Politics

The view from Billinudgel

The PM faces failing his own Newspoll test
What next if Malcolm Turnbull loses 30 successive polls?

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In around three weeks’ time, unless either a major miracle occurs or The Australian imposes censorship, Malcolm Turnbull will confront his 30th successive losing Newspoll.

So what happens then? Actually, not much. As Christopher Pyne has pointed out with the unarguable logic of arithmetic, our prime minister still has the numbers. When Tony Abbott hit the same target in 2015, he did not, and there is the difference.

True, the unwanted milestone will be a huge embarrassment for Turnbull. The PM is already geeing up his reluctant supporters to explain that it really doesn’t matter, that although he perhaps over-exuberantly mentioned Newspoll in passing, the real reason for his ascension was his promise to reform and reboot economic leadership.

And, of course, he has delivered this in spades: more than 400,000 jobs created in a single year, you can’t ask for better than that. So don’t forget about debt, deficit, wage stagnation and low growth and investment. It will all come right when the company tax cuts come through.

But, unaccountably, the voters seem monumentally unimpressed, which is no doubt why the 30th losing Newspoll is looming – and actually it’s even worse than it appears, because the slump under Turnbull has already been longer and deeper than that under Abbott.

Words like “irredeemable” are being bandied around in the party room – not in terms of defiance, but of despair. There is no credible challenger, and none is likely to emerge in time to prepare for the next election. The marginal backbenchers are stuck with Turnbull, although it appears that he won’t or can’t do anything to produce order from the chaos that has engulfed the Coalition for more months than anyone wants to remember.

There have been suggestions for a major reset; Peter van Onselen, normally the sensible adult in the national daily, advises Turnbull to call a snap spill of the leadership and recontest his position as soon as the Newspoll axe falls.

This would involve recalling the Libs to Canberra during the parliamentary recess, in itself a seemingly desperate manoeuvre, but it would, we are assured, guarantee Turnbull an overwhelming win and an endorsement that would finally shut the Abbottistas up for good.

Well, it might; the probability is that Turnbull would be unopposed, although some recalcitrant might just put up their hand for the sheer mischief of it. But there could be a worse embarrassment: what if, as in Abbott’s case, there were no challenger, but some of his colleagues voted for an empty chair in protest?

There would not need to be the 39 rebels who deserted Abbott; even a handful of resisters would be seen as disastrous, an awful portent of worse to come. The risk is simply not worth it. Turnbull will just have to eat the shit sandwich he has prepared for himself and push on in the hope that something will turn up (his record shows that something will, and it will be, as usual, bad) or that better yet, Bill Shorten will self-immolate.

And in the meantime, he can push on to the 31st losing Newspoll, and the 32nd … But it really won’t matter. He will already have broken the record; trying for a new personal worst is surely overkill.

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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