Tony Abbott, the man who helped defeat the republican referendum in 1999, the man who Paul Keating referred to as the Liberal party’s “resident nutter” and most importantly Australia’s current Prime Minister.
Throughout his political career Abbott had been known to make gaffes. As Health Minister in 2004 he made the statement that “Abortion is the easy way out.” In 2007, he was heard swearing at his opposition counterpart Nicola Roxon during a debate and even as late as 2013 he famously said one of his candidates had “sex appeal.”
Nevertheless Abbott was rated as one of the best opposition leaders that Australia has ever had. He has the record of taking down Kevin Rudd who was the nations most popular political leader and leading the charge against his successor, Julia Gillard.
If you want an example of a demolition politician, Tony Abbott is your man. If you want a politician who can exert a huge amount of discipline look at Abbott during the 2010 & 2013 Federal Elections where he simply pledged over and over again to “Stop the boats, stop the waste and stop the Carbon Tax.”
Yet those skills that brought him so much success in opposition are now counting against him as the electorate and his parliamentary colleagues begin to become hostile. Over the past 12 months the Coalition has trailed the ALP by around 6%, worse still for Abbott in Victoria and Queensland first term Liberal governments were defeated which is extremely rare in Australian politics.
The bizarre decision to reinstate royal honours and then on Australia Day to give one to Prince Phillip brought ridicule from within his own party and reignited the republican debate. The failure to understand the people and the closed nature of his office has led many of his MPs to feel isolated and now openly plotting to get rid of him.
Two weeks ago when the Liberal party met to vote on a spill motion (confidence motion) 39 of the 102 members of the parliamentary party voted against Abbott. Now, he finds himself in a position where despite some improvement in the polls it looks like he might face a challenge from the man he deposed, Malcolm Turnbull.
Can he survive? I don’t know but if he is disposed then it will be the 8th leadership spill (we need to bring that term here) within the two main parties since 2007.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs