The Leadership (Non)-Challenge

When I returned to focus on politics after a busy morning yesterday, I discovered that not only was John Howard still PM, but also that there was never a leadership challenge. Really. How can this be?

I happened to read Crikey first, where Christian Kerr wrote:

Nothing happened in Canberra this morning. Nothing in a Samuel Beckett sort of way. A nothing that means plenty. A nothing that is quite profound.

You’ve right there, Christian! Every newsroom and every politics junkie in the country including myself arced up — prepared, as I said, for the biggest political story in a decade. And then come the time, Howard et al strolled out of the party room meeting as if nothing had happened.

Finally, at 12:45, Tony Abbott appeared. There had been “full and frank discussions”, he said, but there was “absolutely rock solid support for the Prime Minister”.

And then I read Annabel Crabb’s explanation, which helped make sense of it for me:

The past few days of leadership destabilisation in the Liberal Party has exposed an obvious complication: none of the Libs are any good at it.

They are deeply, vastly and irredeemably out of practice, in fact, and it shows.

Every time a tiny public jab is made against the Prime Minister, a great squeal goes up and everybody dashes for cover, and shooshes each other until the next poke of the stick occurs. Honestly, it’s like watching a pack of seven-year-old girls going at a brown snake…

The unprecedented turnout in the press galleries, which Kim Beazley later likened to “three rows of crows, waiting for the sheep to die, yum-yum” was unwarranted; it really was an uneventful hour.

After question time, ministers scurried away lest they be approached for a comment.

All, that is, but Peter Costello who remained for a few words with Malcolm Turnbull, while delighted Labor MPs shrieked at the pair to “take it outside”. If this were the Labor Party, someone’s head would be on a stick by now, and the victors would be on their second round of duck pancakes…

The whole piece is worth a read. And she’s 100% right. Somehow, “insiders” at Alexander Downer and Malcolm Turnbull’s offices convinced Sky News that it’s on. And then the frightened schoolgirls quickly deny it, lest Big Strong Daddy get angry.

John Winston Howard: The Biography makes it clear that Howard is a tactical genius at understanding the numbers game of building political support, and a master of the telephone. That’s why the man who was once a mere 18% in the opinion polls has become the second-longest serving PM in Australia’s history. And the 48 hours before yesterday’s party meeting would have been no exception.

Yesterday Big Strong Daddy convinced everyone that if the ship is in danger of sinking, fast, then the last thing they need is any perception of disunity. And he’s right.

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