Tony Abbott to quit in 2018, and other Malcolm Turnbull dreams

Sunday 26 June, 2016 Election, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull officially launches the Liberal 2016 Federal Campaign with wife Lucy and Liberal party members Julie Bishop, Treasurer Scott Morrison, Barnaby Joyce as well as ex PMs Tony Abbott and John Howard at Homebush Novotel. Picture: Jason EdwardsSimmering tensions after a hamfisted end-of-year reshuffle should remind Malcolm Turnbull that while he can be increasingly confident of leading into the next election, it could all end rather quickly in 2018 if he pulls the wrong rein.

Due to some applied barnacle removal – and some luck – Turnbull’s political hull has been streamlined for the coming year.

There will be no mid-term challenge, barring a sharp deterioration in the polls.

In Turnbull’s hierarchy of needs, ensuring party room support has always been his first priority with external benchmarks like governing imaginatively, and restoring his administration’s popular appeal, coming after that.

Ironically, this machine works more effectively in reverse – popularity in the electorate comes from governing well, which in turn delivers the sought-after loyalty from the party room.

A lesson from the bizarre, yet bizarrely productive same-sex marriage process is that voters value action from their governments.

Another is that they are not as conservative as boisterous right wing politicians and their media shills insist.

In the denouement of that public-parliamentary success, moderates made this point, gently nudging Turnbull to court the dividends of governing from and for ‘s centre.

Yet his embarrassing explanation of “geography” over merit as a key determinant for frontbench selection suggests Turnbull has already lurched the other way, deciding that having given the left a win on marriage, he must now go about emphasising his inner right-wing credentials.

Poll-wise, Turnbull finishes 2017 in much the same place he began.

But the Coalition has dealt with same-sex, and it has found a way forward on energy policy, thanks in large measure to the tirelessness of Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg. Its National Energy Guarantee remains problematic but offers some hope of a ceasefire in the decade-long climate wars.

An improving economic picture will also lighten voters’ moods, with the promise of more jobs, personal tax cuts and presumably an accompanying fillip to consumer confidence.

Politically, Turnbull might also get lucky. What would Labor MPs do if their side dips behind?

Bill Shorten has never been popular, but has led Labor for a term and a half now – a good example incidentally of the unity that comes from being in front in the polls. Losing the lead could rattle the comrades, giving Turnbull some respite and the Coalition a morale boost in the process.

Also on Turnbull’s wish-list is the departure of Tony Abbott. While there is no material sign of this happening, there was a sense at year’s end, after his emphatic same-sex reversal – at the hands of the n people – and another reshuffle in which he was not even discussed, that his era had truly passed.

Turnbull wishes. Even at Christmas, nobody gets everything.