The Passing of Tony Abbott

There aren’t a lot of men who can leave positions of status and power graciously. It doesn’t come naturally, and takes a special person to do so. The community’s respect for the position, and the power are things that few people can give up easily.

But no positions are held forever in this life, especially political ones. Politics (like all of life) has its many surprises. Kevin Rudd didn’t see it coming when he was sent off by the Labor Party in 2010, and neither it seems, did Tony Abbott.

But he should have. He had his “near-death experience,” as he called it, back in February. He knew then he was on notice to perform. He gave the party a commitment: give me six months to turn the polls around. But after 6 months, the party was still languishing, well behind.

Any political leader who doesn’t assiduously cultivate his relationships within the Parliament with his supporters, including the back-bench, is asking for trouble. Despite what Tony claimed in his self-deception, the people don’t choose Prime Ministers, the Party members do. He became the Leader of the Opposition in 2010, in a vote against Malcolm Turnbull, and now 5 years later, most of those same MP’s voted again. This was where he was way off –beam.

He presumed he could continue to carry the day, but he was wrong. Those M.P.’s who voted against him didn’t do so merely because they were ambitious individuals who wanted to get on in life, though for many, that was clearly the case. We have pretty accurate polls today, telling everybody what cannot be disputed, so that M.P.s can easily tell when their man is on the nose in the electorate.

When he became PM, he somehow seemed frozen in time. He’d led well enough in Opposition, but it’s a different ball-game after the election. And there seemed to be an incoherence about him, which he shared with Joe Hockey; an uncertainty about just what he was supposed to do.

Political leaders must have a vision they can articulate to the community, explaining both what needs to be done, and why. A big part of their job in the community is leadership through articulation. As Thomas Sowell said recently,

Ronald Reagan won two landslide elections by doing what subsequent Republican leaders disdained to do.

In between, he accomplished what was called “the Reagan revolution” without ever having a majority in both Houses of Congress. He could go over the heads of Congressional Democrats and explain to the public why certain legislation was needed — and once he won over the voters, Democrats in Congress were not about to jeopardize their reelection chances by going against them.

One of the secrets of Reagan’s political success was a segment of the population that was called “Reagan Democrats.” These were voters who traditionally voted for Democrats but who had been won over to Reagan’s agenda…He took his case to them and talked — yes, TALKED — to let them know what his own agenda offered to them and to the country.[1]

Abbott was never going to win over the electorate by just bagging Labor. That’s too one dimensional, and the electorate needs and deserves a lot more than that. But somehow conservative ideology, and what is really in the national interest, is something many political  conservatives can’t really articulate. Perhaps they actually aren’t conservatives, after all.

What now? Malcolm Turnbull’s is ambitious, but what else? The man with a lot of potential ahead is Scott Morrison.

Why? He’s a communicator. He knows he needs to bring the community with him on economics and tax reform, and after the luke-warm Joe Hockey, there is both good-will out there for him, and plenty of work to be done.


Every nation needs moral leadership, from different segments of the community. Political leadership is one aspect, and one only, but it is an important aspect. And those leaders need to be able to articulate, persuade, and back it up with action.

Turnbull and his team have a year to master their brief and get going.

[1] Thomas Sowell, “Good Riddance!” (, 1/10/2015