been avoided? Have they made a bad situation – low polling and instability in the party room – much worse?

The leadership spill – which left blue blood all over the party room carpet – could very well come back to haunt them.

Abbott dispatched Turnbull by just a single vote in Tuesday’s spill, with one informal vote and one absentee.

Fran Bailey, in Melbourne for health reasons, was the absentee. Had she voted for Turnbull, as was likely, things would have gotten even nastier.

Surprisingly, Joe Hockey was the first candidate eliminated from the three-way leadership ballot. The look on Hockey’s face when he fronted the media after the bloodbath told the story.

It would have been pretty galling for the raging $1.40 favourite to go out in straight sets.

Some have put Shrek’s demise down to his decision to allow a ‘free vote’ over the contentious ETS legislation. Despite wanting Hockey as a compromise candidate, the conservatives in the Liberal Party – led by senator Nick Minchin – didn’t want that free vote.

They wanted the Emissions Trading Scheme blocked and were willing to split the party in half to achieve it. With Abbott in charge, Christmas has come early for the conservatives. Maybe they should have been careful what they wished for.

By throwing a tanty over the ETS, the conservatives have pretty much perfectly divided the Liberal Party into two distinct camps.

In one corner sit the moderates, their leader vanquished by a single vote. In the other corner sit the conservatives, with the victor of the spill triumphantly hoisted onto the shoulders.

Tony Abbott can now run along Bondi beach in his budgie smugglers and lifesaver cap as Leader of the Opposition.

(On a side note: My kingdom for the Chaser Boys. All that’s missing from that scene is David Hasselhoff, Pamela Anderson and the Baywatch theme music.)

However, Abbott’s win is a textbook pyyrhic victory. While they may win the battle in the party room over the ETS, they will not win the war.

The 2007 election proved that the electorate want action on climate change. In all likelihood the 2010 poll will focus even harder on global warming.

With two distinct approaches to climate change, the Liberals will be scratching their heads for a consensual policy. With this in mind, the result in the Higgins byelection this week will be interesting.

Labor has not fielded a candidate in the blue ribbon seat, so there will be plenty of analysis of any swing away from Liberal to the Greens.

John Howard: gone. Brendan Nelson: gone. Malcolm Turnbull: gone.

As the old saying goes; ‘in politics, disunity is death’.

If so, then the Liberals must be terminal.

Tom Cowie is the editor of upstart.