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Peta Credlin and Abbott loyalists may cause serious trouble for Malcolm Turnbull

Peta Credlin, said Tony Abbott in awe, is the fiercest political warrior he has ever known. And it appears that the vengeful soldier has lost none of her belligerence.

The problem for the Liberals is that she is still fighting the war from last September, or even earlier. Credlin’s crack at Malcolm Turnbull as “Mr Harbourside Mansion” is far more lethal than Bill Shorten’s mild innuendo about the prime minister’s wealth and apartness.

Denigrating aspiration and achievement? Certainly. The politics of envy? Without a doubt. Waging class warfare? In its purest form. But, unlike Shorten, Credlin really meant it: it came straight from her heart – or at least from her spleen.

And for that reason alone, the ideological and political struggle between Turnbull and Tony Abbott is not about to go away. There have been a number of warning shots: the idea that Abbott recidivists might boycott, or even sabotage, the campaigns of Turnbull loyalists has been mentioned in a number of electorates.

The one Credlin referred to, Lindsay, is suspect because Fiona Scott was something of an Abbott protégé, but is now suspected of defecting to Turnbull. She quite properly refused to say how she voted in the leadership ballot, but the issue was sufficiently incendiary for Turnbull to abort a scheduled street walk with her and flee to Melbourne, where he did an interview with the very toffy Marie Claire magazine.

While in Melbourne he also dined at the Athenaeum, a preposterous institution apparently modeled on the men-only snobbery of 19th-century London. Not exactly the common touch.

But Fiona Scott was only a camp follower, at best a footsoldier during the upheaval. More seriously, in Eden-Monaro, Peter Hendy was a full colonel, a chief conspirator. If the Abbottistas are turning on him (as has been reported) it could get serious.

Turnbull has done his best to shake the silvertail image: he was not born to it, he has made his own money, he has been lucky, he has devoted himself to public service. But the atmospherics conspire against him.

The revelation of his presence in the Panama papers may be entirely innocent. But the fact is that Turnbull was involved in a firm incorporated by the notorious tax avoiders Mossack Fonseca to speculate on a Siberian gold mine. The venture failed, but that hardly helped.

And of course the fact that he does live in his harbourside mansion, eschewing the less luxurious circumstances of Kirribilli House, says it all. Credlin may be acting as a proxy for Abbott, or she may just be playing her own game, but she has provoked a massive distraction to the campaign and given false hope to Abbott loyalists that there might, just might, be a return to the good old days.

Abbott is behaving himself, but occasionally the odd message slips out: his reference last week to “the Abbott–Turnbull government” was not merely a question of alphabetical order or historical precedence. This was about redemption.

Turnbull attempted to laugh it off; perhaps, he suggested, he could campaign with Abbott in Warringah. We won’t hold our breath. But if it did happen, we can bet Peta Credlin would be organizing the locals to demonstrate against Mr Harbourside Mansion.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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