Interesting sidebar to the Nelson v Turnbull stoush

September 17, 2008 |

The Turnbull v Nelson fight is over.  Turnbull is leader by 2 clear votes.  But so what.  A win by one vote for a challenger is enough.  Nelson is onto the back bench and nobody expects much in the way of a return by the good doctor. Turnbull’s first media conference bespeaks his style, a broad sweep grand commentary and one full of optimism and supreme confidence.  That is half the problem.  Will he flame out.  Methinks yes.

The press coverage is all about Turnbull being a force of nature, a doer rather than a talker and a breath of fresh air.  All of that is good and most of it necessary in a new leader.  But the pre requisite of being a successful political leader is having an ideological base, a belief system consistent with that of the party you lead.  Nelson doesn’t have it.  I generally agree with Gerard Henderson’s view on Nelson in today’s SMH where he says:

Nelson’s difficulties go back to a time before he joined the Liberal Party. As the leader of the AMA, he indicated he wanted to enter politics but it was not clear whether he favoured Labor or the Coalition. Then, campaigning in the 1993 election, Nelson declared that up to that time he had never voted Liberal in his life. This seemed plausible. As a medical practitioner running a small business, Nelson was hit by the high interest rates during the early 1990s when Bob Hawke and then Paul Keating were prime minister. Nelson subsequently revamped his position to be that he voted Liberal for the first time in 1990. Either way, his past political allegiance has been ambiguous – something which cannot be said of Menzies or Howard, Hawke or Rudd.

As Opposition Leader, Nelson has scored some short-term hits. Yet he has made no substantial impact, primarily, it seems, because he has no unambiguous positions on economic or social policy. In recent times, Nelson has failed to state an unqualified position on such issues as climate change and Reserve Bank independence. There are many more such examples….

Where I disagree is where he says:

In spite of his relative political inexperience, Turnbull does have firm positions. That’s why he looks like leadership material now that Costello has walked away from the job and now that the Coalition appears to have an ever so slight chance of victory in 2010.

Turnbull’s may state a range of positions but I can’t see the ideological coherence.  He has come out on a few issues against the pack, eg the Henson photos brouhaha, but  hasn’t contribunted much to the political debate.  He was an ambiguous as they come in the constitutional convention and republican movement.  It was classic Turnbull, the results are all that matter no matter what. Turnbull doesn’t have it. Both Nelson and Turnbull are cut from the same cloth ideologically, their belief system is having their boney fingers wrapped around the levers of power.  That lack of coherence brought Nelson undone, as Henderson notes.  It is one of Turnbull’s flaws too. 

The really interesting story is what to make of Pistol Pete Costello.  He sat this one out and was quite dignified in stating his role as being, well, nothing. Except he made his support for Turnbull clear on Radio National this morning.  But, and there is always at least one in politics, Mitch Fifield and Anthony Smith came out to announce their switch from Turnbull on the last occasion to Nelson on the one finished earlier today.  Both are ex staffers of Costello and serious carers for Pistol Pete.  They don’t pack too much in the way in intellectual firepower but are good aparatchiks and every party needs those foot soldiers.  True Nelson supporters filled the airwaves in the 16 or so hours before the vote but Fifield and Smith’s contribution on today’s AM is something else.  Costello is not a Turnbull hugger. That is hardly new.  Thwarting him would be a plus on so many levels.  Nelson’s leadership would have been low hanging fruit closer to the polls. Well it hasn’t worked but that doesn’t mean it is over vis a vis a Costello try on later.  I agree with the musing of Peter Brent that Costello may be waiting for a last minute change before the next election, especially if he remains the member for Higgins into 2009.  

Whatever the ins and outs of the parlimentary machinations it is going to be a grim 12 months for the Federal Opposition. 


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