Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s ‘knightmare’ may have irreparably destroyed his leadership, as his last bastion of support, the conservative right, crumbles.
His decision to grant Australia’s highest honour to the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, has united even his most ardent supporters in a chorus of condemnation.
Andrew Bolt is the latest right-winger to suggest that the Prime Minister’s self-inflicted wound is mortal.
On Wednesday morning, Mr Bolt described the knighthood as “so damaging that it could be fatal”.
“This is just such a pathetically stupid – gosh, I didn’t mean to be that strong because I actually like Tony Abbott very much – but this is just such a very, very, very stupid decision, so damaging that it could be fatal,” Mr Bolt told Macquarie Radio.
“I thought it was verging on fatal already but this is too much.”
Mr Bolt has joined fellow conservative Miranda Devine, who wrote on her blog on Wednesday that making Prince Philip a ‘sir’ was “Gillardesque” in its foolishness, a reference to Australia’s first female prime minister who was hounded endlessly by right wing media until her eventual political death.
“In one neat image the wacky self-indulgence crystallises all the disquiet about the Prime Minister since he took office,” Ms Devine said.
Many of Abbott’s formerly stalwart supporters have tried to deflect the intense public backlash onto his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, in a seeming last-ditch effort to save him.
Rupert Murdoch, whose newspaper empire has until now been solidly behind the PM, has taken this line, calling for Ms Credlin’s sacking on Twitter.
Abbott again. Tough to write, but if he won’t replace top aide Peta Credlin she must do her patriotic duty and resign. More
— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) January 28, 2015
Fairfax Media has reported that the media mogul made this same demand at least once in a telephone call to Mr Abbott, and has been rebuffed.
Mr Abbott and his frontbench have united solidly behind the chief staffer, to whom they attribute a large portion of the party’s success in opposition.
Party room unlikely to have backed knighthood, MP says
The Liberal Member for Wannon, Dan Tehan, praised his leader for being “open and frank” in acknowledging that he should have consulted more.
But he said if the Prime Minister had taken his plans to knight Prince Philip to the party room, he may not have found support.
“I think you could probably say that, from what we have heard, being frank that no it [the party room] probably wouldn’t have,” he said.
Mr Tehan said the government needed to focus on its policy agenda.
“The most important thing now is that we move on,” he said.
The Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary Alan Tudge told Sky News the knighthood decision is a minor issue.
“I just say to Andrew Bolt and all the other critics let’s keep this decision in perspective,” he said.
“At the end of the day there was no millions of dollars wasted, there was no people who died or drowned as a result of the decision.”
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce conceded the knighthood might not pass the pub test in parts of his electorate but said he wanted to move on.
“Well it’s an absurdity to say there aren’t concerns about it. There obviously are,” he said.
“But in a game of football you don’t spend the whole of the game talking about what happened in the 34th minute. You talk about your overall game plan.
“I am a supporter of Tony Abbott because of issues that sometimes don’t go the way they’re supposed to go … it expresses an authenticity.
“You are talking about a person who is not scripted.”
Independent senator Jacqui Lambie, who the government is courting to pass changes to Medicare and universities, said Mr Abbott was “completely out of touch with the Australian people”.
“Tony Abbott just can’t put a foot right,” Ms Lambie said.
Polls paint bleak picture
As recently as Thursday morning, the cabinet, including Health Minister Sussan Ley, has dodged the topic of polls while praising the “outstanding” Ms Credlin. Political journalists smell blood, as questions about polling and the leadership pile up.
The PM’s approval rating has plummeted to 22 per cent, a nationwide poll of 3,700 people has found. The rating is down nine points, and disapproval is up by 10 points to 62 per cent, since the last time Seven News ReachTEL conducted the survey.
Mr Murdoch denounced the knighting of the Duke of Edinburgh as a “joke and embarrassment” earlier in the week on Twitter.
In a move interpreted ominously, Mr Murdoch has also reportedly met in recent weeks with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, whose popularity is far greater than that of Abbott’s.
In the latest ReachTEL poll, Ms Bishop (30.5 per cent) and Malcolm Turnbull (44.6 per cent) were ranked as better leaders of the Coalition than the current PM, who managed only 18.1 per cent.
Mr Abbott was still the most popular leader amongst LNP voters in the poll, but outspoken conservatives continue to sound the death knell.
As radio broadcaster Alan Jones, a personal friend of Mr Abbott, reluctantly said on television, the PM has lost the people.
“Here’s a bloke who’s made a reputation in politics for being on the wavelength of people in the street and he just seems to have lost the touch.”
With plenty of ambitious Liberals waiting in the wings, there may be no clawing back.
– with ABC, AAP