ScoMo must find his true self
Scott Morrison was in Queensland this week trying to be someone. Exactly who isn’t entirely clear, but it is safe to say it wasn’t himself. It was the week that ScoMo risked becoming FauxMo.
He obviously decided the best way to endear himself to the politically lovelorn voters of the Queensland coast was to sound and act just like them.
And while the accidental Prime Minister is a bit of a knockabout at heart, he’s hardly a drop-out from sheep husbandry at Upper Cumbuckta TAFE.
He was brought up in Sydney’s well-to-do eastern suburbs, went to the academically selective Sydney Boys High School and was awarded an honours degree in applied economic geography at UNSW.
He does like a beer and a pie, though, and chatting about the footy. And he is a genuine Tina Arena tragic.
But his plan to market himself as an Aussie everyman, bursting free of what he likes to call the Canberra bubble and painting himself as an outsider in a cap, comes with risks.
One National put it to me rather succinctly: “Scott’s a nice bloke, but he needs to be careful. The mob can smell a fraud a mile away.”
There is a popular misconception among political image-makers that voters want their leaders to be just like them. They don’t. They want them to be themselves. But they also want them to understand the average person’s lot and express a set of values that speaks to their own hopes and aspirations.
That is the someone Morrison needs to be, especially in the key marginal seats of Queensland and WA where, depending on who you talk to, voters might have been turning away under Malcolm Turnbull.
The common message among Morrison’s colleagues is that the new Prime Minister is trying a little too hard to impress. They want him to succeed. Desperately. But they don’t want him to lay it on too thick.
Authenticity is the word and it was on display this week, not from Morrison but Turnbull.
What we saw on Q&A on Thursday night was 100 per cent, pure, unadulterated Malcolm.
In the tweetstorm that erupted during the program, many people asked why we hadn’t seen this Turnbull when he was prime minister.
The truth is that we did see a fair bit of him, or at least as much of the real him as the conservative “insurgents” allowed.
It’s just that people either weren’t listening or couldn’t hear. The background drumbeat of instability, sniping and undermining became so loud that it either drowned him out or diverted him into areas of personality politics that prompted many voters to simply flick the switch off.
They are listening now, though, and what they’re hearing from Turnbull is a perfectly reasonable question: why was he dumped?
And why did those MPs Turnbull named the other night, including Mathias Cormann and Michael Keenan — a group I’m now calling “the notorious nine” — help orchestrate his demise?
Cormann’s explanation yesterday was the same as it has been all along. It was Turnbull’s own fault. He had shocked everyone by deciding to call on the first spill motion himself.
But that is misleading. Turnbull’s hand had been forced. If he didn’t call the spill himself it was going to be forced on him by a group of Queensland renegades backing Cormann’s eventual candidate, Peter Dutton.
Gary Spence, the president of the Queensland LNP, had issued an incendiary call to arms by directing his State’s representatives to abandon Turnbull and fall in behind Dutton. And Queensland MP Luke Howarth had made it known within the party that he intended to enter the scheduled Tuesday party room as a “suicide bomber” to bring on the spill.
All Turnbull did was face reality. He decided to call it on first to employ the most potent weapon left at his disposal — the element of surprise.
But that still only answers the “how”. The real “why”, which I have detailed in this column before, was part retribution, part revolution orchestrated by conservatives in their existential quest to seize back control of the party from the moderates.
They achieved that, and in doing so lost their best chance of winning the next election.
And now Turnbull is doing his best to ensure that Cormann and the rest of the notorious nine own the consequences of their actions.
Turnbull’s suggestion that they might have moved on him because they were scared he was actually going to win the election — and thereby consolidate power for the moderates — is a bit of a stretch.
I don’t believe that was in any way even part of Cormann’s motivation. But some of the other more extreme conservatives, I’m not so sure about.
I wrote here last year that I thought the coalition would win the next election with Turnbull in charge. That caused something of a stir. But I stand by that. I still believe Turnbull would have won.
As he pointed out on Q&A, the government he was leading was only down 51-49 in the national opinion polls — just one point from level-pegging — but, significantly, they were ahead 52-48 in the 40 key marginal seats that will decide the election outcome.
That figure in the marginals certainly challenges the suggestion that Turnbull was on the nose in places like Queensland.
Either way, the coalition now has very little chance of winning. The notorious nine have handed Morrison a poisoned chalice. If he manages to contain the impending wipe-out to a loss of anything under ten seats, he would have done an exceptional job.
And if he wins? Well, then he really would be someone.
It was the week that ScoMo risked becoming FauxMo.
Mark Riley is the Seven Network’s Political Editor.
Illustration: Don Lindsay