Guide to saving the Liberal Party
As a prelude, it’s worth saying that I don’t really care whether the Liberal Party is saved or not. From an outside perspective it may be better (or more interesting) for the party to implode. But the rest of this post assumes that the goal is to help the Liberal Party succeed. This was first published on my facebook page.
- First, Tony Abbott approaches Malcolm Turnbull and arranges an agreement between the two of them that ensures the party leader (whoever it is) has party unity and a fighting chance of winning the next election.
- This should involve bringing Turnbull into the inner circle of decision making: higher profile; more events with Abbot, Bishop and Turnbull together; more public support from conservative parliamentarians; and maybe a nominal increase in Turnbull’s ministerial responsibilities if possible.
- Turnbull should beg and plead with his supporters to stop their leaks and backbench sniping for the rest of this year. He should also agree to never again support an ETS or carbon tax.
- Abbott should make a private promise to Turnbull that if he has not recovered in the polls and pointed the party in the right direction by the end of the year (as measured by clear and pre-agreed criteria), then he will step down and support Turnbull as the new leader.
- Both Turnbull and Abbott should make it clear that they will work together to defeat any further spill attempts either by the backbench or by Julie Bishop or any other ambitious contender. Bishop should be assured in all of this that she will remain deputy leader and can have her choice of portfolio (except the Treasury).
- The push for an early change is wrong-headed for a number of reasons. First, to bring the party together it is important that Abbott is given a fair opportunity to fix the current mess… it is also important that Turnbull is given an opportunity to show loyalty and build bridges with conservatives… and finally, the changeover should happen close to the time of the next election so Turnbull can benefit from the honeymoon period.
- This is the best scenario that Abbott can hope for because it would give him clear air and a fighting change to save his Prime Ministership. The worst case scenario is that he has over two years at the top and steps down with dignity, which is better than what he is facing at the moment.
- This is the best scenario for Turnbull because it is the only way he can take leadership of a united party and with the full endorsement of the outgoing PM… and therefore have a fighting chance of winning in 2016.
- If Turnbull gets impatient and starts white-anting the Abbott government, then Abbott should force a messy showdown and then ultimately swing his support behind Bishop or Scott Morrison. If Abbott gets greedy and refuses to step aside when needed, then Turnbull can cause similar problems. The result would be a disaster regardless of who wins… pretty much guaranteeing a Labor victory in 2016 and destroying the reputations of both men. It is in the self-interest of both Abbott and Turnbull to stick to the above agreement.
- As part of the agreement, the united Abbott/Turnbull team should approach Joe Hockey and as politely as possible suggest that the next budget is “make or break”. Consistent with the above strategy, Hockey needs to be given a chance so that the situation looks fair, and then he needs to accept the likely future change with the same equanimity that Bishop showed when she was shifted to Foreign Affairs.
- If Hockey’s budget is a success then that means the Abbott leadership is probably safe and the political problem is fixed. Though even in this scenario, at the next cabinet reshuffle Turnbull should be moved to a more prominent portfolio where he can make a bigger contribution (maybe AG, IR or Health).
- More likely is that Hockey will fail, be shifted into health or social security or defence (getting rid of Kevin Andrews would be a bonus) and then Turnbull would become Treasurer. At this point, the Abbott-Turnbull agreement still has six months to play out, and now at least Australia would have a Treasurer who is good with numbers and good at communicating. The following six months would be Abbott’s third (and final) chance.
- If Abbott is still drowning at the end of the year, then he should stick to his commitment and lobby the rest of the leadership team (especially conservatives) to support a painless and seamless leadership transition to Turnbull-Bishop. Hopefully nobody else would challenge.
- The new leadership team should be publicly announced by Abbott… who would say that it has been an honour & privilege (blah blah) and that he is proud to have led a loyal and honourable team (unlike Rudd-Gillard-Rudd disloyalty) and while he still has principles and passion he recognises that the public want change and so for the greater good HE has asked Turnbull to become PM and that Turnbull and Abbott together have agreed to a new cabinet.
- The new cabinet should have Morrisson as Treasurer and it should also include Abbott in a senior portfolio such as health, immigration or infrastructure.
- The renewed government then win the 2016 election, with seven Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Senators holding balance of power… and then the government reveals that they have been secret libertarians all along and introduce a radical agenda of deregulation, privatisation, tax & spending cuts, civil liberties, decentralisation, individual choice, etc which sparks 10%+ economic growth rates. The economic success lures in 100 million skilled libertarian immigrants who make Australia a global superpower which then invades America and China and launches human colonies to other galaxies.
(Note: the final dot point is optional)