This is a day that few ALP supporters could have dreamed would ever come to pass. The Liberals tearing themselves to pieces over policy. Who knew they had it in them? Of course, there were some great stoushes over leadership and pre-selections back in the 1980s, but nothing on this scale. Back then, the ‘wets’, as the Liberal progressives were called, tended to just cave in. But this time, the progressives have Malcolm Turnbull and he’s a different kettle of fish altogether.
Perhaps, its because all the contenders in today’s contest are catholics that the Libs are now embroiled in the type of destructive in-fighting that bedevilled Labor for so long (there could be a thesis in there somewhere).
Anyway, the real question is which of the contenders will be best for the ALP and why? Who should we be cheering for?
Tony Abbott: Popular with many people for his ‘engaging’ and ‘blokey’ personality, he stumbled badly during the last election campaign when he was comprehensively out-played by Nicola Roxon, one of Labor’s weaker performers. This famous incident has caused many on his own side to question his political judgement and capacity to remain disciplined during an arduous election campaign. He is also politically ill-considered in his highly-ideological, and dogmatic, anti-abortion stance. His views and personal style have convinced many people that he does not like women. An Abbott elevation would be warmly greeted by Cardinal Pell. In fact, Abbott’s political and social views seem to owe more to medieval catholicism than they do to J S Mill. Nevertheless, there is no evidence for the popular claim that he intends to introduce recusary laws. Nor is it known whether he supports Cardinal Pell’s embrace of ‘intelligent design’, though such a stance would be consistent with his approach to climate science. Sources suggest that Abbott’s denunciation of Vatican 2 are as lucid as they are amusing to the lay person. Abbott’s main passion in life outside politics seems to be the rigors of long-distance cycling and swimming (he looks better in lycra than budgie smugglers) whether this owes anything to religious penitence is unclear. Overall, Abbott would be an entertaining choice for leader and, joyously, would pose no threat to the Rudd Government. A definite favourite with ALP voters.
Kevin Andrews: He hasn’t declared in a definite sense, and an Andrews victory is probably too much for us to hope for. This guy has no media skills whatsoever and was a third rate Minister. Deeply conservative in a religious sense (long association with the fabled Lyons Forum) he would alienate many women and lots of people intent on enjoying life. He was the architect of the unpopular WorkChoices policy and presided over the highly embarrassing Haneef affair. A rank outsider but we can always dream.
Joe Hockey. Hockey is the most affable of the candidates. Though his reported support for a conscience vote on the ETS in the Senate suggests that he is less agreeable then the Minchin / Abetz cabal might have hoped. He lives the solid, wealthy, middle class lifestyle much admired by Liberal voters especially in Sydney. He once owned, may still do, a smallish farm on Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands where he could get away from the rigors of ministerial life. Hockey is better known for his Sunrise performances, including a stint on the Kokoda Track, with Kevin Rudd and Mel and Kochie. Undoubtedly, his comfort with television is a major strength of his candidacy. Nevertheless, Hockey’s ministerial career hasleft much to be desired in terms of substance.His views are progressive (in the Liberal Party context) and for this reason, he can best be summed up as a more affable (that’s the word) version of Malcolm Turnbull. Hockey will have to up his work rate considerably if he is to match Rudd and Gillard. He will also have to sharpen up intellectually where he is yet to show much that would encourage his colleagues or worry the ALP.
Malcolm Turnbull. Undoubtedly, the best candidate in terms of policy substance, political strategy, work rate and media performance. Nevertheless, he was badly weakened by his mishandling of the Godwin Grech / utegate affair – a truly stunning stuff-up – earlier this year which highlighted his lack of political and parliamentary experience. Turnbull has also been unable to take the flat-earthers with him on the ETS journey, nor hide his contempt for them. Turnbull is finding out that dumb people hate having their stupidity acknowledged – nothing is so vicious as the revenge of stupid people who have been exposed. Although Turnbull is the only Liberal contender that looks plausibly prime ministerial he has been damaged by his willingness for a fight. He would be a tough opponent, and the Rudd Government has put in a lot of spade work trying to destroy his career before it gets any real momentum. Strangely, a win here might give a significant boost to his poll ratings. Happily for the ALP, it is unlikely that the Liberals will stick with him today.