Well, yes and no.
In our long article yesterday afternoon we opined that Abbott would not be Prime Minister by this evening. Yet he survived the party room spill 61 votes to 39 (with one spoiled ballot, and one MP away, out of the Liberal total of 101 MPs). So “Yes”, in that sense, we were wrong.
However we were much more right than wrong in picking the terminal nature of Abbott’s leadership. The short story is, this deeply disliked man is now finished as PM.
As we said in our final para, no Prime Minister can effectively govern the country when 40% of his MPs actively want him replaced, and when even some of those who voted for him are reported as having done so out of a sense of loyalty to give Abbott “a few more months” to pull things round, but without any real confidence that he will.
As this article reveals, Abbott is apparently shell-shocked at the scale of the revolt against him. His speech to the party room after 39 of his colleagues effectively tried to sack him was apparently one of a man who has been shaken to the core.
What’s more, Abbott now has to endure two horrible moments in the next 24 hours.
First, he has agreed to front Leigh Sales on tonight’s 7.30 Report. It’s a foolish move, because Sales has had the measure of Abbott before, and predictably will again. Of all the TV journalists working she is unlikely to let him get away with trotting out a list of platitudes and non-specific promises about future changes which he can get away with more easily during a “door stop”. We confidently expect Sales to tear him to shreds over his very poor performance in recent weeks, and in the spill vote, and the fact that today’s media agenda is now that he is a “Dead Man Walking”.
On the other hand, the PM is between a rock and a hard place. The 7.30 Report is the country’s leading current affairs programme. To have avoided the appearance would have made him look weak and cowardly.
Second, he has to go into the Parliament to face the derision of the Labor Opposition and the Greens, although that Opposition may be somewhat muted by the bizarre calculation that they want Abbott to struggle on – even right up to the next election – rather than face Turnbull instead. Nevertheless, the atmospherics will be unpleasant in the extreme and cannot help Abbott to look like anything more than he is, which is mortally wounded.
Today’s opinion polls also bear out what we were talking about yesterday. Abbott’s “brand” is utterly toxic with the public. Ultimately, MPs in his party room will make a hard-headed judgement that their seat is at risk if Abbott stays, and likely to be retained if Turnbull takes over. It’s Hawke and Keating all over again, although we would be surprised if Turnbull were to retire to the backbench in the interim. He has carefully avoided challenging Abbott directly. To his eyes, the “two step” process is working just fine.
Abbott’s instincts will be to stay on and fight. The man is aggressive and ambitious to the very tips of his bedsocks, and he took a long time to get to the top of the greasy pole.
He will grimly hold on, hoping against hope that he can turn things around, until he can present himself as a credible leader again.
In the meantime, he will make noises about being more collegiate, while continuing to just do whatever he feels like, in reality, just as with today’s announcement on the submarine tender, which even caught the leading South Australian Liberal Christopher Pyne unawares. Pyne is one of Abbott’s “lock-step” supporters – what does it say about Abbott’s leadership skills that he didn’t even ring Pyne – or get someone else to – to tip him the wink before the news broke?
In reality – and this won’t happen, although it should – having lost control of the best part of half of the party room, Abbott should now retire the Prime Ministership and hand it to the much more popular Turnbull. If he did, he would go down in history as a man who – with vision and dignity – genuinely put his own ambitions behind those of his party, and the country generally. If he did, he could still make a decent fist of a major Ministry, if he chose to. He is still a young man: this does not have to be the end of his public service.
If he does not, everyone understands that – barring a miraculous turn in fortunes – he will have to be dragged bloodied and screaming from the top job, suffering the death of a thousand leaks and endless behind the scene briefings and “less than enthusiastic” endorsements from those who would really rather see him gone. And in the meantime, the Liberal brand will continue to be tarnished, and his replacement will be given less and less time to turn things around.
Every fibre of Abbott’s being will urge him to fight on, but those closest to him, and his coterie of sycophantic acolytes in particular, should do the right thing and tap him on the shoulder and tell him to go now. They might recall Cromwell’s historic call to the Rump Parliament in 1653.
You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!
He is the lamest of lame ducks. And comedians and commentators will not hesitate to brand him as such. Have a look here at one brilliant skewering of his current situation from John Clarke and Brian Dawe.
Sadly, their performance in recent months suggests they will have nothing like either the guts or integrity to shirtfront Abbott and do so.
And so the game commences.