EDITORIAL: Liberals facing a spill

Abbott stands his ground ahead of spill: poll

THE phones will be running hot in Liberal-land. Now that a motion has been foreshadowed to hold a spill of the federal leader and deputy leader positions on Tuesday, numbers are everything.

Assuming the vote is actually put, any challenger will need 52 votes from among the 102 Liberal senators and parliamentary party members.

Politics being what it is, the next few days will be characterised by bluff, bluster, concealed intentions, a calling in of past favours and the wholesale creation of a whole litter of new ones.

But will any quantity of promises be enough to induce a majority of Liberal backbenchers to fall in, once again, behind Tony Abbott?

And if they do, how long will the party be able to hold its nerve?

One school of thought maintains that many Liberal MPs have completely lost confidence in Mr Abbott and his close cabinet colleagues.

Those same MPs watched in glee as his belligerence in opposition battered a fragile ALP, and they swept to power in the wake of his adamant promises to do things better than Labor had.

But since then, things have not run smoothly. Insisting that his government’s wide margin of victory provided a mandate for a string of broken promises, Mr Abbott embarked on what many perceived as an ideologically driven bid to remake Australian society along lines prescribed, seemingly, by big business.

Not even his most influential and vocal boosters have been able to sell his attempted reforms to the public. Instead, Mr Abbott’s stocks have sunk from an already low base to levels that even his party finds alarming.

It would appear that many voters have been irrevocably turned off by the Prime Minister and his penchant for suddenly announcing ‘‘bold’’ but ill-considered policy tilts.

Restoring trust would require a sustained period of self-discipline that few probably regard Mr Abbott as being capable of. A bigger problem is that voters now believe they know exactly what an Abbott-led government stands for, and they very clearly don’t like it.

The shock Queensland election result has been read by many as a voter judgment on the hard-right policies and programs that are now synonymous with the Abbott brand.

The Liberals sense they can save their government from being a one-term wonder, but they know they don’t have much time.

The question they will answer on Tuesday is whether they believe they can leave their leadership team as it is, and somehow persuade voters to put aside their suspicion and distrust in time to make the next election winnable again.

Or whether they think a full reboot, with a new leader and new approach, offers the best chance of survival.

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