The view from Billinudgel

Dutton’s defeat: a vestige of sanity prevailed
But Abbott will continue in his quest to wreck


In the end, a vestige of sanity prevailed. The Liberal lemmings baulked on the brink and decided that the final step into the chasm of a Peter Dutton prime ministership was just too crazy, and drew back. Or at least a bare majority of them did; they were happy to lurch well to the right, but not to launch themselves into the abyss.

Dutton’s last-minute media blitz and his utterly unconvincing attempts to soften his image (he likes children and beer – heck, he’s practically a vegetarian) fell short. Presumably, this was because those who wanted him as leader knew just who he was: the hardline authoritarian, the boss man who would make it perfectly clear that the right wing rules, okay?

Or, to borrow from author T.H. White, everything that is not forbidden is compulsory. Those who are not with us are against us, and must be exterminated: as Dutton once chillingly boasted of his critics, “They’re dead to me.”

Certain quarters in the Liberal Party yearned for the irresistible force who would bend and break the normal conventions and decencies, who could do whatever it took to secure the permanent dominance of those who like to call themselves “conservatives”, but are in fact radical right-wing reactionaries.

The problem (for them) is that they remained a minority in the party room and a far smaller one in the electorate at large. Which is why the majority in the party room decided, essentially, that whatever qualities Dutton might have (and you could hardly call them virtues), he would be unelectable.

He was deemed to be even less electable than Malcolm Turnbull, and, hopefully, less electable than Scott Morrison – although it has to be recalled that while Turnbull got 48 votes against Dutton, Morrison only got 45. So Dutton is, for the moment, back in his box; but as Macbeth said of Banquo, “We have scorched the snake, not killed it.”

Tony Abbott, meanwhile, remains a menace whether inside or outside the tent. He has not forgiven Morrison for what he regards as the treachery of supporting Turnbull a mere three years ago – now is hardly the time to end a good feud. For Abbott, Dutton was not a genuine protagonist but merely a tool he could use to smash Turnbull – both the man himself and everything he stood for.

When Dutton realises this he will be justly resentful and a problem again, although for the moment he will be content to lurk loyally. But Abbott will find another patsy in his endless search for revenge. It is all very well for Morrison to talk of a new generation of leaders, but he still has to deal with the old generation of wreckers. And no doubt some new ones, being urged on by the army of trolls and orcs in the media whom Chris Uhlmann identified in an entirely understandable outburst last week.

As I’ve noted before, after the defeat of Nazi Germany the great playwright Bertolt Brecht warned thus:

“This was the thing who nearly had us mastered.
Don’t yet rejoice in his defeat, you men!
Although the world stood up and stopped the bastard,
The bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

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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