Malcolm Turnbull and the ides of March

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Malcolm Turnbull has finally acknowledged the enemy at the gate (Image screenshot from video via @7NewsSydney)

There are two ways Malcolm Turnbull's teetering prime ministership may now proceed, says managing editor Dave Donovan.

LAST WEEK, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull finally threw a spear down from the walls at the Tony Abbott horde encircling his prime ministership.

A Newspoll was released last Sunday that showed the Turnbull Government ten percentage points behind the Labor Opposition on a two party preferred basis.

To the surprise of many, Prime Minister Trumble pinned blame for this newest poor poll on previous Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s most recent outburst the previous Friday. The PPM said then, in effect, that the Government must be very bold and become even more conservative.

How the Turnbull agenda could become any more rightwing in any reality – even Abbott's – is indeterminate, given the PM has adopted virtually every one of PPM Abbott’s deplorable policies. Though, of course, in this new Trumpian Age of Bullshit, objective truth is no longer seen as a prerequisite to public comment.

Turnbull responded to questions about his latest dismal poll on Monday, 27/3/17:

"What we saw was an outburst on Thursday and it had its desired impact on the Newspoll, it was exactly as predicted and calculated," he said.

"He knew exactly what he was doing and he did it — I am not going to be distracted by that."

Clearly Turnbull was distracted by it. Indeed, it is doubtful whether he has been thinking about anything else for months. But now, at last, the enemy at the gates has been acknowledged by him — the anxious Lord magnificently ensconced in his Harbourside keep/mansion's trufflelicious splendour.

It may be that the battle will now begin in earnest. Or it may not.

There are, it seems, two ways the Turnbull siege may plausibly now proceed.

Firstly, the swift knifing scenario.

Last September, I wrote that Turnbull needed to beware the Ides of March. That the knives were being sharpened. Now, after chaos, dithering and dysfunction aplenty, those blades are well and truly sharp.

But will they be thrust?

The last thing the Liberal Party can afford right now is a long destabilising campaign by Abbott, sniping and undermining Turnbull’s leadership, and leading to long-term Tory unelectability. We have seen this scenario before — with Rudd and his backers during the Gillard Government turbulent brace of years. It was a disaster and it led to the election of Tony Abbott — a leader who was – and is still – otherwise unelectable.

Now that Turnbull has acknowledged Abbott’s intentions, they can no longer be denied. Rather than a bout of prolonged infighting, someone in the Liberal caucus could very well call a spill motion in the near future to resolve the dispute and avert further messy public bloodletting. In truth, this should be Turnbull himself, but it is doubtful he has the gumption.

More likely, Turnbull will go back into his richly embossed Point Piper shell and attempt to deny the undeniable — that his leadership is in dire straits. He has coveted the jewel encrusted prime ministerial bauble all his long life, so it is unthinkable that he would ever willingly place it in peril. It will indubitably need to be wrenched from his desperately clutching, clawing hands.

How long can Truffles hang on? It's unclear. But it is a long time until the next election – more than two years – and, unless something unforeseen occurs, his walls seem certain to be breached. The invaders are at the gates and his defences are feeble.

But then again, there is little appetite for Abbott in the Coalition ranks. He has his supporters in the Monkey Pod, of course, though I suspect they number few. The Australian people dislike Tony Abbott and his odd, beknightedraw onion eating ways. If a spill motion happens, as seems likely – either now or at some later stage in this term of government – Abbott or Turnbull are unlikely to prevail. More likely a new face will rise — though not one as despicable or demonic as Dutton, as some have risibly suggested.

With the paucity of talent in the Liberal ranks, there are few to select from, as the ever astute Andrew Elder last week convincingly detailed on IA.

Julie Bishop for PM, anyone?

Anyone? Anyone?

You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter @davrosz.

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