MUNGO MacCALLUM. Abbott will find another patsy in his endless search for revenge.

Aug 27, 2018

In the end, a vestige of sanity prevailed.

The Liberal lemmings baulked on the brink and decided the final step into the chasm of a Peter Dutton prime ministership was just too crazy, and drew back. 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, his utterly unconvincing attempts to soften his image (he likes children and beer – heck, he’s practically a vegetarian) fell just short, presumably because those who wanted him as leader knew just who he was: the hardline authoritarian, the bossman who would make it perfectly clear that the right wing rules, okay?

Or, as the author T H White once summarized it, everything that is not compulsory is forbidden. Those who are not with us are against us and must be exterminated: as Dutton once chillingly boasted of his critics, they are dead to me.

The yearning was 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 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.

Even less electable than Malcolm Turnbull, and, hopefully, less electable than Scott Morrison – although it has to be recalled that while Turnbull got 48 vote against Dutton, Morrison only got 45. So Dutton is, for the moment, back in his box; but as Macbeth said of Banquo, we have scotched the snake, not killed it.

Tony Abbott 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 – hardly time to end a good feud. For him, Dutton was not a genuine protagonist but merely a tool he could use to smash Turnbull – and not only the man himself, but everything he stood for.

When Dutton realizes 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 a new one being urged on not only by Abbott himself, but by the arm of trolls and orcs identified by Chris Uhlmann in an entirely understandable outburst last week.

As the great playwright Bertolt Brecht, after the defeat of Nazi Germany, warned thus:

Don’t yet rejoice in its defeat, you men.
For though the world has stood up and beat the bastard
The bitch that bore him is in heat again.

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