Yeah, I know I said I was taking the summer off for some overseas research, but I can't resist commenting on Saturday's Australian election, which proved to be as big a fiasco as one could concoct for usurper Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: It's not clear anybody will have a majority in the lower house, while the upper house is awash in independents and fringe parties (including the return of One Nation's Pauline Hanson) with little incentive other than to devise ever more excruciating ways to make Turnbull's life hell.
For those non-Aussies who find politics Down Under a bit hard to follow, what with premierships coming and going in less time than it takes Lindsay Graham to launch an exploratory committee to explore whether he should form an exploratory committee to explore attending a pancake breakfast in Iowa, here's the short version of the last twelve months:
The Oz Liberal Party is liberal in the classical-liberal sense - ie, it's the right-of-center party. Last year's Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, a conservative, was toppled by Malcolm Turnbull, who isn't in the least bit conservative but rather a modish technocrat know-it-all of consuming personal ambition. I rank him higher than an outright poseur such as David Cameron on the grounds that, when it comes to, say, climate change, Turnbull is a genuine believer whereas Cameron is just going with the flow. At any rate, here's what I said about Turnbull on the ABC's Q&A back in February:
TONY JONES: Mark Steyn, what do you think? How does this look from a distance? I know you were, as a conservative, you were quite a - well, you were a supporter of Tony Abbott.
MARK STEYN: Yeah, yeah. Tony was more congenial to me than his usurper but Lenore, I thought, put it very well. You know, he came to power because of the bad polls - because there had been, like, 137 lousy polls for Tony Abbott. So he staged his coup. If the polls head south for Malcolm Turnbull, that destroys the rationale for his prime ministership... The deal was that nothing would change except his face where Tony Abbott's face used to be and I think he's caught in a trap of his own making there. If the poll numbers reach Tony Abbott levels, what was the point of the switch? You're in Kevin-and-Julia territory then.
The ultimate poll - Saturday's election - proved to be far worse. But it did, as I said on the telly that night, utterly destroy the rationale for Turnbull's coup. Andrew Bolt has already called on him to bugger off:
You assassinated a Liberal Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who'd won an election by a huge margin.
You promised to do even better than him.
You then treated the Liberal base like dirt, smashing it with a huge super tax, refusing to speak to conservative journalists, repeatedly humiliating Abbott.
You referred to the colonial settlement of Australia as an "invasion" and even held an end-of-Ramadan meal with known Muslim bigots...
And Bolt's just warming up. Unfortunately, his call for Turnbull to quit is trickier than it sounds:
Malcolm can't fall on his sword, it's still stuck in Tony Abbott's back.
Turnbull is a thin-skinned chap. As Tony Jones noted in the exchange above:
TONY JONES: You know he walked out on a speech of yours.
MARK STEYN: Yeah.
TONY JONES: I did read that.
MARK STEYN: Yeah, he walked out on a speech of mine but actually during the introduction. He never heard a word of me. He was - it was Nick Minchin, the former Senate leader, who offended Malcolm in the introduction.
TERRI BUTLER: It must have been a great introduction.
MARK STEYN: It was. I know. It was a hell of an introduction and Malcolm was sitting across the table and flounced off in a big queeny huff for one so republican.
Don't you just hate it when you've been working on your speech all night polishing the throwaway line that will drive Malcolm to flounce off in a big queeny huff and then the guy introducing you just sloughs off some parenthetic aside that drives Malcolm to flounce off in a big queeny huff before you've even got to the podium? The only thing worse is when you're the guy doing the introduction to the big speech and you've been working on your introduction all night polishing the throwaway line that will drive Malcolm to flounce off in a big queeny huff and then the waiter showing him to his table just sloughs off some parenthetic aside that drives Malcolm to flounce off in a big queeny huff before they've even served the salad.
He couldn't exactly flounce off from his election-night speech, but it would fair to say he did not rise to the occasion. Tim Blair has the video.
Anyway, February's Steyn tour was my first visit Down Under this century in which the regnant Liberal leader eschewed the pleasure of my company. I would have taken it personally, but, as Andrew Bolt observed correctly, Turnbull treated the entire conservative commentariat and the party base exactly the same way. And, as I remarked re the Republican Party on Rush the other week, it's a lot easier for the base to get itself a new elite than for the elite to find itself a new base. Tony Abbott had what were to the metropolitan twerps of the politico-media class some weird preoccupations (like knights and dames). But to ordinary people outside the self-reinforcing bubble these were harmless eccentricities compared to the incompetent erratic on-message off-message no-message campaign Turnbull ran. Indeed, even on knights and dames, Turnbull's need to humiliate Abbott by ending them was in fact far weirder and more obsessive than Tony's enthusiasm for them. And, of course, characteristically thin-skinned and petty of Malcolm. More importantly, Turnbull's inability to resist advertising his contempt for Abbott betrayed his contempt for those who'd supported Abbott - the Coalition's voters - and thus foretold Saturday's result.
So to repeat: Turnbull's was a poll-driven coup. Unlike the British Tories' matricide of Mrs Thatcher, there was no great policy issue at stake. Malcolm's rationale was no more sophisticated than: "Abbott's a loser. I'm not. Vote Turnbull."
Well, we now know how that worked out. In a just world, the entire surviving Liberal caucus would unanimously topple Malcolm and restore Tony - on the same basis as whatever "Dallas" season it was where they killed off Bobby Ewing, spent a year watching ratings nosedive, and finally decided to write off the last two-dozen episodes by having Pam waking up and finding Bobby in the shower and her jaw drops and he says, "Shh, darling, you (and millions of viewers) have just been having a bad dream..." In this case, the part of Bobby would be played by Tony Abbott and the part of Pam Ewing would be played by my old friend Julie Bishop, who I'm afraid backed the wrong horse. Fortunately, Turnbull has lost so many members of his caucus that they won't need that big a shower stall to get them all in.
Of course, Tony Abbott would be fully entitled to flounce off and form his own "Screw You, You Ingrate Wankers" Party. On the present numbers, he'd hold the balance of power.
As a consolation, Tim Blair made an excellent choice of an election-day song for his readers. I can see a remake of that, too - with Tony and Julie, and Malcolm as the pussycat. Whose nine lives have surely run out.