Last plea of a doomed man
HIS voice hoarse and breaking from arguing his case over 12 hours of solid meetings, a haggard Malcolm Turnbull declared “I’m the leader” six times last night at a defiant but probably futile press conference aimed at asserting his authority over a political party which is split almost exactly in half.
By the end of the press conference he looked like a doomed man, almost resigned to his likely demise as he faces betrayal by members of Shadow Cabinet, abandonment by the National Party, with almost half the party now canvassing a leadership spill as early as this Thursday - or protracted sniping ahead of his execution at a later date.
The press conference started in bullish fashion. Flanked by deputy leader Julie Bishop and chief climate negotiator Ian Macfarlane, Mr Turnbull declared he had won “overwhelming” party support for his deal with Kevin Rudd over the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
Rubbish, rebel MPs were saying to reporters via SMS and in corridor chats, explaining that 40 MPs had spoken against the package and just 33 in favour - and that Mr Turnbull had inflated the numbers by arbitrarily including Shadow Cabinet in its entirety in the yes camp, getting him the paltriest possible majority at 47 to 46.
Mr Turnbull would not outline his exact count of the numbers. He said his support was “strong”, “overwhelming”, and then he started.
“I’m the leader.”
Again: “I’m the leader. I have made the call.”
Again: “I’m the leader, right?”
“I’m the leader.”
He said it six times and the more he said it, the more he looked like he knew he wouldn’t be saying it for much longer.
MPs hostile to the deal were describing his performance in the Party Room as poor, woeful, saying he “blew up” at several stages.
“It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. People didn’t know what was going on,” one MP said. “The problem is for all his success, he doesn’t act like a leader - he acts like a boss.”
The numbers were all over the place all day. And there is anger across the party as to whether Shadow Cabinet should be counted as a blanket yes vote.
This is because it includes outspoken climate skeptics such as Nick Minchin, belated skeptic and likely leadership candidate Tony Abbott, and every member of the Nationals - including Leader Warren Truss who held a brief but devastating press conference straight after Mr Turnbull tonight to say that neither he nor any of the Nationals would be backing the CPRS deal.
His day began at 8am when shadow cabinet met to discuss - and approve - the amendments he won to Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It then shifted to the Party Room at 10am where he tried to placate the waverers, address the concerns of the more trenchant critics, and win majority support.
Question Time was originally going to be put back from 2pm to 4pm so the Libs could continue to meet. It didn’t happen due to a glitch in the Senate. So with a 90-minute break for a pretty half-hearted Question Time, Mr Turnbull returned to face the Party Room once more, and it dragged on and on and on from 4pm to 5pm to 6pm to 7pm to 8pm, at which point Mr Turnbull declared he had won majority support. Which few people believe. Which many people are angry about.
It’s this anger which is fueling the jockeying ahead of Thursday’s meeting. It almost got there today - Wilson Tuckey moved a spill motion, but nobody seconded it.
That is now looking like a near certainty for Thursday - and if not, Mr Turnbull will still go into the summer recess knowing that almost every other MP in his team wants him gone.
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