Regicide is dangerous…

…It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please

regicide

 

My great etc uncle Colonel George Fenwick was not only a soldier, but a member of the bar, and he was invited to sit on the bench which tried Charles I and condemned him to death. There were a few misgivings about the wisdom of regicide at the time, and Uncle George was not stupid. He declined to sit.

That was indeed wise. Come the Restoration, those members of the regicide bench who were still alive were hung, drawn and quartered. If my memory serves me well, the royalists even dug up one or two members of the bench who were by then dead, and hung, drew and quartered them!

A new sort of regicide has developed recently in Australian politics. It is quite a while since a sitting prime minister has finished his term in office without being deposed by internal revolt, and the present incumbent (just) Malcolm Turnbull looks as if he is just about to go the same way. Interestingly, he has required the regicides to sign their names to a piece of paper before he walks to his political scaffold. As I write this, it seems that the number of regicides who have been prepared to sign is just short of the required number of 43, being a simple majority of the Liberal MPs.

 

The principal architect of the plot against Malcolm Turnbull appears to be Tony Abbott, the previous prime minister who was himself deposed by Turnbull.  Abbott’s runner is Peter Dutton, a hard right ex-policeman. Now, here is the bizarre thing: Peter Dutton is not particularly popular in the country. Turnbull is far more popular than the leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten, but Dutton is far less popular than Shorten. The Labour Party enjoys a small overall advantage over the Liberal party in the polls: with dozens considerable lack of popularity compared with Shorten, and the effect of the regicide would appear to be almost certain electoral defeat for the Liberal Party next year. Sooner or later, the Liberal Party will presumably elect Julie Bishop is its leader; she has been an excellent foreign minister, unlike Campbell, is far more popular than Shorten.

What will be the fate, then, of the regicides who put their name to Turnbull’s death warrant? It is true that party activists in the Liberal party tend to be somewhat the right of their voters (just as party activists in the Labour Party tend to be somewhat the left of their voters), but nevertheless it might well be seen that the regicides have done something that is not only disloyal but stupid.

If Dutton does obtain the leadership of the Liberal party today, a general election might come sooner rather than later. The Liberal majority in the House of Representatives is paper thin, and there are crossbenchers who have supported Turnbull but who will not support a hard-line right-winger like Dutton. Turnbull himself has said that he will resign his seat, thereby forcing a by-election in his constituency of Wentworth, and whilst that is an apparently safe seat for the Liberals at the moment, it is only a comfortable safe seat because Turnbull is so popular in his own constituency.

Great Uncle George, were he still around, might well then say, “Told you so”.

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