The case for a split

Amid the general chaos of the Liberal Party, the idea of a split has turned from fantasy to serious possibility. If Joe Hockey does the decent thing, and doesn’t run against Turnbull, it now seems quite likely that Turnbull would prevail against the unelectable Abbott and the still less electable Andrews. But that might easily provoke some rightwingers to Bolt from the party, more on grounds of collective insanity than any kind of calculation.

And, if Turnbull loses, there are increasingly* credible suggestions he might move to the cross-benches and stay on, perhaps attracting some followers. The appeal for moderate Liberals would not be that such a party would have good long-term prospects but that they are multiply doomed if they stay with the sinking ship. First, most moderates are in marginal urban seats that are likely to be lost. Second, those that survive will have no prospects for advancement in a regime where Hockey (while he lasts) is the puppet of Minchin and Abbott. And finally, advancement is of little use in a party that looks set to be out of office for a decade or so. For those who believe in the necessity of tackling climate change, and can see the difference between Turnbull’s willingness to take a stand and the prevarication and vacillation of Hockey and Abbott, a third party might be the shot. If they somehow survive the election, the Libs would be forced to take them back sooner or later, on their own terms.

* Apologies for paywalled link

Copenhagen commitments

While Australia has been transfixed by the meltdown of the Liberal party, there have been a string of positive developments around the world, which make a positive outcome from Copenhagen, leading over the next year to an intermational agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, much more likely than it seemed two years ago, or even six months ago. Among the most important developments

* Obama’s commitment to a 17 per cent (rel 2005) target, which essentially puts the Administration’s credibility behind Waxman-Markey
* China’s acceptance of a quantitative emissions target, based on emissions/GDP ratios, but implying a substantial cut relative to business as usual
* The change of government in Japan, from do-little LDP to activist DPJ
* EU consensus on the need for stronger action
* Acceptance of the principle of compensation for developing countries, and acceptance by countries like India that they should take part in a global agreement and argue for compensation
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The lunatics have taken over the asylum

A day ago, it looked as if Malcolm Turnbull could survive at least long enough to implement his deal with Labor, a deal that would deliver a drastically weakened emissions trading scheme with massive overcompensation of every possible big business interest. It would be marvellous to report that a popular uprising against rent-seeking lobby groups changed all this. But, in fact, Turnbull’s leadership has been rendered untenable by a Liberal Party base, and commentariat, that has entered a state of collective insanity in which the most absurd conspiracy theories are taken as a starting point for reasoning. Over time on this blog, I’ve seen even seemingly sensible commenters of a libertarian or conservative cast of mind succumb to this tribalist lunacy. The handful who have resisted (hi, Tokyo Tom) are increasingly regarded as “beyond the pale”.

From delusional beliefs on climate science follow equally delusional beliefs on political strategy, symbolised by the 37 votes for a Kevin Andrews spill yesterday and by the apparent certainty that, assuming Turnbull holds his ground, a majority of Liberals will vote for the delusionist candidate, Tony Abbott

Amazingly, even the editorialist at the Oz, whose columnists have uniformly promoted delusional conspiracy theories recognises the hopelessness of such a stance. as the Oz says

In truth, there is nowhere for Coalition members to go on this issue, other than to support the amended and improved bill and claim as their work the concessions they have wrung from the government. The introduction of a cap-and-trade ETS has been bipartisan policy for more than two years and it is supreme folly for rebels within the Liberals to believe they can go to an election as the destroyers, rather than the enablers, of such a scheme.

There may be room for the Nationals to argue against an ETS in the bush, but it is politically naive to think that voters in the inner-city areas of Melbourne and Sydney would welcome such regressive policies from their MPs. How exactly would Mr Abbott, for example, propose campaigning on this issue in seats such as North Sydney and Wentworth, where Liberal voters are determined to see action on climate change? Having a bob each way on the issue will not go down well with voters who have followed the debate and who expect, as Mr Turnbull says, responsible political parties to take responsible action

There is no reasoning with lunatics, and my attempts to do so have gone nowhere. At this point, we just have to hope that they will remain, as they are at present, in the minority, and that they can be kept as far as possible from political power.

There’s no guarantee that sanity will prevail. As the conman in Huckleberry Finn says ‘Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?” But, as I recall, he ends up tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

DD coming up?

The failure of the Senate to pass[1] the CPRS today means that the Rudd-Turnbull deal is dead, and that Rudd now has little choice but to go for a double dissolution, early in 2010. Assuming he does, and that Labor wins, the worst outcome we can get is the original bill. But, given that Labor will have no choice but to deal with the Greens for the foreseeable future, it would make much more sense to go for something better. Whereas a couple of days ago it looked like we would get a shabby deal, politically profitable for Labor, mildly embarrassing for the Coalition and barely passable for the environment, we now have the prospect of getting it all – a decent emissions trading policy, an open debate in which the delusionist conspiracy theorists are exposed for the loony fruit loops they are, and a split in the Liberal party that will keep it out of office until it dumps its current base and moves a long way to the left (see UK Tory party)

Some observations over the page

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A long parliament?

Suppose that the delusionists can manage to force a party meeting tomorrow, and move a spill motion which will surely succeed. Then presumably, even if Hockey gets up, the Libs will kill the ETS deal. At this point, it makes sense for Labor to want a double dissolution. More it makes sense for them to keep Parliament sitting as long as possible to get extra triggers. Obviously the Reps is no problem. For the Senate, the Libs presumably need their votes + 2 more to pass a motion to adjourn. So, if Labor can keep Xenophon and the Greens onside, which would make sense for them in a lot of ways, they can keep Parliament sitting for another couple of weeks while the Libs tear each other apart. Any thoughts on the practicality of this?

Abbott out

Tony Abbott’s resignation must surely mark the end for Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership and therefore, in all probability, for the deal with Labor over the ETS.

Ultra-optimistic scenario: Turnbull quits and Abbott is installed, the deal is cancelled and Rudd calls a double dissolution based on the original bill, winning easily. Since the original bill clearly needs amendment he doesn’t use the joint sitting mechanism but instead makes an agreement with the Greens who now have the balance of power.

Rudd’s preferred scenario: Turnbull holds on long enough to deliver seven senate votes tomorrow and pass the watered-down ETS. He is promptly rolled and the Liberal party splits. Abbott as new leader, starts with a commitment to repeal the scheme, but abandons it because this is the last thing big business wants. Labor reduces the divided opposition to rump status at the next election, and ends up dealing with three or four different parties in the Senate, needing only one to get its legislation through. This is probably more plausible than mine, but the timing will be very tight tomorrow. The decision is to be made at 3:45pm, apparently.

Three universes collide!

I’ve been very busy with asset sales, the problems of the Murray-Darling Basin, my still-in-progress book and other commitments too numerous to list, with the result that I’ve had no time to comment on the spectacular events in the climate change debate. But it’s finally too much to ignore.

I’ve long pointed out the “parallel universe” nature of the discussion that goes on under the name of “scepticism”. Over the last couple of days, that parallel universe has collided with the universe of Australian practical politics, with catastrophic results for Malcolm Turnbull in particular.

The timing is particularly galling for the delusionists who are uniformly convinced that the University of East Anglia emails they have stolen and promulgated prove beyond doubt … well, something sinister. Surely, they think, this will persuade the weak-kneed Liberals to stop while we hold a full inquiry. Following the analogy of Newtongate it’s as if, just as the vorticists had found the crucial ‘smoking gun’, a letter exposing Newton’s use of hired thugs to beat up Cartesian critics, they looked out from their shiny new antigravity machine and realised that some very hard ground was approaching them at a speed of hundreds of metres per second.
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National go home from work on time day

It’s striking that we have to declare a special National go Home on Time Day, and also striking (to me anyway) that I have only just found time to blog about it. My own chronic state of overcommitment is more of a personal choice than an imposition from above, but I have to take constant care not to expect a similar overcommitment from the members of my research team. On the whole, Australian bosses and managers are failing in that obligation, or don’t even recognise it. Anyway, knock-off time is coming up soon, so everyone, head for home, beach or pub as the fancy takes you.