Abbott’s not the answer, it’s time to play Hockey
As this fight looks almost inevitable within the Liberal Party anyway it seems logical to have it now: Joe Hockey should be the next Liberal leader over Tony Abbott.
The Punch editor David Penberthy makes the case for Tony Abbott taking the leadership below, pointing to his right wing conviction politics as being more of a strength than they are a weakness.
But it ignores the fact that it is possible to have a leader who is comfortable walking the grounds of conservative Australia and still able to sell a strong moderate message - enter Joe Hockey.
For Rudd’s old Sunrise mate to become leader would complete an odd circle of political life that makes sense for the Liberal Party.
Joe Hockey is more personable and more popular than the more divisive Abbott.
Hockey has consistently been a more popular alternative leader than Tony Abbott, even recently outpolling Malcolm Turnbull as preferred leader .
The party itself knows that Hockey is popular: just look at the shit sandwich of WorkChoices that was dished up to him to sell in the dying dog days of the Howard Government.
It didn’t work but they knew he was the only person who had a chance.
As shadow treasurer Hockey has been dogged on Government debt and deficit while handling the ignominy of Costello being Turnbull’s first choice for the role with dignity.
As Penbo points out by trying to be a lovely wet who is all things to all people you can end up being viewed as someone who stands for nothing – the Nelson and now Turnbull dilemma – but Hockey could succeed where these other moderates have failed.
His parliamentary and media style manages to combine aggressiveness and compassion, a quality that Abbott (often unfairly) is perceived as lacking.
Part of the Hockey appeal is that he isn’t your average Liberal WASP (or in Abbott’s case WASC) lecturing Australia from on high.
With an Armenian/Palestinian as a father who ran a deli Hockey can empathise with immigrants in a way that no previous Liberal leader could and, like John Howard, understands small business people.
Like Abbott, Hockey is Catholic but has gone on the record in standing up to the church over issues such as stem cell research. In Hockey the Liberal’s could have a popular leader who can sell the message that you can have strength in moderation.
Intellectually Hockey may not be Abbott’s equal and would leave himself open to the pitfalls of the shiny happy Liberal if he doesn’t make strong party stances on policy that he stands by.
If this shows up in the polls you can bet your life that the internal party bitching about going too far to the left would cease pretty quickly.
Importantly the times suit the moderate Hockey philosophy more than they do the hard-line Abbott.
Australia has not been out of the Howard years long enough for it to return to the comfortable embrace of old-style conservatism.
While both options are still likely to lead the Coalition to a defeat at the next election at least Hockey’s track record shows that he rarely make things worse for his party – Abbott well could.
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