“I can’t comment on the party room.”
Such was the catch cry as Liberal MPs and Senators funnelled out of the party room and into the maelstrom of the media, Prime Minister Tony Abbott having just survived a leadership spill. In modern politics things can move at such an incredible pace that it is often increasingly difficult to state with absolute certainty the actual state of affairs, and so it was with #Libspill.
Party Leaders should avoid testing their support in the party room or the caucus; retaining power is as much about people thinking you have the numbers as it is about actually having the numbers. Forcing people to vote makes them declare themselves which places them under pressure, and people under pressure often make irrational decisions. Tony Abbott had the numbers on Monday, he had the Right of the Party, Joe Hockey’s NSW Groupers, Pyne’s South Australian Moderates, though of course there are no factions in the Liberal Party. Malcolm Turnbull is hated by large sections of the Parliamentary Liberal Party and the rank and file membership as being too moderate. Before he fought the pre-selection in Wentworth, Turnbull approached several Labor figures seeking a safe Senate Seat but was turned down for being ‘too Liberal’.
Similarly, Turnbull is disliked by his present party as being ‘too Labor’. Tony Abbott survived the leadership spill on Monday, but what about tomorrow, the next day, two weeks or ten months from now? Enough of the party room voted against him to severely damage his leadership and authority. Many within the party see another leadership challenge as imminent, though none are actively destabilising. #Libspill will act as a warning to Abbott and return the fire to his belly, the fire that bought down Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd, and Julia Gillard. However if the polls do not improve for the government, and if the narrative around the government does not change, Tony Abbot may be vacating The Lodge earlier than expected.
Shortly after the party room meeting, MPs congregated in the House of Representatives to begin discussing the condolence motion for victims of the Lindt Cafe Siege, proving to us that while the media has been focusing on #Libspill, life continues outside the Canberran and Political Bubbles and the important work of government must go on.
The author of this article is a member of the ANU Liberal Club.