THE political storm has calmed. The coup failed. A compromise candidate is now Liberal Party leader and prime minister while the conservatives lick their wounds.
However, it is just the eye of the storm. The calm may last beyond the next election – but the Liberal Party remains divided.
Journalist Margo Kingston tweeted: “The far right struck for the chance to destroy centrism”. Even more incisively: “We are watching the death of the Sir Robert Menzies Liberal Party due to the expulsion of liberalism”.
And ACT Senator, Zed Seselja was up to his armpits in this.
The conservatives bungled this coup, however, they will regroup and try again. Their ideology is just too strong. They are evangelists set on establishing a conservative party with the Liberal Party branding. These are the plotters and the conspirators that Malcolm Turnbull was referring to during the week of madness.
The outgoing prime minister also exposed considerable backing for the “insurgency” from powerful forces beyond the parliamentary party. In his final media appearance as PM, he commenced by outlining the achievements of his “progressive” government. The point would not be lost on the reactionaries who had launched the mutiny.
Seselja could not hide his despondency following the failed coup. He looked like he had been kicked in the stomach – or lower. He backed the wrong horse on Tony Abbott. He also backed the wrong horse on Peter Dutton. His ideology trumped his loyalty to Malcolm Turnbull, who had appointed him as a minister, exposing a two-faced behaviour.
From the beginning of his political career Zed Seselja has been a proud conservative. He has been clear where he stands regarding his ideology. The senator, and former Leader of the Opposition in the ACT, has also been building a party of conservative members. This is why liberals in the ACT have been deserting the local Liberal Party allowing the number of conservatives to come to ascendancy. Zed is part of this push not only locally but federally.
With Canberra being generally left of centre, unless things change dramatically, it seems that he will continue to back a losing side. As one listener commented on ABC radio, Zed is out of step on failing to support equal rights for the ACT (as I outlined in this column last week) and in plotting against the prime minister.
Columnist Michelle Grattan warned that a Dutton win would put “a stranglehold on the Liberal Party’s throat”. Others have described the move as attempting to “Trumpify the Liberal Party”. More like “Pauline Hansonify the Liberal Party”.
Engineers of the putsch have also been rewriting history. Seselja told local ABC radio that the Liberal Party was going back to its original base as conservatives. Menzies would roll in his grave! While attempting to rewrite history, there is also an attempt to redefine their political position. The traitors who moved on Malcolm Turnbull would see themselves as conservatives. In reality they are reactionaries.
The next steps are interesting. Commentators have emphasised the importance of unity if the Liberal Party is to survive and have any chance at the next election. Self-interest will now demand unity, knowing that disunity will mean a drop in popular support followed by electoral disaster. For ordinary members, this could mean a loss of their own seat. The party will show unity for a time. The unity of the next few months will mark the eye of the storm. The only question is when will it pass and the full force of the hurricane of division reappear.
The reactionaries, under the leadership of people like Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton, simply cannot stand liberal ideology. It is embedded in their DNA. They will not give up. As illustrated by ascent of reactionary politicians such as Seselja and local Liberal leader Alistair Coe, it is clear the same is true in the ACT. It is simply a matter of time before the wars of ideology resume.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.