Mark Latham on Tony Abbott

The following article appeared in the Daily Telegraph 26 November 2017.  It is also on Mark Latham’s Outsiders website. It is sound advice for Turnbull whose vanity will be an immovable obstacle to following it. Latham could have added that the Liberal Party is in an existential crisis, and the only way it will survive will be to return to its Menzian origins. There is no one who embodies the spirit of Menzies’ original foundation than Tony Abbott. There is no one in the Liberal Party who possesses the same practical and theoretical knowledge of conservatism as Abbott. The conversation in the Liberal Party should not be how it can win the next election, but about how it will survive.

Turnbull’s Survival Depends Upon Abbott

After 40 years of being involved in politics, it’s still possible to witness amazing events.

On Saturday I was at the Australian Christian Nation Association conference in Burwood, in Sydney’s inner-west.

The keynote speaker was Tony Abbott, for whom the crowd went crazy, treating him like a political rock-star.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

With hundreds packed into the room, he received three standing ovations and a wild outpouring of love.

Abbott generated the rarest of attributes in modern politics: energy.

People were genuinely moved and animated by his 30-minute speech – an impressive summary of the challenges facing Western civilisation.

At one point, dozens of women were yelling for him.

If it hadn’t been a strictly Christian gathering, it could have progressed into a Tom Jones-style chucking of knickers.

You don’t usually get this kind of passion in today’s politics – an era dominated by public disengagement and cynicism about our leaders.

For the conservative base, Abbott is incredibly popular.

They admire his policies, his values and his resilience.

He also has the sympathy vote locked up.

As one fan interjected, “Tony, you should be Prime Minister – you’re the one the people voted for”.

This is the tragedy of today’s Liberal Party.

In knifing Abbott two years ago, Malcolm Turnbull jettisoned the party’s conservative base, an essential foundation stone for electoral success.

Now conservatives are forging the habit of voting elsewhere.

In Saturday’s Queensland election, the LNP suffered a 7.8% swing, bottoming out with a primary vote of 33.5 percent.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation was an obvious beneficiary with 13.7% support.

Cory Bernardi’s breakaway Conservative Party is also poised to cash-in on the Abbott/Turnbull schism.

We are watching the Liberal Party’s decline as a cohesive electoral force.

As long as the Abbott conservatives feel disenfranchised by the Labor-lite Turnbull/Pyne/Brandis wing of the party, this divided house must fall.

With his prime ministership hanging by a thread, Turnbull urgently needs to resolve the Abbott question.

Yes, the two men hate each other.

Yes, it’s a replay of the spite and vengeance of other great intra-party rivalries, such as Rudd/Gillard, Hawke/Keating and Howard/Peacock.

But to save his bacon, Turnbull needs to look beyond this personal animus and find a way of bringing Abbott back into cabinet.

My advice would be to smoke the peace pipe and offer him Treasury.

Scott Morrison has been hopeless in the portfolio.

The government actually has a decent story to tell on the economy but Morrison is incapable of retailing it.

He has no presence in the public debate and seems out of his depth when talking about fiscal policy.

Earlier this year, Abbott announced his support for two important economic measures.

The first is a cut to immigration – taking the pressure off housing demand and costs, while also easing labour market competition and the suppression of wages growth.

The second is an embargo on new Federal spending until such time at the budget returns to surplus.

These policies would give the government a much-needed economic narrative, using one of its best campaigners to sell them.

A united Turnbull/Abbott economic team, no matter how artificially constructed, is the Prime Minister’s last best shot at survival.

In these troubled times, as voters look at most MPs like a new form of scabies, it makes no sense to leave a star-turn like Abbott on the backbench.