Crikey and Business Spectator:
1. Turnbull’s retirement is going to strip the party of much of its remaining substance. Until a new generation of quality Liberal MPs makes their mark, the only real intellectual firepower in the party consists of Andrew Robb, George Brandis and Turnbull. Yes, there are younger or more junior Liberals with some real intellectual quality – Simon Birmingham, for one – but they don’t yet have any sway within the party.
Neither Brandis nor Robb are exactly dripping with charisma, and only Robb is even faintly a serious candidate for future leadership as either Deputy or the main gig. Turnbull’s retirement left the party with the prospect that when Abbott leads the party to defeat, Joe Hockey will be the only alternative.
As Hockey’s economic history speech this week showed, the bloke is game, but just doesn’t have the intellectual grunt. He’d make a decent, moderate Liberal leader, in the same way Kim Beazley made a decent, moderate Labor leader.
2. Only Turnbull has the charisma, intellectual firepower and fierce ambition that leadership needs.
3. A third reason: Nick Minchin is leaving. Minchin dedicated his last three years in politics to thwarting Turnbull. His departure leaves the conservative forces in the party without their caporegime. Corey Bernardi will try to step up and fill Minchin’s shoes but he is, Senator, no Nick Minchin...
4. A fourth reason: the Liberals know how badly they cope with opposition. Another defeat at the hands of Rudd, especially one that sends them backwards in terms of seats, could unleash the sort of disunity that makes the last couple of years look cool and professional. In the absence of a powerful figure, the Liberals will continue to keep the spotlight on themselves in a way that has made Kevin Rudd’s life so much easier since 2008. There are no John Howards or Peter Costellos to unify the party now, but there nearest thing they’ve got is Malcolm.
5. Fifth, it can work. Turnbull regains the leadership after the election, learns from his first stint and conquers the flaws in his personal style, provides a more consultative leadership style than the first time around, and challenges an ageing Rudd government by offering a mix of conservative economic policies and a more progressive social agenda than Tony Abbott will ever be able to contemplate.
Because that’s the problem with Tony Abbott, or any conservative, leading the Liberals. Such a figure might appeal to the party base, but is in constant danger of moving away from mainstream voters. The Liberals know they face a long-term demographic challenge as one of their core constituencies, the pre-baby boom generation born before and during the war, die off. They need to appeal to younger voters. They need a leader who speaks to the future, not the past.
At the moment the party needs Malcolm more than he needs it.