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Q1: Leader of the rump?

The question I've been asking everyone all week is "Who will lead the Coalition rump?" Even if Howard had retained Bennelong, he was never going to accept the Opposition leadership, so the expected baton was passed without fanfare to Costello in his concession speech.

And when I say "baton", I mean "poisoned chalice". Those Liberal frontbenchers who were in genuine contention for the Prime Ministerial mantle know that to take up cudgels as the representative of the losing team is political foolhardiness in the extreme. It would run much like it did with Downer supplanting Hewson, Crean supplanting Beazley, Beazley supplanting Latham, et cetera.

Turnbull is too smart to ever go near it. Costello looked like he had inadvertently put his foot in it, but with a clack-clack of his red shoes he's found a way to scurry to the backbenches of the Opposition, ostensibly to retire from politics at the end of this term. (He intends no such thing. He intends for the new Opposition Leader to fuck up royally, and then he will force a spill six months out -- in the name of unifying the party and returning as a saviour. Well, in a sense it worked for Keating. But Keating did not have a Turnbull.)

Downer has already graciously (and bizarrely) refused the Opposition leadership, but not even the Coalition would flirt with that possibility again anyway. Abbott? He's no longer a man for these times, so he might not even be offered it, particularly after his campaign slapstickery.

Julie Bishop would be an interesting call, but not one I think the Coalition is ready to make. All week my very long odds investment has been on Nelson, whose utter blandness and hilariously misguided ambition makes him Costello's (or Turnbull's) perfect foil -- he would be offered the fall guy role, and knowing that it's his only chance to leapfrog into actual contention, he would take it. Would he damn his party by doing so? Probably, in as much as they're not already damned. Watch for Pyne and (much later) Alex Hawke in the wings.

Or is there another scenario I've missed? And can you forgive me for relishing this?

Joseph | 25 Nov 2007

Sun 25 Nov 2007, 3:17PM Virginia Murdoch

Turnbull may be too smart to go near it, but it sounds like he may be pushed into it – he's clearly the least-hated opposition politician today, and there's a media scrum outside his "harbourside mansion". Maybe they could go leaderless for a while? Or perhaps the St Kilda FC-style 'rotating captains' approach?

(I loved Turnbull's attempt last night to express the diversity of his electorate - "From QCs and judges and surgeons, to garbos... and so forth.")

Sun 25 Nov 2007, 4:03PM Joseph

If Costello can somehow weasel out of it, Turnbull should have no problem. Only his monumental ego stands in the way.

News Ltd is now pointing the bony finger in the direction of Nelson at least as much as Turnbull.

Sun 25 Nov 2007, 10:20PM Joseph

Well, I was wrong. I overestimated Turnbull. This is very interesting.

Mon 26 Nov 2007, 8:18PM Vincent

Looks like your long-odds bet finally stepped up.

You didn't think that Turnbull would chance it, so I'm guessing that now you know he is in the race you'll think that he'll trounce Nelson, but the press gallery seems to think that he of the pierced ear has done more legwork toadying up to backbenchers. And we also know Abbott, Keatingised as "young fogey", is also in. So what's your assessment now we have a batch of known candidates?

Mon 26 Nov 2007, 8:42PM Joseph

There's a few ways to look at Turnbull's decision to run. From an idealistic perspective, you can say that he recognizes and fears the radical undertow emerging particularly in the NSW Right, and wants to steer the party away from it while he still can. Pragmatically, you can say he's learnt the lesson of Costello, and appreciates that at his age he doesn't have long to act. Moreover, he presumably thinks this neophyte Rudd government can be probed and perhaps exposed. Cynically, you can say he's at the mercy of his ego.

I think it's a bit of each, but any which way, he's almost certain to become the sacrifical lamb. Political commentary in this country is a bit too respectful of the adage that 'history repeats itself', but it's hard not to see the parallels with Andrew Peacock in 1983. I doubt it'll be as close a contest as Peacock v. Howard.

Downer's last significant act as a politician will be his endorsement of one of the candidates. His mind is completely impenetrable to me, so I have no idea which of the three he will choose. It will have some impact, but unless it is Turnbull, not enough.

Thu 29 Nov 2007, 1:09PM Vincent

long odds it is. wish i'd put money on it!

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