Tony Abbott is hurting. He feels he has been stabbed in the back.
He told his party room on Monday night that Malcolm Turnbull is “wrong, wrong, wrong” on his tough assessment of the government’s economic failings.
After being deposed, he called it “being cut down”, he wished his successful challenger well. But he went on, “you won’t survive if you faced what I faced”.
He returned to the theme in his last taut statement in the prime minister’s courtyard.
He was proud of what the Abbott government achieved “despite the white-anting”.
He blamed the media for becoming the assassin’s knife for anonymous sources.
Journalists should not reward treachery. That was his admonition.
Never mind that as opposition leader he was more than happy to be the beneficiary of the same dynamic at work in the Rudd-Gillard circus.
But then he made a promise: “My pledge today is to make this (leadership) change as easy as I can.
“There will be no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping.”
Piously he went on: “I’ve never leaked or backgrounded against anyone. And I certainly won’t start now.”
Perhaps he was unaware of the “media strategy” of his office “backgrounding and leaking”, mainly to News Corp journalists.
But if this is a genuine commitment, and not another disposable promise, Malcolm Turnbull should be very relieved.
We still do not know what Abbott’s plans are, but if he remains in parliament and sits on the backbench he is a ready-made lightning rod for any dissatisfaction in the government.
No one, not even a reformed Turnbull, is able to keep everyone on side all the time.
Of course the ready-made dissenters are likely to be among the more conservative Liberals. The 44 of them who stuck with Abbott.
On Tuesday morning one of the most reactionary, Queensland LNP member George Christensen launched a ferocious attack on Turnbull while speaking on his local radio station.
It might be an omen for what is in store if the Prime Minister begins tweaking policies. He told parliament all policies change as circumstances change. Certainly on social issues he is far more contemporary than many of his MPs.
It is Turnbull’s appeal to soft Labor voters and middle-of-the-road Australians that has consistently seen him as the politician most would prefer to lead the Liberals.
He seems to be well aware of this. After his victory he promised his government would be a thoroughly liberal government. The emphasis was on “small l”.
Governing from the centre is the recipe for electoral success. As the member for Wentworth embarks on his new journey at the helm, the big question is: will those on his right who turned to him to “save them” allow him to do it?
The nation is aching for a circuit breaker to the toxic politics of the last eight years. Many are hoping that the political blood spilt on Monday night is a harbinger of a new era free from slogans and positions that insult the intelligence of voters.
A Seven ReachTel poll in Canning on the night of the long knives showed a 5 per cent swing to the Liberals when Turnbull was factored in.
Even more telling was the Morgan poll showing 70 per cent of voters think Turnbull is the best person for PM. (Just 24 per cent thought Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was the best man for the position.)
The goodwill is there. People want the new prime ministership to be a paradigm shift.
That said, if Turnbull fails he will be seen as just another usurper opportunist.
Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno