A coup for the chattering classes
The Daily Telegraph
September 16 2015
New PM Malcolm Turnbull is the ultimate insiders’ politician, a man with an ego so health
The insiders have installed one of their own in Malcolm Turnbull. They never accepted Tony Abbott, with his religious faith, his monarchist beliefs, his humility, his kindness, his old-fashioned notions of duty, honour and loyalty.
You could see it every week on the ABC’s Q&A, the smug TV program that best captures their privileged leftist views. And on Monday night, when news of Abbott’s decapitation was announced, the audience erupted with rapturous applause.
The inner city elites, increasingly preoccupied with symbolic issues, and out of touch with the unfashionable suburbs, never felt Abbott legitimately was Prime Minister. He embarrassed them. He didn’t play their game.
On the totemic issues that bookmarked his leadership of the Liberal Party — on climate change and same sex marriage — he was starkly at odds with them. They saw him as representing an Australia they revile, full of unsophisticated, parochial, materialistic, misogynistic redneck bigots.
His mistake was generously trying to appease the chattering classes with symbolic gesture and big-hearted compromise. But they just reviled his efforts as a sign of weakness, and were emboldened for the eventual kill.
For the leftists who dominate the media, academia, legal circles, who inhabit the Canberra bubble, and the stylish inner circle of Wentworth, Turnbull was more to their taste. He subscribes to all the symbolic “progressive” causes dear to their hearts: climate alarmism, “marriage equality”, a republic.
They don’t wince when he opens his mouth. They can imagine themselves being invited to dinner parties at his Point Piper mansion overlooking the glittering harbour. They anticipate with pride his bustling self assurance on the global stage, whether in New York addressing a UN conference or swanning around a climate change conference in Paris, talking up technocratic solutions to theoretical problems.
Maybe he’s right, and his optimism and self belief are what’s needed to boost economic confidence. Having a competent cut-through Treasurer in Scott Morrison will be his best asset, and one which Abbott denied himself.
But whether Turnbull’s commitment to what he and John Howard both yesterday repeatedly described as “the broad church” of the Liberal Party, encompassing its conservative and “small L liberal” traditions, stretches to subsuming his ego for the good of internal harmony, will determine his success.
Morrison, the future Treasurer, will be crucial to keeping Turnbull’s instincts in check, keeping the conservatives in the party room onside and the Coalition electorally viable.
But nothing will stop the high hopes of the new Greens Leader Richard Di Natale, who sees in Turnbull a fellow traveller on climate and progressive social issues.
Milling around on the lawn in front of Parliament House where the TV networks had set up shop yesterday, Di Natale, in Tommy Hilfiger spectacles, declared himself ready and eager to do business with Turnbull.
Parliament’s youngest MP, Wyatt Roy, who gave up on Abbott in February, at the time of the spill that wasn’t, was equally enthusiastic, declaring Turnbull to be a post-partisan leader in the mode of John Key, David Cameron and Mike Baird.
Turnbull promises so much to idealists, not least the mirage of politics without partisanship, of a frictionless integration of the “broad church”, a bloodless union of left and right. He is the ultimate insiders’ politician, a man with an ego so healthy that in his victory speech he had to say twice how “humbled” he was.
By contrast, Tony Abbott was self effacing to the end. Watching his final speech as Prime Minister yesterday afternoon in the blustery courtyard outside his office, admirers could only lament what might have been.
“There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping. I’ve never leaked or backgrounded against anyone,” he said, before grimly itemising the mostly unheralded achievements of his abbreviated reign.
“300,000 more people are in jobs. Labor’s bad taxes are gone. We’ve signed Free Trade Agreements with our largest trading partners … The biggest infrastructure program in our country’s history … A spotlight is being shone into the dark and corrupt corners of the union movement … We’ve responded to the threats of terror … The boats have stopped and … we’ve been better able to display our compassion to refugees. And … we’ve made $50 billion of repairs to the Budget.”
He admitted his was not a perfect government.
“We have been a government of men and women, not a government of Gods walking upon the earth. Few of us, after all, entirely measure up to expectations.
“The nature of politics has changed in the past decade. We have more polls and more commentary than ever before. Mostly sour, bitter, character assassination.
“Poll driven panic has produced a revolving door Prime Ministership which can’t be good for our country. And a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery.”
It was a searing speech, but ultimately gracious. For those listening in the courtyard, however, it was almost impossible to hear, thanks to a media helicopter hovering noisily overhead. It was a fitting metaphor for a Prime Minister whose fine words and worthy achievements were so often ignored and derided by the chatterati. History will be kinder.