You can always trust Dickens for a good maxim or two. For example, the pithy advice that we should “take nothing on it’s looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.” So it shall be with our newly minted leader, herewith dubbed ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ until a better nickname than tang-bao (sweet dumpling) sticks. We already know that PM Turnbull can talk the talk; let’s see if he can walk the walk. In terms he would understand — temper necessities probandi incumbent ei qui agit — he who asserts must prove.
And who is ‘he’? I think nicknames are useful because (a) ‘mate’ gets confusing in a room filled with people whose names you’ve forgotten, (b) Aussies don’t mind telling people what we think of them to their face, and (c) they often say more about the person than they would ever admit. Hence, and even before he downsizes to The Lodge, Turnbull is already known as the ‘Silvertail’ and ‘The Prince of Point Piper’ for his obscene personal wealth; and as ‘Turbo’ or ‘Turdball’ for his ruthlessly effective lawyering skills.
Journalist Paul Daley once said of him in 2008 “the labels arrogant, aloof, condescending, impetuous, demanding, autocratic, slippery, irascible, rude, intemperate, foul-mouthed and impatient have all been attached to Malcolm Turnbull; and you should hear what the Labor Party have to say about him.” All of which PM Turnbull would wear with pride, you would think. But no. Famously thin-skinned, PM Turnbull loves to sue. As one of the most litigious politicians in the history of this country, he makes folk a little nervous. Malcolm Turnbull takes himself very, very seriously — just never mention anything about a strangled cat called Nessie.
All this careful finessing makes me think he would want to be known as ‘Malcolm in the Middle’, champion of those fat-gutted sweaty Australians with 75″ plasmas, and matching Jeeps in the driveways of million-dollar homes, who still kid themselves that they are ‘doing it tough’ unquote. Reminding us that he was ‘keeping it real’ by slumming in a rented flat in Vaucluse during his university years, I’m sure the rags-to-riches story will be told and retold in the reluctantly-supportive Murdoch press a hundred times before the next election.
But what can we really expect from an intellectual, urbane, utterly ruthless and well-connected man worth $150M+ whose electorate includes half of the ten wealthiest suburbs in Australia and yet is a vocal populist (if only on politically safe issues)? ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ will be a formidable opponent if he can downplay the charge of ‘elitism’ that Labor will relentlessly level against him. His money, dodgy business history, past political bungle and recent turncoat treachery will (and should) haunt him. He will represent the interests of the ultra-rich while pronouncing measures that suggest the opposite. He will maintain the conservative status-quo while appearing to be a moderate. He owes a great debt to the shadowy corporate puppet-masters behind the Liberal Party, and he will be made to pay.
Tony Abbott was a faithful servant: he did his duty as attack-dog by mauling Labor, but he was always a square peg in the multi-faceted Prime Ministerial hole. Abbott was always going to be put down before the next election; the only surprise is that he didn’t see the needle coming. That said, if PM Turnbull fails to deliver quickly a poll turnaround, they won’t come for him with a syringe, they’ll come for him with axes. Personally, I don’t think that will happen. I think PM Turnbull will dance prettily until the next election, win a resounding ‘mandate’ and only thereafter will we get to see the true colours of ‘Malcolm in the Middle’.