Was it ever really off? Brendan Nelson must have realised from day one that his tenure would, in all likelihood, be a brief one.
The issue of credibility is an all-encompassing one for the conservative parties at the moment. It has been ever since 24 November 2007 when the over-throw of the Howardian regime by majority Australia, and subsequent confirmation that conservatism was no longer popular among the electorate. The Liberal Party in particular has so far failed to either realise, or prove to the electorate that it recognises this. The ‘born to rule’ mentality is still very evident whenever we see or hear the likes of Bishop, Abbott, Minchin and even the next pretender, Turnbull. In fact, the best Turnbull has managed to date is a rather farcical revelation that Wayne Swan’s knowledge of obscure fiscal terminology is about as complete as most other non-economist Australians. It’s that kind of behaviour which isn’t likely to win favour or restore credibility among the conservatively disenchanted.
Does Nelson have to go? I suppose the real question is just how desperate is the Liberal Party, let alone the conservative coalition, to find and install a leadership with charisma and stature. This IS desperation on the party’s behalf. It’s not simple dissatisfaction with Nelson, it’s down to finding a John Howard substitute, and right away. To my mind this indicates a sure knowledge within the party itself that no such substitute exists. Hence this casting about for a suitable plug in the leadership hole. Turnbull’s rise is inevitable, and has been from the moment he originally won Wentworth in 2004. The man is a mover and agitator. He gives the impression of having the energy and the will to press his case, and all things being equal, he ought to have the opportunity to present it. The timing is doubtful, and I feel a turfing of Nelson now is only going to show those who directly challenge him – Turnbull, for example – to be the epitome of what the public perceive politicians to be. Liars, cheats and thieves.
If Howard was right about anything it was that disunity is political suicide. The Liberal Party needs to stop this rumbling and rumour-mongering from the back stalls and make decisive moves to restore whatever credibility remains among the post-Howardian opposition. As was proven during the Downer-Hewson-Howard and earlier Peacock-Howard-Peacock stoushes, nothing whatsoever is gained from internal disputation which centres of personal avarice and ambition. Let’s not pretend that Malcolm Turnbull has his sights on leading the opposition for anything other than personal aggrandisement. It’s about being PM and returning this country to an ideological position which it’s just dispensed with. Could be a long road for Turnbull. Has he the wind for the run? Has he the pace to match Rudd? Can he hold onto the leadership for two terms? It’ll be at least 2013 before either he, or the coalition – if it still exists at that time – will be in any kind of position to challenge Labor. In short, is he making his run too early? I think so.