Disappointed Liberal Party conservatives have a gripe about their new leader Malcolm Turnbull – he appeals overwhelmingly to Labor and Green supporters.
Any suspicions they had about him being a lefty have been confirmed – overwhelmingly – in the latest Newspoll.
But here’s the rub. Unless Mr Turnbull keeps appealing to Labor and Greens voters, the Coalition will not win the next election. That was the whole idea behind the party room coup last month.
But with friends like the hard-line right who needs enemies, as the Prime Minister once lamented after an encounter with conservative polemicist Andrew Bolt?
The spectacle at the weekend of the highly-factionalised New South Wales Liberal Party guffawing loudly as the PM addressed them has given the Labor Party an enormous free kick in front of goal.
Anthony Albanese hasn’t squandered the chance: “I have never seen a Prime Minister ridiculed by his own party … I’ve seen them cheered, I’ve seen them booed. I haven’t seen them laughed at. That’s what happened with Malcolm Turnbull on Saturday.”
If Newspoll is any guide, the big question in the minds of the electorate is will the Liberal Party and its Coalition partner the Nationals allow Malcolm Turnbull to take his government in the direction most voters expect of him?
Another Labor heavyweight, Kim Carr, believes, and no doubt hopes, they won’t. Mr Turnbull is popular, he says, because he is a Labor leader in drag.
There’s no doubt Mr Turnbull is popular: he is preferred Prime Minister by a whopping 38 points, while Bill Shorten is now Mr 19 per cent. It took John Howard more than a decade to recover from being Mr 18 per cent and achieve his ambition for the top government job.
But there is something of a silver lining in the latest opinion poll. The Coalition and Labor are neck and neck in two-party-preferred terms: 50–50.
Nationals deputy leader Barnaby Joyce says in the business of politics you can’t take anything for granted. He always enjoyed the prospect of playing in a tough footy match, he told ABC radio.
But he’s another conservative not thrilled with the Liberal leadership coup.
“It shouldn’t have happened that way,” he said.
Mr Joyce is currently battling Mr Turnbull over how the water component of his portfolio should be handled. He’s muttering loudly about the consequences for the Coalition agreement.
He is suspicious of the appointment of a South Australian senator, Anne Ruston, as his assistant minister. He doesn’t want her to have the day-to-day running of water issues.
South Australian Liberals don’t want Mr Joyce to get his hands on the faucets. Many blame the Nationals for gross overallocation of Murray-Darling water entitlements for Adelaide’s dire situation in the last drought.
But at least Mr Joyce concedes that winning the next election is the name of the game. And it’s this project which offers Mr Turnbull all the protection he’ll need as he stands up to the right on some things, as he must.
Labor says the 50-50 Newspoll result shows Mr Turnbull has had a very short honeymoon. But the wide lead he has as preferred PM and in approval of performance so far shows he is better placed than his party.
Their stocks can only rise if they allow him to junk more of the Abbott lead in the saddlebags.
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