In Malcolm Turnbull’s own words the “trajectory is clear”: voters have made up their minds and they believe his leadership has failed. To both survive and succeed as Prime Minister in the coming months, Turnbull has to change.
If he is to lead the Liberal Party and defeat Bill Shorten and Labor at the next election, Turnbull has to develop a more political character or be prepared to take advice from those who have one.
Not some heartfelt “I will change” as was the case with Tony Abbott, nor some “new Julia” from Labor’s Julia Gillard, but a true demonstration he is not blaming others for his failings and is prepared to take advice from those who are willing him to succeed.
A continued trajectory of losing political battles will determine his fate among his colleagues, not another half-dozen Newspolls. The latest results — apart from the Turnbull-inspired focus on 30 losing Newspolls in a row — spell out the political and electoral trouble the Prime Minister and the Coalition are in. The two-party-preferred basis of 48 per cent to the ALP’s 52 per cent is no basis to remove Turnbull as leader and will not lead to any immediate leadership challenge.
Although voters have accepted Turnbull’s metric of 30 losing Newspolls being a failure of leadership 55 per cent to 27 per cent, his colleagues still hope for a recovery and fear the disunity and instability of a leadership change.
Now the febrile focus on 30 losing Newspoll surveys can shift to more meaningful economic figures, Turnbull has the opportunity, indeed the obligation, to ensure his political decisions are better. Newspoll numbers, Liberal research, Labor’s focus groups, the fears of Coalition MPs, the concerns of Liberal and Nationals party members and the warnings of politicians of all stripes demonstrate that the weakness of the Turnbull government is politics.
Liberals and Nationals realise the dire situation they are in, only compounded by a disastrous electoral redistribution in Victoria, and believe there has to be a dramatic change in policy and politics to save the government.
Other leaders have had longer periods of net negative satisfaction — more voters were dissatisfied with Paul Keating for almost all his leadership — and there have been four governments with about the same run of losing Newspoll surveys on a two-party-preferred basis, including John Howard’s in his first term. But the lesson has to be learnt. Those leaders who were unpopular for so long and who led governments for extended losing streaks either lost an election or were dumped by their parties.