Many in-the-pub political pundits had for several years proclaimed that the only way the Australian people would see just how bad Tony Abbott would be as Prime Minister would be to actually experience it, by which time it would be too late.
The long national nightmare of Tony Abbott’s faux leadership began on 18 September 2013 and came to none-to-soon an end on 14 September 2015 when Malcolm Turnbull finally realised he had the numbers to topple Abbott in a leadership spill.
But Abbott and his die-hard supporters have not gone gently into that good night; Abbott has insisted (despite his own electorate seemingly suggesting a preference for any replacement) he’ll remain in politics for a while to come. Remaining consistent with his premiership, Abbott has promised one thing (to not interject from the sidelines) and has seemingly done quite the opposite (by interjecting from the sidelines – ostensibly to keep his ‘good’ record intact).
When Malcolm Turnbull swept to power in the Liberal party, Australians breathed a collective sigh of relief. The Abbott days were over, and to replace him was a moderate who had firmly denounced Tony’s premiership and style during the brief challenge period (only to spend the rest of the time in parliament praising said premiership and style). Tony was replaced by someone who could ad-lib long sentences, who could enunciate, who was a world class gesturer (on par with Tony Blair), and by someone who didn’t feel the need to stand with dozens of flags behind him saying “Daesh is coming” at every opportunity.
But with Tony choosing to stay in parliament, there’s that lingering fear of a political comeback. Like a miasmatic pall hanging over the country, there’s that sense a coup might come, or worse, a successful coup might come.
One scenario, given the general popularity of Malcolm with non-Liberal voters and the impression that many people would find spending an afternoon with a stick of mildewy celery in the bottom of the vegetable crisper more fun half the time again with than Bill Shorten: Malcolm not only wins the next election, but wins a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
“Hey”, says Tony a few weeks or months later to his colleagues, “Um yeah so um yeah hey”, says Tony, before falling silent and nodding his head for sixty-seven painful seconds, “We’ve um yeah got um yeah control over the um whole parliament. So we all know Malcolm will let gays get married and keep on turning around our policy on climate control, and he’s a bit of a small-L liberal. He’s not that conservative. How about … um, yeah, how about, yeah, we ditch him, I’ll come back in and we’ll ram through all sorts of long-term bills we’ve been wanting through parliament. Yeah, ram through. And we’ve got such a majority that there’s still a good chance we’ll squeak in at the next election.”
Actually, the last bit isn’t much of a scenario: based on everything Tony has said since he got the arse, he seems to remain firmly convinced he’d get through in a next election no matter what.
Maybe it’s far-fetched, but the last Labor government proved it’s possible to re-instate a failed leader, so the precedent has already been set. And Turnbull is popular enough that he might just be capable of taking both houses of parliament. Leaving Abbott, sitting in the wings, looking for one single wedge.
What’s the risk that a vote for Malcolm is a vote for Tony? While Tony remains in parliament it might be a risk too much.