Now the strategy starting to fall apart. The government is occupying more positions that are less unpopular and looking more like a government. It is in a position to challenge the Coalition to prove itself rather than being able to maintain the position that all politicians dream of: to have their words taken at face value.
The Coalition has failed to address its Howard-era weaknesses in workplace relations and in being seen to engage with what might broadly be called "the future": policies such as education, telecommunications, economic/ cultural/ military/ other engagement with Asia, all fall into that general but palpable category. The idea that Labor are trying to deal with those issues but the Coalition aren't even trying will be a key reason why Gillard will get another go, however grudgingly, and why the idea of an Abbott Government will remain both a fantasy for Libs and a bogey for everyone else.
The failure of the Coalition's strategy can no longer be attributed to a failure of commitment. Right-whingers used to blame moderates for undermining the Coalition in past election campaigns, but by 2007 there were no more moderates left to blame. There is nobody in senior federal Coalition ranks who is not in thrall to the proven failure that is Mark Textor and his basic assumptions, which are:
- Nobody really cares about policy detail or how policies actually affect them, elections are really all about "the vibe";
- Part of "the vibe" involves a chip on the shoulder about "elites", from which corporate and political elites are excluded but which does include people involved in the arts and/or education; and
- That Mark Textor is a genius. Any doubts about the first two points can simply be negated by the sheer obvious force of this one, so shut up.
Two Coalition staffers (are they financial members of the Party, and does it matter either way?) are in their personal endgames as far as bringing about an Abbott government is concerned. They each have an exit strategy, but the differences are fascinating.
Peta Credlin's exit strategy involves pregnancy, as you can see if you winnow out the dross from this. She warned Abbott that she had other options and was pursuing them, while helping confine Abbott to a series of inescapable and flawed positions (e.g. on carbon tax). If she gets pregnant, nobody will blame her for leaving Abbott to play his game of double-or-nothing with basically the same stake he had last time (except fewer women's votes).
It's touching that she took Abbott at his word on abortion and IVF, but pretty stupid that she expects the nation to do likewise. It's puzzling that News Ltd believes such views makes one "progressive". The Coalition vote has not gained appreciably in any way that compensates for the collapse in support from women since 2010, and Credlin bears much responsibility for this - until she takes her leave.
Credlin was happy to describe herself as "The Queen of No" when it suited her purposes, which were identical to those of the seemingly-powerful Abbott. Now that Abbott has lost his lustre Credlin needs a change of image, as a prelude to a change of scene. Remember how Mark Arbib said that he was quitting to spend more time with his children (remember how the press gallery took him at face value)? Credlin doesn't have children, and given that her husband is the Liberal Party's Federal Director and Campaign Manager she is already in the right position to spend as much time with Brian Loughnane as anyone could want.
Loughnane's absence from Credlin's recounting of her IVF experience across different publishing outlets is telling. IVF is rarely a journey on which women go by themselves. Almost every every other article on the topic features both parties in a couple recounting their different perspectives of a process that is almost always medically and emotionally fraught. Samantha Maiden was clearly too polite to ask after Loughnane, and being a rookie reporter she also blew the opportunity to ask Credlin some pointed journo-style questions about Gillard-AWU or other political scandals du jour, or indeed about Coalition strategy more broadly.
The fact that Loughnane has opted out of such a public discussion of a private matter is to his credit. It is hard to imagine the stiff-necked Liberal backroom operators of yesteryear - Andrew Robb, Sinodinos, Alister Drysdale, even Grahame Morris - discussing whether or not their boys can swim and how this is affecting their partners and/or their relationships. Credlin has to go through this to get an alibi. Loughnane doesn't need one, he is strapped in for death or glory.
So too is The Situation. Imagine his outrage if a government staffer had used a publicly-funded fridge for this private purpose: the shaken head, the sotto voce lamentation at waste, the dog-whistling to those with a religious objection to IVF, etc.
This is where the testimonials from the women in Abbott's life fail: nobody doubts Tony will support women who support him. In the same way, nobody doubts his antipathy and/or indifference to the broad mass of women beyond his personal circle, who believe they should be able to enjoy basic rights over their bodies and reproduction without having to form close personal relationships with Tony Abbott. That's how you break the silly set-piece debates Gordon Graham is talking about here; it is possible to 'win' such debates and lose the election. The extrapolation from Abbott's private life to the country at large simply does not work.
Then there's the question of "support". Given that an Abbott government will seek to reduce existing levels of government spending, nobody seriously believe Abbott would maintain or increase spending on abortion and IVF. This is why it is meaningless to claim Abbott "supports" these things for people with whom he is not close.
The first rule of Peta Credlin is that there are no flies on Peta Credlin; nor will there be, and nor will any evidence exist as to where any might have been. Her exit strategy is to spend time creating a family with which she can spend more time, the one alternative to her current role with which no conservative can legitimately quibble or sneer.
This is a rule that James Ashby would have done well to abide by. Ashby has pretty much staked everything on the Coalition coming to government and rewarding him for bringing down Peter Slipper. Ashby has no choice but to go on; he can't slink away after the sort of caning that Justice Rares dished out. It's vindication or the void.
Those who call for an inquiry into Ashby-Slipper are almost certainly wasting their time. Only rusted-on Coalition partisans and people with good memories for political ephemera even remember Slipper as being linked to Labor in some way. The more time goes on, the more Mal Brough and Mark McArdle and other LNPQ characters are implicated, the more it becomes a problem for the Coalition - and with every appeal, and every Anthony McClelland media stunt, that problem is highlighted. The government doesn't need an inquiry to draw attention to the Coalition's predicament, they will do it themselves.
Ashby is, metaphorically speaking, covered in flies; you can see where they've been, and he'll never be anything more than the Slipper honey-trap guy. He isn't going to "spend more time with his family". He's locked in to one of those horrible politico-media-legal imbroglios where nobody comes out a winner, where vindication is pretty much impossible, and where the only question comes as to when the LNPQ conspirators will drop him to minimise their losses.
Abbott isn't going to regroup because there is no idea for him to regroup around. People thought this would be true of Gillard, and they were wrong. When people like Peta Credlin start heading for the exit only a fool would stick around on the expectation of victory. Only a fool would "take one for the team" that is going nowhere and starting to fall apart. Commitment is essential to victory, but there's no point failing to put yourself into a position where you can fight another day.