It’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen this coming Tuesday. Or maybe already in a couple of hours.
That is, if there is some rational decision making going on and the key people have thought through the whole game tree, endgames included. Abbott has done himself in irreversibly, starting with his ill-advised and unfair budget and the subsequent failure to implement key budget measures, his failure to honour high-profile no-cuts election promises, his non-credible environmental policy, repeatedly demonstrated nastiness (e.g., the attempts to shut down the Climate Council, or the ACNC, the instalment of Royal Commissions meant to target the political enemy, the attempt to discredit the backbenchers that moved the spill motion, and the transparent attempt to pre-empt necessary discussion in the party-room), all the way to his office’s attempt to micro-manage cabinet/party room. All of this seems to have been driven by what he considers his power base and also drive by his fifties view of how the world ought to work. Dames and knights and all.
Yes, Abbott has proven to be a remarkably incompetent communicator but that is not his, or his party’s, key problem. Reneging on many a promise, and doing so at least partially for ideological/worldview reasons, is the key issue. Including his captain’s picks. But that pathetic decision to award a Knighthood to Prince Philip was just the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Abbott’s latest call – a transparent attempt to pre-empt party-room discussion – will inevitably fire back. Sooner or later. As it should because it reflects an out-dated understanding of how parties ought to work.
Trust is easy to lose but very hard to gain, nevermind regain. There is considerable experimental evidence on this (for time it takes to build reputations, see here; for how little it takes to destroy people’s trust, see here, or for that matter, here). But it does not even take laboratory evidence because most people have good intuitions about the consequences of certain actions. Think of cheating on your partner (and being found out).
Abbott has argued that he has learned his lesson but his utterances are not credible any longer, as Turnbull brilliantly made clear with his captain’s-pick characterization of the attempt to move the spill forward and to pre-empt necessary discussion in the party-room.
Plus, at this stage, Abbott has become a laughing stock to considerable parts of the population and abroad (e.g., Oliver roasting him; see also here or here or here). There is no way that Abbott will recover from having become the butt of jokes because these clips will be replayed and repackaged and replayed. As they should.
If the Coalition sticks with Abbott for now (whether it is Tuesday or Monday), they will just extend their pain indefinitely. It will be a daily media circus, indefinitely. Because. There is a) no way that Abbott will change — his latest captain’s call suggests that much — and b) no way, even under the best of circumstances (Abbott changing somewhat), that he will regain the confidence of enough voters to have a chance to contest the next election. The recent polls and election results in Victoria and Queensland speak volumes. NSW might be next if Abbott is going to stay on.
I bet there were many calls this weekend whose major purpose it was to convince Abbott of b). Plus appeals to be mindful of the fate of his party, and threats that he will be taken down if he does not resign.
If there is some decency, and rationality, left in Abbott he will resign rather than force a show-down. Of course he might be called the mad monk for a reason. In which case rational decision making should not be expected, at least for a couple of months. Which is a troublesome prospect for the country because Abbott clinging on to power will prolong the dysfunctionality that goes for policy-making in Canberra these days. and that has gridlocked Canberra arguably since 2010 or so.
It is, incidentally, not the voters who have gotten more fickle, as John Birmingham has argued. Correctly, in my view.
“The electorate isn’t volatile. Voters aren’t unpredictable. The rules have not changed. If you lie to people, if you promise one thing and deliver its opposite, if you treat public office as your due and the ordinary people who put you there with contempt, they will turn on you.”
It is indeed the political class that is messing up (Labor by having allowed a narcissistic megalomaniac to de-stabilize one of the more productive governments the country has ever seen and the Liberals by allowing Abbott, and his government, to make a mockery of the no-surprises contract those alleged grown-ups had with the voting public.) In the end, in the eye of most voters, it is about elementary things like this: Trust and trustworthiness. Promises and whether they get broken. That’s because assessing the efficiency and efficacy of government actions and initiatives taxes the cognitive limits of most voters, inducing them to rely on markers like trust and trustworthiness. And some sense of decorum.
P.S. The Nats? A side-show. Who are they going to team up with? Labor? Branches of the game tree you can safely ignore.