Look, I don’t want to keep going on about Turnbull and leadership, and I even started writing another column on a completely different matter, but a) I got really lost in the research weeds (it’ll probably be Friday’s column, if I can make it readable) and b) I was sidetracked by a weird conversation going on upon m’Facebook page by people that didn’t appear to be regular readers making big statements about how Turnbull Has To Go and How [insert name here] Should Be Leader Now Now Now.
And, to repeat and repeat and repeat m’self, the thing that Malcolm has that guarantees his safety is the Liberal Party's utter lack of an obvious alternative leader at the moment.
But sure, let’s pretend for a moment that the PM is speaking at yet another industry forum about Snowy 2.0 like it’s a thing that will actually happen when a mighty winged monster swoops unexpectedly from the sky (with innovation and agility, naturally) and carries him screaming toward the mountains.
And let’s say that this horrifying moment galvanises the party who universally agree that they won’t have a divisive, undignified squabble for power but swiftly fill Malcolm's shoes without a ballot. Who would they elevate as being clearly the most outstanding among them to carry on Turnbull’s… um, legacy? That seems like the wrong word.
Anyway: this week’s Essential poll asked a similar question, although they seem to have left out the bit about the winged monster for some reason, and merely asked who would be the preferred leader if Turnbull was out of the picture.
And there was a clear winner: the voting public went for the ever-popular Don’t Know, who romped it home with 30 per cent of the vote. Go you good thing!
Someone Else also did well, coming fourth with 14 per cent - and only two actual named human beings did better.
So, with the most popular option out of contention, what are the post-Turnbull-devouring options?
Public approval: 26 per cent
Special talent: unblinking death stare
Strengths: Not especially inept at her portfolio; easily the most popular non-Turnbull option with the public. Could accurately be sold as “the candidate you’d be OK seeing as PM”.
Weaknesses: Aside from having all the same qualities that supposedly made Julia Gillard so gosh-darn unacceptable - a faithless deputy PM that was also childless, unmarried, and unrepentantly female - she’s also considered a moderate within the party, like Turnbull. So the one thing that she’d definitely be able to offer would be an ongoing schism with the conservatives in the backbench and the National Party, as well as enjoying a Turnbullian level of enmity with Tony Abbott. Speaking of which…
Public approval: 16 per cent
Special talent: onion immunity
Strengths: He’s the only potential Liberal leader who wouldn’t spend their entire term being endlessly undermined by Tony Abbott. He’s also had the gig before, so could be sold to the public as “none of it will be a surprise this time, probably”.
Weaknesses: See Australian politics Sept 2013 - Sept 2015. Abbott wasn’t canned by the party for no reason, and his period in the backbench hasn’t exactly been characterised by demonstrations of urbane wisdom and quiet dignity. Also, it’s hard to see how he’d be able to fit governing into his currently-chock-full vengeance schedule.
Public approval: 5 per cent
Special talent: Impervious to human rights
Strengths: He… um, wouldn’t waste time worrying about data, say, or the rule of law. If his career to date has taught us anything, it’s that he’s unburdened by prissy nonsense like “conscience” or “knowledge” or “the legality of his actions”.
Weaknesses: He’s thrived in his current portfolio thanks largely to the fact that it’s largely opaque to public scrutiny. When he’s been in a more transparent role, like health minister, his talent for screwing up everything he touches was there for all to see, so it’s unlikely that he’d do a super job of the single most heavily examined and most accountable job in the nation. And we’ve seen this play out before, with…
Public approval: 5 per cent
Special talent: TBC
Strengths: not the most inept treasurer that Australia has had in the last five years, although that’s more thanks to the spectacular talents of Joe Hockey than of Morrison himself. That he’s not been caught smoking fancy cigars after deciding to slash welfare in the budget, or claimed on radio that poor people don’t drive cars makes Morrison appear a political savant by comparison.
Weaknesses: Economic growth has slowed under Morrison's watchful stewardship, while government debt has increased and employment has become more parlous: Like Dutton these days, Morrison gave the impression of hard-edged competence when he was Immigration Minister because he had the luxury of controlling departmental information and deep-sixing anything that didn’t make him look like an ice-cold badass, but after becoming treasurer he did things like count numbers wrong and hand coal around parliament. At one point he was the hands-down obvious leader in waiting, but the more Australia got to know him, they more they got to anti-like him. Sort of the opposite with…
Public approval: 4 per cent
Special talent: cattiness
Strengths: As with Turnbull, there's a largish group of people that can’t help liking the guy despite everything he says. Mind you, that’s at least partially because, like Turnbull, he transparently doesn’t believe a word of it. In a party with so many furious ideologues, Pyne is a refreshing throwback to the self-aggrandising political liars of old. And sure, it’s dangerous to say this in the wake of Donald Trump, but let’s be honest: Pyne as PM would be hilarious. God, can you imagine?
Weaknesses: It’s Christopher Pyne: the man who immediately started wearing prop spectacles when he became Education Minister and whose current portfolio is Defence Materiel, which is French for For Fuck’s Sake Don’t Lose Us South Australia. And given that he and Turnbull come across as old chums that met when they tied for first in a varsity smugness contest, it’s hard to feel that he’d reconnect with the voters Mr Harbourside Mansion has lost.
Public approval: n/a
Special talent: competence
Strengths: Has had high-profile roles as Finance Minister and Leader in the Senate without making humiliating mistakes. Is legitimately good at explaining complicated things simply and comes across as a genuinely interested person trying to do a hard job well.
Weaknesses: The accent makes him really, really, really easy to parody, and there’s a section of the Liberal voting base that would pause before voting for such an obvious migrant. But to be honest, he’d probably be a perfectly good centre-right PM - or at least, he’d do his parts of the job solidly well - but the fact he’s in the Senate rather than the House of Representatives means he’s not remotely an option at this point.
Public approval: n/a
Special talent: turning up
Strengths: is “not having done a worse job” technically a strength? He’s like Red Rooster chicken, or the music of Snow Patrol: plenty of people accept his being there, but his popularity is far greater than seems warranted by what’s on offer and the existence of similar but far superior alternatives.
Weaknesses: …um, it’s Josh Frydenberg. He’s the human manifestation of a shrug. And when he told the press this week that sure, he’d like to be PM one day the entire nation, as one, pretty much went “of COURSE you do, Joshy! It’s fun to have dreams! Now, who wants to wash their big boy hands before COAG?”
Public approval: swipe left and block
Special talent: Just For Men Black 37
Strengths: Flight, immortality, can take the form of a bat at will
Weaknesses: Disintegrates in sunlight, doesn’t cast a reflection, can’t run a submarine tendering process, garlic. Seems to have gotten over his fear of crucifixes, though.
Oh, shut up.
See you Friday, team!